Digital law experts and others are worried that a bill making its way through Quebec’s legislative process threatens the concept of a free and open Internet in the province.

A provision in Bill 74 would force Internet service providers to deny Quebecers access to online gambling sites that haven’t been approved by the government. Quebec’s finance minister says Bill 74 is necessary to protect the safety and health of Quebecers because the same “responsible gaming rules” applied by government-run sites aren’t applied by illegal sites and they pose a “risk to the population,” according to Life In Québec.

Critics say the internet-censoring legislation, which is unprecedented in Canada, is a means for Quebec’s state-owned gambling authority to prevent competition and could lead to other governments across the country deciding what can and can’t be viewed online by citizens. Furthermore, law experts say freedom of expression is violated by the legislation, contradicts telecommunications law, and is likely to be challenged in court by civil rights groups and Internet companies.

Bill 74 states that “an Internet service provider may not give access to an online gambling site whose operation is not authorized under Quebec law,” which renowned online-law expert Michael Geist says the government of Quebec has a host of alternatives to stop gaming companies from operating in the province.

Both Geist, and Montreal-based constitutional and human rights lawyer Julius Grey, say they are worried the bill could possibly lead to the government of Quebec banning access to other online content, such as Internet sites that include hate speech or that violate the province’s strict language laws. Geist said he hasn’t seen anything like the legislation in Canada, adding that currently only child pornography is blocked.

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