Bill to Amend—Third Reading—Debate

Excerpt from Debates of the Senate (Hansard)

Bill to Amend—Third Reading—Debate

On the Order:

Resuming debate on the motion of the Honourable Senator Wells, seconded by the Honourable Senator Plett, for the third reading of Bill C-218, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (sports betting).

Hon. Marty Deacon: Honourable senators, I rise to speak to Bill C-218, the safe and regulated sports betting act. This is a topic that has been on my mind since similar legislation was introduced all the way back in 2011. There has been momentum building toward it ever since, and while I know there are some challenges, I will speak today on why I’ve come to support this legislation.

I have closely observed this bill in committee, made note of the observations and heard from a number of athletes, sports organizations and stakeholders that this bill would impact.

We have heard today much of the data; that this is a $14 billion industry in Canada that is unregulated and unsupervised through offshore betting and criminal gangs. There is no protection for the consumer, no support for those with a gambling addiction and, of course, there is no benefit to the Canadian economy.

A past friend and colleague of mine, Paul Melia, appeared at the Justice Committee in the other place while studying this legislation. He serves as President and CEO of the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport. Here’s what he had to say on this bill:

I think the legislation provides an opportunity to provide greater services and support to those who may become addicted to gambling than the current system, where we have an unregulated market and where it’s going on. We’re not really aware of how much is going on, who may be addicted and who might be harmed, so I think there’s an opportunity to provide the appropriate services.

Colleagues, we must also recognize the change brought about to bear on this industry through smartphones and ever-expanding internet access. In 2011, when similar legislation was introduced, I could not have imagined supporting this legislation, yet here we are 10 years later, and the fact is that anyone with access to a phone and a cellular system can place a bet on sporting events anywhere and that is exactly what is happening.

As I worked through this legislation, I was reminded of the work we did on the cannabis bill. The fact is that whether we wanted it or not, people were participating in this market. No amount of criminalization was going to stop that, so instead, we brought it into the open. Businesses were created, innovations entered the market. Most importantly, we could be honest about the harms associated with it and address them out in the open.

Mental health and addiction issues I do not take lightly. This is a big issue that we must dig into and respond to. Senators, on such matters, and I think we heard it said earlier today by Senator Plett, I do believe that sunshine is the best disinfectant, and that by bringing the gambling industry into the light of day, we can combat some of the harms associated with it.

Over the course of the debate on this legislation, I have also been reminded about legal jurisdiction and the parallel structures that govern Canadians. I have listened to Indigenous viewpoints with respect to their differing concerns and wishes. Through such discussion, I am now much clearer on the important role that the provinces and territories will play if this legislation comes to pass. I am hopeful that the provinces and territories will work with First Nations to assure that it will be implemented in an equitable and safe way.

There are concerns over the integrity of sport and match fixing, at times also called competition manipulation. Over the past 20 years, I directly observed the action and intent of match manipulation and betting and gambling in amateur sport. Yes, young people sometimes knowingly or unknowingly are targeted to participate in some aspect of this all over the world.

I will never forget the shame, shock and embarrassment resulting from match fixing in my sport at the 2012 Olympic Games. While the world watched live on television and online, four women’s doubles teams, that is eight athletes, were disqualified from the London Olympic Games after deliberately losing a match to gain advantage in the future medals round. It was a very low moment that is rare, but not that rare, at the Olympic Games.

Different countries have different laws which can also result in terrible results. By the way, betting has been around since the very ancient Olympics in Greece. Over the years, I have been developing an education program that highlights regulations with respect to betting restrictions and match manipulation. The education of athletes in understanding corruption and corruption offences continues to be critical. In this work, we have defined four areas of corruption: first, best effort; second, betting, a grab-all term for soliciting, facilitating and offering; third, inside information; and fourth, reporting.

The International Olympic Committee now has an Olympic Movement Unit that is dedicated to the prevention of manipulation of competitions. Shortly before the pandemic, I hosted a world championship in Markham, Ontario. Athletes from 60 countries had to participate in an integrity program before they stepped on the field of play. They needed to understand the issues related to doping and match manipulation before they started competition.

I share this with you today because single-sports betting and match and/or competition manipulation has many tentacles that must be first supported by the right legislation and regulations. This sharing is also a representation of the fact that it is not just professional sport that wishes this legislation to move forward, it is also amateur sport. It is in the best interests of all of our athletes, even the sometimes forgotten ones.

Colleagues, I’m able to look at this legislation through the lens of the athlete, spectator, educator and builder. I have directly observed serious out-of-control betting and match fixing that has hurt Canadians while competing on the other side of the world.

As far as athletes are concerned, like all segments of society, our Canadian sports leagues have been decimated by the pandemic. Athletes will return, but they will need spectators and interest to even get close to the level they were before the pandemic hit. I believe this bill will help.

From the view of those placing bets, by removing one line from the Criminal Code, we can provide the much-needed support to provinces and territories to move forward and support so much in the communities that are already affected by the incredibly active illicit gambling industry. We are also behind the rest of the world on this, and it’s time to catch up and get ahead of the curve.

Thank you. Meegwetch.


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