09/02/2016 13:59 EDT | Updated 09/03/2017 01:12 EDT

CRTC says Quebec cannot block access to websites without regulator's approval

MONTREAL — Quebec cannot force Internet companies to block people's access to certain websites without the approval of the CRTC, says a preliminary opinion by the federal broadcast regulator.

Federal telecom law states only the CRTC can legally order websites be blocked, "and this would require exceptional circumstances," secretary general Danielle May-Cuconato said in a letter sent to all attorneys general in Canada on Thursday.

The CRTC was responding to an application filed in July by the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC), which asked the broadcast regulator to declare that Quebec's Internet violates the right of freedom of expression and the 1993 Telecommunications Act.

Quebec Finance Minister Carlos Leitao has said the law is necessary to ensure online gambling companies maintain responsible gaming policies.

It grants provincial gaming authority Loto-Quebec the right to draw up a list of gambling companies operating outside the provincial online platform, called

Internet service providers would then be forced — under threat of financial penalty — to block Quebecers' access to these sites.

The law is also facing a Quebec Superior Court challenge by Canada's telecom lobby, which filed a lawsuit in late July.

The Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association is asking the court to declare that the legislation is in violation of the Telecommunications Act.

John Lawford, PIAC executive director, said this preliminary opinion clears up the CRTC's position for the upcoming court case.

He cautioned that the CRTC decision was only preliminary and that his office and the Quebec government have two weeks to respond in writing.

"I think it's as clear as the CRTC can be at the moment," he said in an interview Friday. "That they are thinking website blocking violates the telecom act."

The act states "Except where the Commission (the CRTC) approves otherwise, a Canadian carrier shall not control the content or influence the meaning or purpose of telecommunications carried by it for the public."

Audrey Cloutier, a spokeswoman for Leitao, said his office informed the CRTC prior to drafting the new law.

"The CRTC was informed of our intentions and we were transparent every step of the way," she said in an interview Friday.

Cloutier wasn't able to say if Leitao's office received a response from the regulator before the bill was passed.