Canada’s Do-Not-Call Disaster

When Canada's do-not-call list was launched last September, two outcomes were easy to predict.  The first was that the list would prove enormously popular with millions of phone numbers registered in a matter of months.  The second was that Canadians would ultimately be left disappointed with little reduction in unwanted telemarketing calls and concerns about the ability of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications to enforce the law. Four months later, my weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes that the do-not-call list contains roughly six million registered phone numbers and, as expected, there are a growing number of Canadians – including Industry Minister Tony Clement – who are expressing misgivings about the potential for abuse.

The problems associated with the do-not-call list fall into three categories. 
The first, which was readily apparent years before the list became operational, is that there are far too many exceptions that allow for the majority of telemarketing calls to continue unhindered.  With exceptions for survey companies, political parties, charities, newspapers, and businesses with a prior relationship, some estimate that 80 percent of telemarketing calls are not covered by the do-not-call legislation.

The second problem revolves around the technical structure of the do-not-call list.  As has been well reported, the list – all six million numbers – is available to any telemarketer.  With numerous reports of abuse, the danger of making the numbers available to the very organizations precluded from calling those same numbers is now readily apparent.

The third problem is tied to enforcement.  The do-not-call legislation includes provisions for significant penalties, but it falls to the CRTC to investigate complaints and pursue penalties.  There have been many complaints filed with the CRTC, but to date, no penalties.

Some of the enforcement problems are linked to jurisdiction – the CRTC's jurisdictional mandate ends at the border and its ability to levy penalties against an out-of-country organization is very limited – but there is also mounting evidence that Canadian companies are disregarding the CRTC's own rulings and effectively daring the Commission to bring actions. For example, last summer the CRTC ruled that do-not-call requests registered through third party services such as (a site I founded) were valid and should be honoured. has generated nearly 8 million opt-out requests, however, there have been several online reports that blue chip companies such as Bell Canada and the Bank of Nova Scotia are refusing to accept the opt-out requests in direct contravention of the CRTC ruling.

With many more do-not-call registrations likely on the way and Clement vowing to take action, can the do-not-call list be saved?

The short answer is yes, though reversing the do-not-call disaster will require action from both the government and the CRTC.  The government should start by paring back the current overbroad exceptions.  A do-not-call list that exempts the majority of telemarketing calls is bound to disappoint and the only way to address that issue is to return to the bill as it was originally presented in the House of Commons without exceptions. Further, Clement should open talks with the United States to address some of the jurisdictional limitations of the do-not-call list.  Given that the U.S. faces some of the same concerns, a mutual recognition approach that would establish a North America-wide do-not-call list is a logical next step.

Meanwhile, the CRTC must also step up to the plate.  It bears responsibility for enforcing the law and it needs to send a strong signal that it is fully prepared to investigate complaints and to levy tough penalties for non-compliance.  In that regard, the Commission should target high profile organizations to send the message that no one is above the law.

Given its remarkable popularity, doing away with the do-not-call list is not option.  The government bought it, then broke it, and now it must fix it.


  1. A question and a suggestion
    First, the question… with the popularity of the DNCR, why do we all have to register to “not” be called? Such popularity ought to suggest to the CRTC that the majority of Canadians don’t want to be called and as such, satisfying that majority would make it illegal to call Canadians, except for those that register to be called.

    This issue, in fact has got to _the_ postchild for how the government actually works vs. how it is supposed to work. The government is *supposed* to be the people — representatives for which we send to Ottawa to work in our interest. This issue makes it absolutely clear that this is not how things are working (because if it were, telemarketing would be illegal) and in fact our government representatives are representing big business (and now the US’ interests — which is the same big business — but that’s another issue) and not us.

    Now for the suggestion… to the point that the list of people who do not want to be called is being distributed to the telemarketers… that is absolutely insane. Who’s bright idea was this?

    The way this should work is that telemarketers submit *their* lists to a “list washing” service run by the DNCR and what the telemarketer gets back is their own list minus the numbers on the DNCR. Any fourth-grader would have figured out that this is the way to run this rather than handing out the entire lists of registrants to every telemarketer out there.

    Not a far stretch I guess for a politician to believe a telemarketer is honest.

  2. Telephone Spam
    It would also be nice if our Telephone service providers could step up to the plate more (even though Rogers themselves contracts out some of these telephone spamming companies like Gemma Communications to pimp their other products)

    If I receive a spam phonecal why can’t I just (for free) flag it as spam, perhaps with a *code like dialing *111 after a spam phonecall. Make it work like ISP level junkmail filtering: have commonly flagged numbers blacklisted, allow customers to opt in to a blacklist blocker and optionally whitelist numbers. Why don’t we treat telephone spam the same way as email spam? When I have to pay airtime fees to answer the call or check any subsequent voicemail its a real inconvenience but might explain why rogers doesnt mind such phonecalls, and in fact commissions some of their own.

