With little fanfare, Quebec passed website blocking legislation last week. Bill 74 took effect on May 18th, setting up a likely court showdown between the Quebec and federal governments. As discussed in several articles and posts over the past year (here and here), Quebec’s Internet blocking legislation requires Internet service providers to block access to a list of online gambling sites to be identified by the government-backed Loto-Québec. The government now characterizes the legislation as a matter of consumer protection, but it did not initially hesitate to emphasize that its primary goal was to increase revenues for Espace-Jeux, its officially sanctioned online gambling service.
The website blocking plans are now in the hands of Loto-Québec, which must generate the block list and make it available to Internet service providers. The ISPs will have 30 days to comply or face fines of up to $100,000 for failure to block access to the content. The law does not identify a specific technology that must be used for the website blocking. Before initiating any blocking, however, it seems likely that the ISPs will file a legal challenge over the validity of the Quebec blocking law. Legal challenges may focus on several issues, including the exclusive federal jurisdiction over telecommunications and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms implications of government-mandated Internet blocking.
The ISPs may be joined in their challenge by the federal government. The Quebec bill was raised in the House of Commons last month, with Canadian Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly pointing to the government’s support for net neutrality, which would be violated by mandated blocking of websites. Joly invited further discussion, but with the law now in force, the time to talk is over as Canada’s first government-mandated website blocking law will surely head to the courts.