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After Tragically Hip show outrage, Ontario moves on ‘scalper bots’

The Liberal government said last year it would look at tackling computer ‘scalper bots’ after an outcry from fans who were shut out of buying tickets to the Tragically Hip’s farewell tour.

CHAD HIPOLITO/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Ontario is looking for public feedback as it crafts legislation to shut "scalper bots" out of online ticket sales, something the attorney general admits won't be easy.

It's a laudable goal, the opposition parties say, but one that addresses a problem of the Liberal government's own making.

Scalper bots, which scoop up huge blocks of tickets that quickly appear on resale sites at higher prices, are not unique to Ontario, but the opposition said that when the government changed the Ticket Speculation Act in 2015 to make it legal to resell tickets above their original face value, it helped that online resale market.

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"The Liberals created this problem when they enacted a policy and a regulation which actually allowed this to happen," said NDP deputy leader Jagmeet Singh. "Now they created a problem and they announced that they're going to try to study the problem that they created and figure out a way to solve it."

Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown also criticized the government for moving too slowly on the issue, five months after a Liberal backbencher introduced the idea.

"The pace they're looking at this doesn't do anything for people trying to get Blue Jays tickets," he said.

The Liberal government said last year that it would look at tackling the bots after an outcry from fans who were shut out of buying tickets to the Tragically Hip's farewell tour.

"What happened with The Hip's 'Man Machine Poem' tour really, really personally bugged me," Attorney General Yasir Naqvi said Tuesday. "Tickets to shows across Canada were bought up in seconds then reappeared immediately on resale sites at hugely inflated prices, prices that were out of reach for a lot of fans."

But enforcement of any rules surrounding ticket sales would be difficult, Naqvi admitted.

"I don't want to sugar coat, to say that the problem is an easy one to solve," he said. "If it was, it would have been solved before. It is a very complex problem. We cannot shut down the Internet."

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Naqvi is looking to the public for "practical solutions."

Ticketmaster Canada has compared battling the bots to a never-ending "war against bad operators that are international." It has a whole division that specializes in trying to block the bots, but policing it is "near impossible."

Ticket resale site StubHub said it applauds the government for "facilitating an important conversation about how event tickets are bought and sold online."

"Our top priority is providing Ontarians with a safe, secure and transparent place to get tickets for events they want to experience," Laura Dooley, the senior manager of government relations said in a statement.

People can go to ontario.ca/tickets until March 15 to give feedback on how to make sure everyone has a fair shot at buying tickets, concerns about resale prices and enforcement.

The government's legislation on online ticket sales will build on a private member's bill by Liberal Sophie Kiwala, who represents the Hip's hometown of Kingston, Ont., that also tried to ban the scalper bots.

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