Internet Blockage from Bill 74 Provokingly Concerns Quebec’s Citizens

Have you ever felt like you just needed your space? A personal bubble? It’s one thing when the person behind you in line is standing a little too close to you. How about when the government dictates what you can and can’t view online? As advancements in technology continue an ongoing battle of head butting between the government and the people has followed behind. The government has continuously argued that monitoring civilian activity have been essential for national and societal security. These “securities” in government observation have ranged from public videotaping, tracking internet usage, to tapping phone conversations and more. The reasons given or perceived to be necessary for accepting government intervention has strongly encompassed public safety through identifying criminal activity, terrorism and other protective measures. Inquisitive eyebrows have been raised now in questioning if these defensive measures have gone too far when the government decides to enforce what is and is not available online for the citizens. Canadians have recently been experiencing this precise predicament of freely utilizing online site services versus government prevention of partaking in certain online gambling entertainment.

A government agency supervising gambling activities in Quebec has sanctioned Loto-Quebec with province Bill 74. This bill comprises a list of unlicensed online gambling websites that internet providers are required to block. The big key word of internet providers being forced to block these sites is “required”; it is not an optional request. Internet providers who do not comply with Bill 74 will be charged fines of up to $100,000. Resulting in government control of what Quebec’s public can access for online gambling participation or facing charges of breaking province directive. The freedom of choice is clearly not allowed in this newest intervention. However, is this necessarily bad? Would it not be helpful and for the greater good to prevent citizens from accessing frowned upon or “bad” websites? Online blockage has been implemented on child pornography sites which society generally views as a good decision. So why not unlicensed gambling sites? The issue with this bill, some would claim, is that it instructs you on what you can and cannot spend your hard earned money on. Online gambling is not harmful or unacceptable like child pornography sites. Adults should freely be able to decide how they spend their money including in the realms of online gambling. Right?

A growing number of agencies in Quebec agree and are fighting back because of a sticky predicament emerging from the approval of the legislation. The Canadian federal government has authority over telecommunication assets, not the provincial governments. Essentially making Quebec’s decision to administer online gambling blockage unconstitutional when taking government structure into consideration. The interference has been brought to attention in court by the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association. Push back efforts have also be supported by the Public Interest Advocacy Centre with a filed formal complaint. Regardless of how the agencies personally feel about intentions of the legislation, the underlying problem subsequent from open acceptance is the idea that provincial power bypasses federal regulation. If the practice of provinces circumventing federal directives evolves into a normality, the purpose of structures and power division in the government will become meaningless. At least, some would conclude.

Apart from agencies involved in the telecommunication business, the general public of Quebec has been speaking out against the controversial legislation. Over 10,000 signatures have been given in a matter of days to a petition organized by Quebec law makers. This is outstanding unification from the voice of the people considering other petitions can take months to secure that level of support if at all! It will be no less than interesting to hear the court’s ruling for the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association’s case as community pressure and discontentment increases. The legislation cannot be constitutionally upheld if strictly following already designated separation of powers in government sanctions. However, the court can overrule structural power for what the court sees as better for society. This deliberating decision could cause additional problems and debates.

People see a distressing window of opportunity occurring if the court rules favor in the province’s decision. If a province can overthrow federal control of internet regulation, why can’t provinces change other legislation the federal government regulates too? The entire purpose for balancing powers in government could begin to crumble. Unbalanced power can potentially develop from different statutes of government stepping on each other’s toes. History has always shown that disarray within government structures makes links in the chain of authority weak and ineffective. All deliberations and actions funnel down to affecting the people. This conclusion may be seen as overreacting but is it far-fetched to question if simple indecision will eventually travel up to more essential matters?

Other questions are being deliberated by concerned citizens in response to the restriction of online gambling. What’s next? If gambling websites can be blocked, what else can be taken away? What other freedoms will be restricted by government? There was a point in time when society believe personal calls could only be listened to by the sender and receiver. At one time people could not fathom the government actually being able to track and log internet usage. People had never expected to be video monitored when going out in public. Yet here we are. These things are not only common but accepted by the people, for the most part. Privacy invasion has moved outside of disturbing into expected. Now we face interest blockage for something so harmless and not even illegal like online gambling. Where does society draw the line and tell the government it cannot crossover? Freedom restrictions continue to climb the ladder into a tighter grasp. Today it may be online gambling but is it an enabler to one day having to have permission to walk in a public park when you want? Speculating residents of Quebec are nervous about what could come if the blockage of online gambling is ruled as a permanent reality.

Written by: Andrew Johnson

Andrew Johnson has been reporting for Blog.ca for more than 8 years. He studied journalism at UGC and has published two books on how journalism influences the world.

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