Tuesday, April 5, 2016 : QUEBEC CAMPAIGN AGAINST ONLINE GAMBLING COMPETITION IN THE NEWS AGAIN
Little that is new in Canadian reports, but always good to reiterate the reasons why Internet blocking is not a good thing.
On a slow news weekend the Quebec provincial government's attempts to shield its online gambling enterprise Espace Jeux from competition again hit Canadian media headlines, which was surprising given that there was little that was new in the reports.
Nevertheless, it does no harm to air again the reasons why experts feel that ISP blocking is not a good thing in a supposedly free and democratic world.
Our readers will recall that over the past two or more years Quebec politicians have been quite open in discussing ways in which they might protect the underperforming Loto Quebec online gambling operation branded Espace Jeux, which struggles against more competitive operators with better products and offers – and possibly more efficient operational skills.
In recent 2015-2016 budget discussions and documents, Quebec legislators have freely discussed the financial advantages that can be achieved for Loto Quebec's Espace Jeux – and government – if online competition were reduced.
The government's plan, documents show, "would increase the dividend that Loto-Quebec pays to the government by $13.5 million in 2016-17 and $27 million a year thereafter."
Upping the Espace Jeux game to better compete is apparently not the preferred course in Quebec when laws can be passed outlawing rivals and imposing internet censorship, and that is the solution proposed through Bill 74, which has been debated in the provincial parliament for some time
The prospect of such government interference in free enterprise and the Internet has resulted in government butting heads with Internet Service Providers, who are less than enthusiastic about being forced to block sites which Loto Quebec decides are unacceptable, but the politicians have continued regardless down the banning path under the guise of public health concerns.
This weekend's widely publicised Canadian Press report again focuses on the unprecedented (in Canada) moves by Quebec lawmakers, and the reaction of many Net Neutrality, freedom of speech advocates and legal experts perturbed by the proposed invasion of civil rights – and possibly Canadian federal telecommunications laws – that these sort of repressive tactics represent.
The consensus is that if the Quebec government insists on pushing Bill 74 into provincial law it will face expensive and protracted court actions at the very least.
"I think the (Quebec) government doesn't understand the Internet and frankly doesn't understand the importance of an open and free Internet," the University of Ottawa's Michael Geist, a renowned online law expert told Canadian Press, pointing to the federal 1993 Telecommunications Act, which states: "Except where the Commission (the CRTC) approves otherwise, a Canadian carrier shall not control the content or influence the meaning or purpose of telecommunications carried by it for the public."
"I haven't seen anything like this in Canada," Geist said, adding the only content currently blocked is child pornography.
The online law expert said the Quebec government has a host of additional measures that can be deployed to exclude competitive operators, such as going after online payment companies like PayPal and requiring them not to process transactions from "undesirable" websites.
"We are a free and democratic society," he concluded. "And I think we don't believe in Chinese-style approaches where government decides what kinds of sites the public is entitled to access."
Bram Abramson, chief legal and regulatory officer for TekSavvy Solutions Inc., an Internet provider that services 300,000 homes in Canada, said the Quebec banning law would be "extremely complicated and extremely costly."
"What they're asking us to do is wall off Quebec and to run our network differently and separately," he said. "It's a question of redesigning our network from the ground up."
Julius Grey, a Montreal-based constitutional and human rights lawyer, said the bill potentially violates freedom of expression, explaining that the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled citizens' rights aren't only protected when it comes to expressing ideas, but that people also have the fundamental right to hear and read things, and anything that attempts to defeat that right needs to be challenged.
Several experts have also expressed fears that online gambling internet bans could be just the thin edge of the wedge, opening the door for politicians to extend the precedent to other industries or activities.
Responding to a Canadian Press approach, a spokesperson for Quebec Finance Minister Carlos Leitao, reiterated earlier claims that online gambling is a public health issue and therefore within the provincial jurisdiction, and that the Quebec government has to force Internet providers to block ‘unauthorised' gambling sites because it is unlikely that the government could persuade foreign companies to voluntarily stop offering services.