UPDATE: Tim Hortons says the decision to block a gay news site from Wi-Fi at its locations was an error.
Company spokesperson Michelle Robichaud said Tim Hortons "regrets" that DailyXtra.ca, a news site focusing on gay, lesbian and transgender issues, was blocked on its networks. The website "should never have been blocked in the first place," she said.
Robichaud said the decision to refuse DailyXtra's request to be unblocked was made by a third party contractor.
Tim Hortons is working with its software vendor to remove the block, she said. The company also plans to take more control over its web filtering policies, and will review future complaints about blocked sites.
Original story follows below
Canada’s most prominent gay newspaper says Tim Hortons has refused to unblock customers from accessing its site over in-store Wi-Fi because it is “not appropriate for all ages viewing in a public environment.”
DailyXtra.com, which until recently had been known as Xtra.ca, says it alerted Tim Hortons that their website was blocked, thinking that an error had been made by porn-blocking software.
But apparently it was no error. The coffee and donuts chain told DailyXtra its request to unblock its site was declined.
In an email response forwarded to Huffington Post Canada Friday, a Tim Hortons web administrator wrote, “We have reviewed this site's content and have found that it is not appropriate for all ages viewing in a public environment. We try to ensure that all of our guests can enjoy a safe and pleasant experience when visiting us. ... While there is no way to change this decision, we can assure you that it was not an easy decision to make."
DailyXtra Editor-In-Chief Brandon Matheson believes the move could suggest bias against gay news sites because other news organizations such as The Toronto Sun and Now Magazine include salacious content, including ads for escorts.
“People view straight content in the media slightly different than they view gay content even though when you measure it it’s often the same,” he said.
“Sometimes people will have a reaction to the same sexuality they will see in a gay publication that might be on par with the Sunshine girl, but because it’s gay, it draws a different reaction.”
Matheson wants Tim Hortons to answer for why there have been discrepancies in the content it allows.
“Why do they think that their customers need to be protected from gay community journalism?”
Matheson said the issue was first brought to the newspaper’s attention by a reader who couldn’t access the site from the coffee shop. It hasn’t heard back from Tim Hortons about the decision aside from the email from Tim Hortons’ Wi-Fi team.
Customers at Starbucks and Second Cup are able to access the DailyXtra.com. Second Cup changed its web filters when it was brought to its attention that DailyXtra readers were unable to access the site.
And other prominent gay news sites, such as Queerty and the Advocate, aren't blocked on Tim Hortons' Wi-Fi, DailyXtra said.
The news site is owned by Pink Triangle Press, a Toronto-based company that also owns a number of other gay-oriented sites, some of which contain racy content. Squirt.org, for example, is a website that helps gay men cruise for hookups. Some members post nude photos of themselves on the site.
The latest incident follows at least two other Tim Hortons controversies involving the gay and lesbian communities in recent years.
A lesbian couple was kicked out of a franchise in Blenheim, Ont., after another customer complained about their public display of affection, sparking protests in 2011.
And in 2009, the company pulled its sponsorship of a rally in Rhode Island held by an anti-gay marriage group after a widespread backlash.
But Matheson said it’s unfair to rush to the conclusion that Tim Hortons corporate culture is somehow anti-gay.
“I think really those sorts of questions have to be placed to Tim Hortons, [such as] are they concerned that this gives the impression that they’re anti gay? I can’t answer that for them,” he said.
Tim Hortons joins a growing list of Wi-Fi providers to be criticized for blocking gay-oriented websites.
McDonald’s raised the ire of gay rights advocates two years ago when it emerged the websites of gay support groups were being blocked on the restaurant’s Wi-Fi networks in New Zealand.
Earlier this year, KFC faced a similar problem in Australia, where the restaurant was evidently blocking “sexual orientation” websites on its Wi-Fi.
And Xtra itself reported several years ago that Ottawa International Airport was blocking gay sites on its Wi-Fi, though in that case it did appear to be an instance of software error.
This story has been edited from its original version. It was expanded to include comments from DailyXtra editor Branden Matheson and updated to include Tim Hortons' response.