A year ago, I wrote about the Quebec government’s new budget item that suggested the province’s internet service providers (ISPs) should be forced to block access to unlicensed gaming sites. I hoped I’d never have to hear about this absurd idea again.
But, a couple of weeks ago, Bill 74 hit the headlines for its inclusion of a provision that would censor the internet in Quebec by removing access to gaming sites that do not have government approval. That would include 888poker, PokerStars, partypoker, Full Tilt, et al. Conveniently, the provincially licensed and regulated Espacejeux would still be available and would have a complete monopoly on the market.
Why does the Government of Quebec want to block these gaming sites? Finance Minister Carlos Leitao says it is because of concerns of public health. Those darned gambling sites cause addiction and are dangerous to the people of Quebec because they don’t have to follow the province’s regulations on gambling addiction prevention. Whether or not that is true, those are not grounds for censoring the internet and it is so blatantly obvious that it isn’t their motive.
This is a matter of the government watching many millions of dollars leave the province each year to be spent on gambling sites that are based in other countries. Loto-Quebec, the government-sanctioned gambling corporation, would pick up those millions in the absence of competition. It is no mistake that the very same bill also outlines how Loto-Quebec’s annual dividend payment to the Government of Quebec would increase by $13.5 million in 2016-17 and $27 million the following year.
I hate to use the “it’s a free country” argument because it’s such a cliché, but it’s also true. There is no precedent for this in Canada. There is only one kind of online content that has been blocked in this country: child pornography. Now, that’s a justifiable thing to prevent internet users from accessing. But is unregulated gaming the next-biggest threat to the public? Hardly.
If we are to believe Leitao’s reasoning for this proposed legislation, it is a more pressing public safety concern to prevent people from accessing unregulated gaming sites than to prevent people from accessing instructions on how to build a pipe bomb or dozens of other things that are more justifiably a threat to citizens.
Remember, this isn’t a bill to stop people gambling online. This is a bill to stop people gambling online on sites that don’t pay taxes in Quebec.
This is an enormous precedent to set for online censorship, and they want to set it for this?
This legislation is motivated by the potential for increased tax revenue and has nothing to do with public safety. The Government of Quebec wants to censor the internet and block access to sites for the purpose of making more money. Orwellian much?
Fortunately, law experts believe the plan violates Canadian rights and freedoms as well as federal telecommunications law. If passed, this will go straight to the courts where it will be struck down.
The Canadian Press quotes Michael Geist, an expert on online law, saying that Quebec’s government “doesn’t understand the internet and frankly doesn’t understand the importance of an open and free Internet.”