  3. I may be an outlier here, but since adding myself to the DNC list I have seen a massive drop in unwanted calls.

    Not to mention that I was asked by a company (during a support call *I* had initiated) if they could contact me about my account, since they noticed I had been placed on their DNC list.

    So, part of this is working. We just need to get the stick part of the carrot-and-stick working for those companies not playing by the new rules.

  4. what else i’d like to see
    in addition to the above changes, including the switch to an opt-in style of telemarketing, i think telemarketers should be required to identify themselves. at the beginning of each call they should be required to state a working call back phone number, the name of their business and a their address.

    as it stands, this information is required in order to file a do not call registry complaint and i have yet to encounter a telemarketer who will provide me with the info. from outright refusals to hang-ups when i ask.

  5. Miroslav Glavic says:

    DNCL clarification please

    Don’t take this as an attack towards you. Ioptout – if the marketing companies and forth do not respect the DNCL, why would they respect the Ioptout list?

    I am curious about the DNCL… basically I always thought that the people I have a relationship with, that they are except. Let’s say I subscribe to a newspaper…there is a relationship. What about if I divorce the newspaper and no more relationship. Since there was a relationship, does it give that newspaper the “right” to contact me for lifetime? or does the relationship have to be CURRENT?

    I heard from someone that political parties are excempt as well.

    There was four parties in the last federal election…
    Conservative, Green, Liberal and NDP (listed in alphabetical order).
    I voted for one of them. I have voted for that one ever since I came to Canada. It is my right. Does it mean that the other 3 parties can call me at the next federal election? (or political).

    If I cut a relationship with you, there is a reason for it. If someone/thing is meant to be, let it go and it will come back.

    There are so many loops.

  6. Is the data in being sold too?
    I registered with but not with the DNCR. My objective was to reduce the number of calls from companies with which I had a prior relationship (e.g., Ford, who keep calling me 2 years after I last owned one.). Prior to registering with, I got zero calls from telemarketers, probably because I only have a cell phone (no land line). However, in the last month I have received several calls from US-based telemarketers. So, my question: is the database in being sold to telemarketers?

  7. Michael Geist says:

    Response to GarryS
    Absolutely not. The iOptOut data is not even retained for those that ask that it be deleted. For others, it is not used or transferred to any third parties (other than those listed by the use for opting out).


  8. Questions
    Further to the above–you admit you’re sending lists off to third parties who are listed on iOptOut. So, what prevents those parties from selling or trading the info you give them? If they’re doing it to the DNCL, which has legal ramifications and penalties etc, why wouldn’t they do it to your non-government site?

  9. Michael Geist says:

    To A.Nonymous
    As discussed on the site, iOptOut forwards an opt-out request to the specific organizations that people check off. Could those parties be disclosing that information to others? I suppose it is possible, though many of the same legal ramifications would apply.


  10. Enforcement is lacking
    Since registering, I have noticed a drop in calls. But not an absolute stop. I have received a number of calls from companies that would not be exempt (duct cleaning companies for example) since the DNCL went into effect. I dutifully filled out the proper form on the DNCL website asking for an investigation, and to be updated on the investigation.

    I have not yet received any information regarding this.

    I have also received a call from the Toronto Star despite registering with the iOptOut service.

    Is there a better (more effective) way to spur the CRTC / DNCL into action?

  11. A Simple Alternative
    I have a simpler alternative. I subscribe to caller-id. If I don’t recognise the number, I don’t answer. That’s what voice mail and answering machines are for. It is hilarious to listen to a machine talking to a machine sometimes.

  12. Devil's Advocate says:

    I keep saying it…
    We can talk about this problem until the phone lines all decay, the fact remains – if we don’t find a way to correct BELL’s open defiance of the law, as well as the behaviour of its motherly protector, the CRTC, we’ll always be talking about this, and all the other issues Bell has brought to us.

    Let’s face it:

    1) Bell clearly demonstrated it had no intention of going along with iOptOut in the first place. There should be no surprise Bell is thumbing its nose at iOptOut now.

    2) Bell has NEVER claimed ANY interest in helping its customers deal with unwanted calls, in spite of having the technology to do so, and a law that states a provider is responsible to track ALL abuse and complaints by its subscribers, regardless of origin.

    3) Bell never respected the CMA list when conducting its own telemarketing campaigns.

    4) Bell had far too many business interests that directly conflicted with being the DNCL operator. The CRTC had no business even considering Bell for the position.

    5) Bell, in contracting AIC Global to call people who’ve “iOpted-Out”, and only a few months into the game, has made a pretty clear statement they blatantly intend to trash iOptOut.

