Canuck DBS owners get dueling signals

TORONTO — Canadians receiving U.S. satellite TV services such as DirecTV and EchoStar are breaking the law, a judge in the Federal Court of Canada has ruled.

Justice Frederick Gibson determined that 300,000 to 400,000 Canadians, who have spent as much as $1,000 each for their DBS systems, are violating Canada’s Radiocommunications Act.

The ruling was preliminary and a final judgment, setting out the court’s reasons, is expected later this summer.

“We’re pretty shocked and disappointed by the ruling,” said Bruce Chapman, president and CEO of NII Norsat Intl. Inc., a defendant in the case. “We thought the court would support freedom of choice in Canada for television viewers.”

Chapman said Norsat will continue to sell satellite dish systems for decoding U.S. programming.

Earlier this year, Justice John Klebuc of the Saskatchewan Court of Queen’s Bench said receiving a U.S. satellite television service did not violate the act.

“What you’ve got is conflicting judicial decisions from judges of the same level and rank,” said Andrew Roman, a partner in Toronto law firm Miller Thomson, representing the defendants in the case.

Besides Norsat, the defendants included satellite system retailers Price Costco Canada Inc. and ACE Imports Intl. Inc. Plaintiffs were Canadian programming distributors TMN Networks, ExpressVu, Allarcom Pay Television and the Family Channel.

The case may yet go to a higher court, the Federal Court of Appeal, for a final ruling.

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