Quebec plans to Block Unlicensed Online Gambling Sites, Ignoring Advisors

There are two types of online gambling sites players from Quebec can access. On one side of the fence is EspaceJeux, owned and operated by the Loto Quebec Corporation. On the other side are unlicensed, offshore and illegal operators who continue to accept Canadian players. Despite sound advice to the contrary, the province plans to go ahead with a proposal to block access to the latter variety of online gambling sites.Quebec to Block Unlicensed Online Gambling Sites

The controversial decision to block overseas online poker rooms, online casinos and other internet-based gambling venues is being criticized from multiple angles. Not only will it be incredibly difficult to succeed in blocking Quebecois from accessing all offshore operators, it may not even be legal to do so.

The idea of blocking unlicensed online gambling sites was proposed in the latest budget plan as an effort to increase revenue brought in by Loto Quebec, essentially eliminating competition for the state-run lottery department. Subsequently, the province’s intent to go ahead with the blockage was announced by Finance Minister Carlos Leitão’s spokeswoman, Andree-Lynn Halle.

In a recent statement to CJAD Radio, Halle explained, “We will follow-up on the measures announced in the budget.” By association, that includes the ‘illegal website filtering measures’ approved in the budget.

Quebec will induce the blockage of online gambling sites by commanding all Internet Service Providers (ISP) in the province to incorporate measures to prevent customers from access such websites. By doing so, the government believes Loto Quebec will be able to increase its revenue by $13.5 million in the next fiscal year, increasing to an estimated $27 million boost in following years.

Quebec Ignores Study Advising Against ISP Block

The province’s decision to block access to illegal online gambling websites directly contradicts the educated opinion of a study group specifically commissioned to advise the government on internet gaming policies.

Montreal University Professor of Psychology Louise Nadeau is the leader of that group, and according to her calculations—based on actual evidence taken from similar situations, like the ultimately unsuccessful attempt to block online gambling sites from Italy—Nadeau found that it’s a bad idea on multiple levels.

“We know very, very well we have several child pornography sites, and even then we are not blocking them out,” said the professor. “It’s extremely difficult, and it’s easier said than done.” Nadeau also referenced the difficulty of legal hurdles that are sure to arise.

In fact, the group recommended taking a complete opposite approach to the situation.

“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, the best solution is to establish an online gambling licensing system.”

Blocking Online Gambling Websites Raises Legal Concerns

An online law professor with the University of Ottawa, Michael Greist is equally opposed to the plan based on legal grounds. Greist said that the policy to block unlicensed online gambling sites will be challenged by the federal government, which has ultimate jurisdiction over telecommunication laws.

Quebec may be correct in the interpretation of unlicensed online gambling operations being illegal, but simply visiting and viewing such websites is not.

Professor Greist published a blog post recently in which he clarified his position, saying that Quebec’s endeavor to  legislate ISP blocking for “commercial gain” sets a dangerous precedent throughout Canada, and that a legal challenge from the federal government is probable.

“The plan is likely face a legal challenge, both on free speech and jurisdictional grounds, since the federal government has exclusive jurisdiction over telecommunications regulation,” wrote Greist.

He elaborated by explaining that, “Once blocking Internet content is established, it is easy to envision governments moving down a slippery slope, requiring the blocking of sites that are alleged to infringe copyright or blocking e-commerce sites that are not bilingual or do not pay provincial taxes.  If that happened, the open Internet in Canada would be placed at risk of unprecedented government intervention into how Internet providers manage their networks and what sites Canadians are able to access.”

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