My weekly Lawbytes column (freely available hyperlinked version, Toronto Star version) focuses on Bill C-37, which is designed to establish a do-not-call list. Following its introduction, Bill C-37 was referred to the Standing Committee on Industry, Natural Resources, Science and Technology for review. Months later, the amended bill is virtually unrecognizable, as intense lobbying has transformed the do-not-call list into the do-not-hesitate-to-call list.
Rather than leaving the specific exemptions to an open public consultation, the committee introduced several changes to the bill that dramatically reduces its effectiveness. These include exceptions for charities, political parties, polling companies, and businesses with existing business relationships. While it may come as little surprise to find politicians protecting their own ability to make unsolicited telemarketing calls, the inclusion of the existing business relationship exception is particularly damaging as it renders the do-not-call list practically useless.
The existing business relationship provision will allow businesses to contact former customers for up to a year and a half after their last communication or contract (notwithstanding the inclusion of their phone number on the do-not-call list). Moreover, even a simple inquiry will give businesses a six-month window to ignore the presence of the number on the do-not-call list.
Supporters of the do-not-hesitate-to-call list argue that the Canadian exceptions mirror those found in the U.S. Although it is true that the U.S. has created some similar exceptions, the Canadian exceptions go much further than their U.S counterparts. For instance, the exception period for a mere inquiry is twice as long in Canada as it is in the U.S.
Moreover, supporters of the amended proposal note that telemarketers will be required to maintain company-specific internal do-not-call lists so that Canadians can request no further phone calls on an individual company basis. They neglect to mention, however, that this merely restates current law, since federal privacy legislation clearly allows anyone to opt-out of further marketing communication. Experience has shown that company-specific do-not-call lists do not work, since few Canadians can opt-out of all their marketing calls, much less monitor appropriate compliance.
Not only is the new Bill C-37 a disappointing departure from the government' s prior commitment to an effective do-not-call list, the committee hearings were also particularly embarrassing. While the bill is ostensibly designed to protect consumers, the committee refused to hear from consumer groups. Instead, with notable exception of government officials and the Privacy Commissioner of Canada (whose advice was largely ignored), the committee limited its hearings to a steady stream of marketing and charitable groups.
I conclude by noting that since Bill C-37 has not yet become law, it is not too late to restore an effective do-not-call approach by reversing the committee' s proposed do-not-hesitate-to call list. The time has come for Canadians to speak out on the issue by delivering a few unsolicited calls of their own to Industry Minister David Emerson and their local Member of Parliament.