    6) The fact that Bell can do this, and everything else it does, while every responsible party effectively does NOTHING, is all the proof anyone needs that Bell is, and always has been, protected.

    Look at the US Do-Not-Call system.
    It’s not perfect, but companies like AT&T have been charged HEAVILY for not paying enough attention to the registry.

    The CRTC has yet to file a charge.
    And, the “complaint procedure” they’ve supplied Canadians with is a complete INSULT! Has anyone tried it?!

    They’ve narrowed it down to a web form that deosn’t even allow for personal comment or additional input. They want you to resign yourself to a “multiple choice” format that covers virtually nothing relevant, and therefore, carries no “weight” (whether by itself or collectively with others like it).

    If the CRTC were really there for us, none of this would be happening.

    If the media had any interest in telling the truth, there would have been a steady followup to those initial reports, and to Tony Clement’s public statement.

    If the Government was working for us (and not the Corporate Machine), Bell would have been torn apart long ago, in favour of individual, independently-owned companies, separating “services” from “content offerings” – no conflict of interest, no anti-competitive incentives – and would have done more to foster competing infrastructures (no monopoly).

    If anything’s going to get done on this, the above is the real issue. Pressure should be put in the right places to address THAT.

    The DNCL failure, though a major point of contention (and a black and white one at that), is simply a SYMPTOM of what is wrong, and not the actual ailment we need to treat.

  13. CRTC “enforcement”
    I spoke with the CRTC last week with regard to enforcing Do not call requests specifically made through As with the letter from the chairman, they agreed these are valid, enforceable requests.

    However, all they can offer as a complaint procedure is to go to thedDo not call registry webform and fill it out, selecting “Company will not honour my do not call request”, and told me there is space to explain. Even then, it will depend on “how many complaints are made against the same company”

    The problem is, it only gives space for a few words, no where near enough. Of course, the option isn’t valid anymore, since I’ve complained to the company they are no longer refusing to put me on their do not call list, they just refused my previous request and informed me they will refuse all ioptout requests.

    So we are left with he situation where the CRTC has been very clear ioptout requests are as valid and enforceable as any, and I have 100% proof a major company is going to ignore the CRTC and keep refusing to honour those requests.

    But there is nothing practical I can do about it but try and submit a complain through the bell registry webform.

  14. Devil's Advocate says:

    This doesn’t make any more sense than the first time you said it, Jamie…
    “But there is nothing practical I can do about it but try and submit a complain through the bell registry webform.”

    Since the DNCL operator itself (Bell) is really the one trashing iOptOut, you would be simply expecting Bell to help exact discipline on itself.

  15. Martin Laplante says:

    I hope that the DNC list has both general and marketer-specific honeypots to help track down offenders. I hope that the legislation allows vigorous prosecution of the marketers who use or sell those lists, based on honeypot evidence. I hope that iOptOut also uses those. No need to confirm or deny it on a public forum.

  16. How about a law requiring telecoms to provide per-number blocking as a free service? And along with that another one requiring telemarketers to use a valid phone number (none of this 000-000-0000 garbage).

    At the very least, there should be some easy way to report telemarketing calls. Maybe by dialing *123 or something after they call and that registers your “vote” that it is a telemarketing call. After enough “votes” within a particular amount of time the call display could be changed to display “TELEMARKETER” to anyone else receiving such calls — just like how many email anti-spam systems work.

  17. Devil's Advocate says:

    This has been one of my major beefs
    “How about a law requiring telecoms to provide per-number blocking as a free service? And along with that another one requiring telemarketers to use a valid phone number (none of this 000-000-0000 garbage).”

    Telcos have had the technology to offer such things for quite some time. They simply won’t.

    More proof there is always a bigger agenda at stake than satisfying customer demand.

  18. I just received a call from the CRTC. Their argumentative rep.informed me I would need to complain to iopout because “we’re the government and we only enforce our government DNC list”. Said they don’t know anything about ioptout. She had never heard of the CRTC chair’s letter about Ioptout. She eventually said its possible shes mistaken and she’d do some research. She said if thats the case the only way to make a complaint if is the DNC site where there is “a huge block of text where it can be explained, she knows because shes done it”.

    Granted, a different rep from the CRTC had already called and said they will accept complaints about ioptout, but only through the DNC website.

    Leaves me with very little hope ANYTHING will ever come of Do Not Call enforcement. How can the CRTC ave reps calling who don’t have a clue?

    The CRTC contact form asks if you’d like a reply be letter, email or phone. I chose email, for a complaint about telemarketing, and they phone me!!

  19. CRTC incompetence
    After yesterday’s call I emailed the CRTC chair directly. No response but another call from the CRTC..

