Pursuant to Wednesday’s emergency hearing on Quebecor’s decision to pull TVA Sports of Bell TV, on Thursday the CRTC issued a mandatory order requiring TVA Sports to comply with regulations about dispute resolution and keep its signal on Bell TV. It also suspended TVA Sports’s licence, though that suspension only applies if it cuts Bell TV off again, and only for the period during which the signal is cut off.
The mandatory order is being registered with the federal court, which means if TVA defies it, it will be subject to contempt of court proceedings, and faces large fines.
The commission rejected TVA’s main legal argument, that the regulations imposing arbitrated settlements of carriage disputes are not allowed under the Broadcasting Act (emphasis in the original):
TVA’s position that the Commission does not have the jurisdiction to set terms and conditions of affiliation agreements is inconsistent with the broad power given to the Commission by Parliament to make regulations to resolve any dispute by way of mediation or otherwise. Given that terms and conditions, including rates, are fundamental to the resolution of carriage disputes, the interpretation urged on the Commission by TVA Group would render the regulation-making power set out in section 10(1)(h) empty of meaning, an absurd result that cannot have been Parliament’s intention.
Pierre Karl Péladeau’s arguments about how TVA isn’t getting enough carriage fees, or how Bell has been unfair, or how TVA Sports’s future is threatened, are not addressed in the CRTC decision, because they are outside the scope of the proceeding. They will be dealt with in the undue preference complaint and mediation or arbitration proceedings between the two groups.
(For more on the arguments for and against TVA, see this post.)
The commission stopped short of its more serious threats, to suspend or even revoke TVA Sports’s licence. Even a temporary suspension during the NHL playoffs would have been devastating to TVA Sports, and probably led to its shutting down.
But it did reprimand TVA for its behaviour in this case:
the Commission is gravely concerned with TVA Group’s disregard for the Commission’s authority. Given the inflexible behaviour displayed by the licensee in respect of its regulatory obligations and the lack of a firm commitment to correct the situation, the Commission cannot be assured that TVA Group will respect its regulatory obligations going forward.
Quebecor issued a statement saying it will respect the decision, but the problem remains and it will seek other legal avenues, including a legal challenge to the CRTC’s authority.
Meanwhile, a request for a class action lawsuit has been filed, seeking $100 million, or $250 for each subscriber of TVA Sports on Bell TV who was left without the service for 47 hours last week.