Industry Canada Proposes Changes to Spam Bill as Lobbyists Demand More

Earlier this week, I wrote about the mounting lobbyist pressure to water down Bill C-27, Canada's anti-spam bill.  The pressure in recent hearings has been intense – Amazon was generally supportive of the bill but still sought an implied consent for existing customers for five to seven years (in other words, seven years to simply ask if the customer wants to receive future emails), the Entertainment Software Association and the Canadian Intellectual Property Council teamed up to warn that the bill would put Canada at a competitive disadvantage, and the Canadian Bankers Association called on the Industry Committee to completely gut the bill by dropping opt-in consent and the private right of action provisions.

Yesterday I attended the last committee meeting before clause-by-clause review as government officials appeared to propose reforms and address committee concerns.  The meeting showed the lobbying efforts are bearing fruit as officials proposed 40 changes to the bill.  While some are technical, there are several significant suggested reforms.  Moreover, the lobbying continued, as Liberal and Bloc MPs appeared to work actively to raise lobbyist issues.

First, the proposed reforms, which include:

  • changing the definition of "computer program" to exclude "a text file that is not independently executable" (ie. exclude cookies from the definition)
  • a new exception for third-party referrals. The referral provision allows for a single message where there is a referral from someone with a personal or family relationship.  It also requires the marketer to disclose the source of the referral in their message.
  • a new exception for quotes or estimates of goods or services if requested by the person to whom the message is sent
  • a new exception for the completion or confirmation of an ongoing commercial transaction
  • a new exception for warranty or safety information
  • a new exception for ongoing subscriptions, loans or similar relationships
  • a new exception for information related to an employment relationship
  • a new exception for product updates or upgrades
  • a new exception for solicitation to participate in surveys or market research
  • a new exception for information on self-governing professions
  • a clarification that the existing business relationship continues if the business is sold
  • the removal of the need for explicit consent for software programs for updates or upgrades where consent was obtained earlier
  • an expansion of implied consent to include instances where the person has published their email address or provided their email address to the sender and the message is relevant to their business or role.
  • an extension of the time to remove a person from a mailing list to ten business days
  • a "grandfathering" of the need to obtain consent in an existing business relationship to three years from when the Act takes effect (double from 18 months)

The sum total of these changes would be pretty significant – many new exceptions to cover various commercial messages that could have been easily covered by consent, specific exceptions for lobby groups like survey companies (widely abused in do-not-call) and professional associations, a new referral exception for realtors, and a three-year initial period to address concerns from companies like Amazon.  Note that these are proposals and not yet adopted by the committee.

While these are big proposed changes, it is clear that the lobby groups would like more, particularly a shift from opt-in to opt-out consent.  At yesterday's hearing, it was discouraging to see lobbyists for Canadian Chamber of Commerce and Canadian Intellectual Property Council  huddling with Liberal MPs before the start of the hearing.  It was even more incredible to see lobbyists for the Canadian Real Estate Association draft a series of questions about the bill, hand them to a Bloc MP, and have them posed to the witnesses moments later. 

The general tenor of the hearing saw support from the Conservative MPs, general support from the NDP MP (with some fear that the bill may be watered down with the proposed amendments), CREA questions from the Bloc, and a repetition of lobbyist questions from the Liberal MPs, who persistently wondered whether the bill is too broad or even too transparent (raising the possibility of excluding it from Access to Information).

Anti-spam legislation should not be a partisan issue, but it appears that lobbyists are targeting Liberal and Bloc MPs in the hope of garnering support for a further watering down of the bill.  The clause-by-clause review is slated for Monday, October 19th.  If Canadians want an anti-spam bill with some teeth, they are going to have to fight for it.  Consider writing to your MP or the members of the Industry Committee today asking them to support C-27 with an opt-in approach.  The members of the committee include:

Tags: / / / /


  1. Limiting the ability of software to do anything is a concern especially to FLOSS software which is often created internationally and overseen by volunteers.

    Also shame on the liberals for reverting back to their corporate past.

  2. bogus
    This bill is completely worthless, no matter what revisions are made. All that this bill will do is push a particular segment of business outside of the country, and will protect nobody. Does anybody really think that they’re junk-mail folder will suddenly be empty because of this bill? Hogwash! Furthermore, it will limit companies abilities to communicate with their customers, and potential customers.

    Why are these same rules not applied to Canada Post? Why do I get flyers from companies I have never done business with, and have no intention of doing business with? Junk snail-mail is a much bigger headache than junk e-mail, and should be stopped for environental reasons as well. But it will never be touched because it’s a huge source of revenue for Canada Post.

