Censorship Could Make Online Gambling Bill 74 Unconstitutional in Quebec

A group called the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) filed an application last Friday challenging Bill 74 as being unconstitutional in the Canadian province of Quebec, noting that it violates a federal jurisdiction over telecommunications. Bill 74 was passed on May 17 and bans any gambling websites the government classifies as unauthorized.

Critics of Bill 74 point to Quebec’s attempt to monopolize online gambling revenue, forcing people to EspaceJeux, the website run by Loto-Quebec. Quebec has defended the law as being in the public’s best interest to promote health and safety of its citizens. However, PIAC obviously feels much differently and believes Bill 74 is simply telling them where they can and cannot go online to protect the government’s interest.

PIAC filed its application with the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission noting that Bill 74 should be declared unconstitutional because it essentially is ordering Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to block certain sites. The snowball effect of making it more costly to run an ISP would then ultimately trickle down to consumers, causing them to pay higher prices for service.

The way the law stands now, ISPs have already begun to incur costs as they determine how to differentiate compliance within the province of Quebec and not outside it, where accessing the questionable sites would still be deemed legal. Some believe that is a nearly impossible feat considering the virtual boundaries of service throughout Canada.

While Bill 74 has been passed, it has not yet been enforced, which is why it remains such a hot topic. Until the ISPs officially conform to the new law and determine the blocked sites, citizens of Quebec are not really sure how they will be impacted. But they fear the worst and do not think the government should be responsible for instructing them on what sites they can and cannot visit.

The censorship issue is first and foremost for the advocacy group who does not believe Ottawa should have such power over telecommunications because it threatens the freedom of expression.

PIAC is hopeful that opening up the debate further will result in a more formal discussion and allow them to be heard on a higher level. The Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association has been a voice for wireless carriers and ISPs in Quebec and may also take legal action to prevent the banning of an estimated 2,200 sites that would be blacklisted because they compete in the same gambling space with EspaceJeux. The federal government could become involved as well.

In fact, Minister of Canadian Heritage Melanie Joly has been quoted as saying she supports net neutrality and welcomes ongoing discussions to come up with a resolution that works for both parties. She said the federal government is monitoring the situation closely and wants Canadians to “have the power to freely innovate, communicate and access the content of their choice in accordance with Canadian laws.”

PIAC’s decision to formally challenge the law is the next step toward bringing it to the government’s attention, and now the ball is in Quebec’s court to respond to the issues in question.