Canada is at risk of losing its high status for internet freedom if telecom giant Bell Canada gets its way.

As Canada’s largest telecommunications company, Bell Canada has a large market share of Canada’s mobile communications, internet service providers, and television stations. The breadth of Bell Canada’s reach goes some way into explaining the heavy influence they have played in recent Canadian legislation in an attempt to quell North America’s piracy problem.

With a huge amount of media pirated in Canada every year in the form of TV, films, and music, it’s no surprise that Bell, alongside other Canadian multimedia giants have formed the coalition Fairplay Canada in order to force Canada’s telecom authority (CRTC) to initiate piracy blocking programs. The plan is to create an Independent Piracy Review Agency (IPRA), which will maintain a current database of piracy websites to be blocked by Canadian ISPs.

While tackling internet piracy has been a long waged war between media companies, governments and the internet; this particular case grabbed the headlines due to additional demands that the coalition made in secret: a ban on VPNs.

Bell Requested A Government Ban On VPNs

While Bell was lobbying the CRTC to create the agencies necessary to block piracy websites, it also made recommendations regarding VPNs during the NAFTA negotiations in 2017.

The attempt to subtly have VPNs banned alongside the anti-piracy drive was justified under claims that VPNs are mainly employed in the service of accessing US services, unfairly forgoing the content that Canadian media companies are buying to offer Canadian citizens.

Banning VPNs Would Be A Step Too Far

While Bell is making the argument that banning VPNs is only a matter of ensuring that Canadian citizens use their home country’s versions of Netflix and HBO, banning VPNs could have massive implications on the country’s citizens’ freedom while accessing the internet.

Canada’s attempts to curb the usage of a VPN’s geo-location altering capabilities would also threaten Canadian internet users’ ability to keep their internet data encrypted and safe.

This is a growing concern among internet users who no longer trust the safety of many mainstream websites after multiple breaches released people’s passwords other sensitive information to the public.

The Executive Director of the digital rights group OpenMedia summed up the danger saying “FairPlay Canada’s proposal is like using a machine gun to kill a mosquito. It will undoubtedly lead to legitimate content and speech being censored online violating our right to free expression and the principles of net neutrality, which the federal government has consistently pledged support for.”

Furthermore, the attempt to limit VPNs melds well with the growing global trend for constraining the public’s internet freedom through censorship. If they do manage to block VPNs they will join a lengthening list of countries to also have done so including China, Iran, and Russia.