Domain Name Dispute Puts Dot-Ca in the Spotlight

My weekly Law Bytes column (freely available hyperlinked version, Toronto Star version, homepage version) focuses on the recent Canadian parliamentary discussion on domain name disputes. As discussed about ten days ago, the impetus for governmental interest in domain name disputes and Internet governance is the registration of several domain names bearing the names of sitting Members of Parliament by the Defend Marriage Coalition, an opponent of same-sex marriage legislation.

The resulting websites, which include and, include MP contact information, photos, and advocacy materials. The domain name registrations led to a heated, if somewhat misleading, debate in the House of Commons earlier this month. One MP argued that the registrations might constitute identity theft (they do not), while another indicated that the government does not own, regulate or manage domain name registrations (the government indeed does not manage domain name registrations but it does hold ultimate authority over the dot-ca domain).

The column argues that the Members of Parliament that have had their names used for anti-same sex marriage sites would be unlikely to succeed under the dot-ca domain name dispute resolution policy. I review each of the elements of the CDRP and conclude that a complainant would have a tough time with each of the three requirements.

The column concludes by noting that the incident has implications for the policy, for the Canadian Internet Registration Authority, and for how Canada’s politicians interact with the Internet.

Despite (or perhaps because of) its protective approach to free speech, some may argue that the Canadian policy has failed to find the appropriate balance. As the saying goes, hard cases make for bad law. This is a hard case and there is a danger that protections that have earned worldwide acclaim might be scrapped, leading to bad law.

The case is also likely to put the spotlight on Canadian Internet Registration Authority. While some MPs assumed that the government had no role to play in the management of Internet domain names, the reality is that many countries do provide active regulatory oversight over their national domain name systems. The Canadian authority is a well-run, successful organization, but MPs may put it under their microscope to ensure that dot-ca is fairly managed on behalf of all Canadians.

Most tellingly, the case has forced MPs to consider how they use the Internet to interact with the public. Last week the speaker of the house concluded that the case "raises important issues in an era where communications technology is ubiquitous and the demand for accessibility grows daily more aggressive" and called on the standing committee on procedure and house affairs to "explore, at a minimum, the ramifications of new communication technologies, including the Internet, as they affect members in the performance of their duties."

Since the chair of that committee is none other than Don Boudria, hearings seem likely. A handful of domain name registrations have placed the domain name issue on MPs’ radar screens and may ultimately lead to significant new policies on how the Canada’s politicians interact with the Internet.

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