Quebec bill may threaten free and open internet

The government says the bill aims to protect Quebecers from illegal sites.

The legislation would force internet companies to block online gambling sites not, approved by the government, in the province.

Canada.- Bill 74 is going through Quebec’s legislative process with little publicity and includes a provision which aims to force Internet service providers to block Quebecers’ access to online gambling sites that have not been approved by the provincial government. According to the province’s finance minister the bill seeks to protect the health and safety of Quebecers as illegal sites don’t apply the same “responsible gaming rules” as sites run by the government and for that reason they are a “risk to the population.”

However, the new legislation concerns digital-law experts and citizens ad they feel it threatens free and open Internet is being threatened in Quebec. Furthermore, opponents say the Internet-censoring legislation is a way for Quebec’s state-owned gambling authority to block competition as Quebec’s government-run gambling authority, Loto-Quebec, has been losing money to online gaming competitors.

“I think the (Quebec) government doesn’t understand the Internet and frankly doesn’t understand the importance of an open and free Internet,” expressed Michael Geist an online-law expert from the University of Ottawa’s. “Net neutrality” is understood to mean that Internet companies should be neutral carriers of content and not favour some sites over others or block access to certain sites. The federal government included the principle in the 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.”

Geist also explained that the Quebec government has a other alternatives to prevent gaming companies from operating in the province, like going after online payment companies like PayPal and asking them not to process transactions from such sites. “We are a free and democratic society,” he added. “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 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.”

On the other hand, Audrey Cloutier, a spokeswoman speaking on behalf of Finance Minister Carlos Leitao, said the government has to force Internet providers to block non-authorised gambling sites because it’s not realistic to believe the province could persuade foreign companies to voluntarily stop offering their services and problem gambling is a health issue which falls under provincial jurisdiction. “Loto-Quebec and our government have constitutional competence and the responsibility to act to protect citizens by offering regulated, responsible, honest and secure gambling,” she said.