The Internet Society of Canada (ISOC) is the Canadian arm of the global Internet Society, an advocacy group that promotes uncensored accessibility across the world wide web. Loto-Quebec is the region’s lottery corporation and regulator of authorized gambling activities in the Province of Quebec. Due to legislation proposed earlier this year, when you put the two together, you’ve got the makings for a perfect storm.
It all began in March 2015 when provincial leaders hammered out the 2015-16 budget plan. With it came a proposal that would alter the Consumer Protection Act, requiring the region’s internet service providers (ISPs) to block the IP addresses of online gambling websites that are not regulated by Loto-Quebec.
At present, the only iGaming site regulated in Quebec is EspaceJeux.
The immediate reaction from internet watchdogs like Michael Geist, as well as groups who represent the ISPs that would be required to enforce the illegal website filtering law, was one of repugnance. Geist said the move was not only an impossibility, but likely illegal.
Last week, the ISOC weighed in on the debate by blasting the lottery corporation’s IP-blocking solution. In an interview with Cartt.ca, Timothy Denton, Chairman on ISOC, said of the strategy, “it’s expensive, it’s futile and it sets a bad precedent.”
Furthermore, Denton—a former Commissioner of the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission—called the plan, “a direct attack on the freedom of movement of thought”, adding that it “probably violates the trade and commerce clause in the constitution.”
Quebec was fully prepared for the onslaught of opposition, pegging its proposal as a ‘public health’ issue, meant to curb the proliferation of problem gambling. Denton touched upon that subject, acknowledging the concerns, but pointing out that online gambling is not illegal in Canada, therefore should not be censored in such a way.
Loto-Quebec to Block IPs for Personal Agenda?
Opponents of the plan have argued time and again that Loto-Quebec’s goal is not to prevent problem gambling, but to increase its own revenue from the lottery corporation’s online gambling site, EspaceJeux. After all, the same budget plan that called for the censorship also estimated that Loto-Quebec’s iGaming website stood to generate an additional $13.5 million if the block was successful.
As Geist previously mentioned, not even child pornography has been mandated for censorship over the internet, and that’s clearly illegal. He believes Loto-Quebec’s sole concern is to protect its own monopoly of the market, stating “online gambling sites are not illegal to view and to legislate blocking for commercial gain sets a dangerous Canadian precedent.”
Quebec Better Off Opening Market to Regulation
The provincial government’s own advisors counseled against the plan to block the IP address of offshore online casinos, poker rooms and sportsbooks prior to the measure’s introduction.
The Working Group, led by Psychologist Louise Nadeau of Montreal University, is frequently commissioned to research gambling related issues and deliver its educated opinion, and on this matter, not only did the group advise against IP blocking, it issued an official recommendation to open its market.
“The Working Group believes that in order to control the online gambling market, protect consumers and generate revenues for the government, the best solution for the government is to establish clear rules and open up the online gambling market to private operators. In fact,” said Nadeau, “the best solution is to establish an online gambling licensing system.”