Do-Not-Call Registry Put On Hold Too Long

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.


  1. Crosbie Fitch says:

    Organ donation is opt-in
    Unsolicited marketing is opt-out

    Let’s just have a reality check here in terms of who really is ‘condemned to die’.

    Some shred of conscience suggests that organ donation should be opt-out, and spam should be opt-in.

    Minor commercial promotion, or major saving of human life?

    I have an idea. Why don’t we make it a crime to spam organ donors?

  2. I work in the IT field making software for telemarketers. The US do not call list was somewhat of a success as it stopped the bulk of cold calling, however the law was watered down enough that people still got calls. The other important part of their law is that they restrict the dropped call rate to be less than 3% of all calls that reach a human. Right now, I know that some Canadian telemarketers just set their dialers to use all the available outbound lines and hammer them, no matter how many agents they have waiting. This leads to a lot of calls where there is nobody at the other end, but the call center managers only care that the agents aren’t waiting for calls.

    I also know that the exclusions have some flaws too. For instance, charities that use professional telemarketers where the telemarketer keeps 80% of what’s donated are excluded will be exempt. If you donate to one of them just once, the same company will keep calling you back for different charities they represent.

    Another way to get around the American law is to get people’s permission to call them. The marketers will have a booth set up in a mall where you can win a car. On the contest form, there’s fine print that says that you have given them permission to call you.

    I don’t think the Canadian law will kill telemarketing, and there’s no way that it will stop calls, but it will help somewhat. The industry has bought enough MPs to make sure that never happens.

  3. Watered down
    Last time I checked, the Canadian law was already too watered down to be of any use anyway. If I recall correctly, it had exclusions for charities, political fund raising (talk about a conflict of interest) and, worst of all, banks! I don’t know about you, but the bulk of the telemarketing calls I get are from banks offering me credit, or a change of service.

    They are by far the worst offenders, and yet the DNCR would do nothing to lessen them. We might as well not bother…

  4. Charities are the wost type of telemarketing and they should be stopped. They\’re bad because they\’re annoying, because if you give money they just think you\’re a sucker and come back for more. It costs charities a fortune to advertise, so a lot of the money you give is wasted on advertising and on the telemarketing.

    If a charity is relying on telemarketing to survive, then perhaps it should die….

  5. Do-not-call system DOES NOT WORK
    I hate to say it to you, Michael Geist, but since when does exposing someone’s personal information can reduce the chances of being harassed by telemarketers? The whole idea is completely flawed. It’s just like the ‘unsubscribe’ feature from the email spams. Besides, telemarketers can use caller ID spoofing to prevent themselves from getting caught when they violate the law, making do-not-call list impossible to enforce.

    The whole do-not-call list bill should simply be scrapped, and replaced by DO CALL LIST, in which telemarketers can only contact individuals listed in the list. Furthermore, telemarketer must provide proof that the owner of the phone number had chosen to subscribe the telemarketing service before contacting the number.

  6. Public information on the subject?
    A very touchy subject that everybody wants something done about it. But why isn’t this top on the list of subjects in the news? Like spam mail, our identities are violated and have an ongoing harassment from greedy people that exploit what they think is a creditable company.

    If it is on that list in your side of the country, why isn’t it in the rest of the country, or do you think that we are just hicks that only form of communication is by mail?

    And I too don’t want charities, political parties, etc to be excluded from the do-not-call list because they always are selling their cause to anyone for your money, name for their list of supporters, or any little thing that they could use from us. If you give to their causes they will continue to harass you for more.

  7. Lobbists Are the Cause of the Delays
    I’m in IT and in 2005, I wrote my Liberal MLA and offer to supply the Do-Not-Call registration software for free since it would only take a few months to build. I even offer to go beyond a Do-Not-Call registry to also include: Junk Mail, SPAM as well as Tele-Marketing. So, far, no one has accepted the ‘free offer’.

  8. geek
    What does Steven Harper’s minister on the subject, Josée Verner, have to say for herself and the CRTC which reports to her?

    Should we start a letter-writing campaign to her? A neat hand-written (not even typed) letter or two might be enough to suggest that there’s enough political will in the Average Joes and Joannes of Canada, to make it worthwhile kicking some Ass at the CRTC to boost her own re-election potential.