My weekly Law Bytes column (Ottawa Citizen version, The Tyee version, homepage version) highlights the delays associated with creating a Canadian do-not-call registry. Despite overwhelming public support for the ability to opt-out of unwanted telemarketing calls, the registry is still months or possibly years from becoming a reality, a victim of political indifference, special interest opposition, and CRTC inaction.
The initial Canadian proposal adopted a strong, pro-consumer approach by featuring a comprehensive ban on marketing to listed phone numbers and leaving it to the CRTC to consider exceptions, develop an implementation plan, and levy penalties for non-compliance. Lobbying pressures substantially altered the bill, however, as Members of Parliament introduced new exceptions for charities, political parties, polling companies, newspapers, and businesses with existing business relationships. The rationale for these exceptions ranged from saving Canadian charities (one MP claimed they would be "condemned to die" without the ability to make unsolicited telemarketing calls) to freedom of the press.
While the proposed registry is less than ideal (I have been working on an academic project to enable Canadians to opt-out of the excepted groups – stay tuned), it is certainly better than nothing. Once the legislation received royal assent in November 2005, most observers expected the CRTC to meet its statutory obligation and get the do-not-call registry off the ground. It launched a public consultation in February 2006, held hearings in May 2006, and convened working groups to sort out the specific details of the registry. Those groups reported their findings in July 2006, yet nearly one year later, the CRTC has still not even issued a formal call for proposals to find an entity to manage the registry.
The unconscionable delay is part of a larger trend of Ottawa failing to set reasonable ground rules to protect Canadians from unwanted marketing. Not only does Canada trail badly in the creation of a do-not-call registry, but it also stands virtually alone among developed countries in not taking any legislative steps to address the mounting spam problem. Given the near-universal public support for a do-not-call registry, the existence of a law mandating its creation, and successful implementations around the world, there is no valid excuse for leaving this call on hold.