    The fact is that 95% of spam does not originate in Canada, and this bill will do nothing to stop any of that. It’s nothing more than symbolism that will end up hurting Canadian businesses.

  3. Some are not bad, some are crap.
    Some of the exceptions I can see.

    Quotes and estimates… fine, so long as the person to whom the email is sent originally provided their address to the vendor.

    Completion/confirmation of a commercial transaction. Not bad

    Warranty/safety information: Safety, OK. Warranty, on the other hand could be problematic. Does a reminder that the warranty is about to expire, and an offer to extend for dollars count under this one?

    Some are pretty bad. For instance, the removal of the need for explicit consent for software programs for updates or upgrades where consent was obtained earlier. This is complete and utter bollocks. Just because I trusted an earlier update does NOT mean that I am willing to accept a new update. “What will it break?”, for instance. It is not unusual for a software company to pooch an update… the latest update for the firmware for one piece of gear that I have is supposed to be much less stable than the one it replaces; oh, and by the way, reversion may brick the device.

    An extension of the time to remove a person from a mailing list to ten business days: so, you can automatically add my email to the list, but you must remove it manually?

  4. @Nathan
    Agreed it will do little to reduce the spam received. But, other than the direct marketers, how many businesses will actually be affected adversely?

    Businesses can’t get lists of contacts from someone who “knows” the person? Big deal. The third party can still provide the contact info to the person looking for the service. No business lost. And bonus, this is word of mouth advertising, so the potential customer won’t be so put off when they contact the business.

    There was an article about this in some newspaper recently. One of the comments was from a small business owner who spams potential customers because he can’t afford the traditional means of advertising, meaning that he can’t afford to produce flyers and have them bulk mailed by Canada Post, and therefore has his potential customers subsidize his advertising budget by paying part of the cost of delivery. Since the spam comes out of the ISP’s cap for the customer, he is, in essence, stealing cap from the customer.

  5. Bulk Flyers != UCE

    Bulk ads sent by Canada Post are paid by the business *sending* them.

    UCE (Unsolicited Commercial Email) is paid by the *recipient*.

    See the difference? I’d prefer that my monthly cap not be used for spam. Maybe that’s just me though… your mileage may vary.

  6. Re: bogus
    The amount of your monthly cap taken up by spam is negligible. That’s a non-issue in my mind.

    I think this bill is a waste of time. Nathan is right when he notes that most of the spam in your inbox comes from outside your country. So although I appreciate the intent of the bill, it’s a lost cause. I still can’t see it hurting business in Canada though. When was the last time you bought something originating from a spam message?

    It’s also disappointing, but not surprising, to see MPs stand up for business instead of their own constituents. No one in politics – cons, grits, dippers, bloc it doesn’t matter – has the courage to do the right thing. Instead, they are more worried about securing campaign donations.

  7. @John
    While I agree with you that the amount of the cap, as a percentage, is negligible for spam email, it is still there. It is not unlike if your employer rounds your pay down to the nearest dollar, save that in the case of your pay it is cumulative, unlike cap. The issue, to me, is that it is not available what I want to use it for.

    I would be interested, to see how much tracking cookies take, however. I have set up Firefox to allow me to reject cookies from sites. While I get the annoying popups about the site requesting to save a cookie, it means that I don’t pollute my disk with these files (while each file itself is small, they allocate a block of disk that is larger than they are (about 4 kBytes on Windows XP).

    Is it a waste of time? Yes and no. If done properly it will reduce, but not eliminate, the crap (spam and cookies) and use my disk space as I want, not to facilitate someone trying to track my movements on the web to deliver targeted advertising.

  8. storesonline says:

    Yup, I’ll sticky something like that if someone has some good info on how to do them

  9. Publicnotice says:

    Reply to Bogus re: junk snail mail
    Canada Post actually does allow for stopping junk snail mail, and their method is easy and seems to be very effective.

    The CRTC is not nearly as competent as Canada Post, so the phone rings more and more whether you’re on the DNCL or not. This is by design – CRTC commissioners cave in to telcos because the telcos turn around and hire them when their terms are up as commissioners. The telcos want more telemarketing so they can sell “privacy services”. Given that they are some of the worst telemarketers, this is actually extortion. They are effectively saying “Pay us or we keep calling.” How do they get away with extortion in a supposedly modern country? Easy – they pay off the CRTC by hiring ex-commissioners. That is why Canada is rapidly becoming a telecom backwater.