    They “finally found” the letter the chairman had sent about iopout from “way back in June” (I supposed it helped I sent them the link?!). Apparently the agent who called yesterday had been away in june so had never heard of that, nor had any idea one could ask a company to not be called separately then the DNC list, despite having been responding to inquiries since September. They agree now companies must honour the request.

    But, despite having someone reasonably competent on the phone they will still not take my complaint, which must go through the DNC operator website, who will send it to them. They also agree there isn’t enough space, and a larger text field for comments is “coming”.

    Also mentioned that because this is new “any investigation will take quite a while”

  20. Devil's Advocate says:

    We’re doomed, plainly and simply…
    Jamie’s last two posts illustrate the kind of dysfuntional behaviour we now constantly get from the CRTC, as well as any government body, or any publicly influential company.

    How much longer are we supposed to tolerate this bullshit before we admit to ourselves we are definitely being HAD??

    Prime example:
    iOptOut wasn’t some “insignificant little project” that only a handful at the CRTC would be aware of. It was NATIONAL, and was brought to the forefront of the CRTC’s attention early in the game.

    For anyone in the CRTC to claim (read “pretend”!) they had no idea of what iOptOut was is just a blatant insult to the public’s intelligence. And, the only reason to feign ignorance in a situation like that would be “higher motivations” than serving the public.

    This kind of public disservice needs to be attacked head on! The CRTC needs to be replaced by a truly public body.

  21. On the slim chance the CRTC ever does take action, we’ll likely never know

    “If a telemarketer does not contest a notice of violation and pays the proposed penalty as set out therein, neither the nature of the violation nor the name of the telemarketer will be made public.”

    I imagine if it someone like…a bank, the $15,000 or less fine would be preferable to being outed as a telemarketing scofflaw.

    Reading through the process, its seem pretty tilted to the telemarketer. the consumer gets 50 characters to explain their complaint on the DNC website with no ability to contact anyone The telemarketer get warnings, teleconfrences, written submissions…and an still keep it quiet if they pay the fine (compared to the published multi million dollar fines in the USA)

    Who’s side are these guys on anyway?

  22. publicnotice says:

    The CRTC’s attitude is actually much worse that most people realize
    The CRTC knew all along that allowing telemarketers to download the DNCL database would result in it being used illegally as a calling list. The CRTC chose to suppress expert testimony to that effect, and are still engaged in a coverup of the facts.

    And if the above weren’t bad enough, the CRTC refers to anyone who objects to telemarketing as a “terrorist”. They have published their own words in plain sight in the transcripts of the PN2006-4 hearings on the CRTC web site. You can read about all of this and more at our website:

  23. i just won a free trip! says:

    suggestion: “domestic” phone service
    If the CRTC is having problems with their enforceable jurisdiction, why not offer a phone service that can only make and receive calls from within the Canadian borders?

    This is not a perfect solution for everyone, but would help put the majority of Canadian home phone numbers into an enforceable area for the CRTC.

    I even think the phone company could offer this as a priced “upgrade” over existing service… if they can somehow justify it without exposing too much self-interest in keeping the status quo. Its something that I would be willing to consider paying for.

    Personally, I’m not expecting any calls from the US Virgin Islands.

  24. they just wont stop
    Unbelievable. Despite me using ioptout almost a year ago to tell Scotiabnak not to call, them calling anyway, them first claiming they wont honour ioptout (which got them mentioned in the Toronto Star) before reversing their position, and them putting it in writing I was now on their internal do not call list…they are apparently already back telemarketing to me again!!

    That is according to optima communicatios who made a predictve dialer “dead air disconnect” call to me after I called them back to ask them who they were calling for.

    A google search for optima’s number finds a huge number of complaints over 2 years about their work for Scotiabank with high frequency calls often being dead air hang ups.

  25. There is a very simple solution to the do not call problems which could be implemented in a heartbeat by the phone companies. The government simply has to mandate that all telemarketers must use callerID and their callerID must begin with a code – i.e. TM (Telemarketer) or PP (political Party) or OP (opinion Poll). Then the phone company could give subscribers a simple interface to block calls from any caller whose ID begins TM, PP etc

  26. I (don’t) hate to tell you, I told you so…
    Wow, unscrupulous telemarketers are using the list offshore? This was my concern when your lacky contacted me last year trying to get our company to join the NDNCL. Now that I see Bell has been put in charge, my concern runs even deeper.

    Bell is a for-profit organization. Of course they’re going to sell the list to whomever wants it. They may not make a profit, but at least it will help offset some costs. The interests they serve are to their executives and shareholders, not the public good. That, and Bell frequently and blatantly violates several CRTC regulations regarding marketing themselves.

    I really wish it would have worked, but I’m glad I didn’t sign up for it myself personally.

  27. Il'ja29Gavrilov says:

    отзыв на этот пост
    Вечеринка с естафетами и играми