The Electronic Commerce Protection Act (Bill C-27) is headed for committee review following two days of rather strange debate in the House of Commons last Thursday and Friday. What was ensued was alternately predictable and bizarre. The predictable part was the all-party support for anti-spam legislation. MPs from all four parties talked about the need for anti-spam legislation, how it was long overdue, it is costly, it undermines confidence, etc.
The bizarre part was the discussion on the bill's implications for the do-not-call list. As I wrote soon after the bill was introduced, buried at the very end are provisions that kill the do-not-call list. Given the problems associated with the list, moving toward an opt-in approach (rather than DNCL's opt-out) could be a good thing. Yet the government seems determined to deny that the bill lays the groundwork to kill the list.
The debate started on Thursday when NDP MP Charlie Angus asks why the government seems reluctant to discuss the do-not-call provisions in the ECPA. Parliamentary Secretary Mike Lake responds that "I will start by correcting the hon. member. The bill clearly does not abolish the do-not-call registry." It continues when MP Jean Crowder (after citing some my earlier work on do-not-call) talks about how the ECPA will correct some of the problems associated with the DNCL. Lake responds that Crowder "spoke more about other legislation than this legislation." Crowder later raises the issue again and this time Conservative MP Terence Young says "it should be noted that the electronic commerce protection act will not abolish the do-not-call list. I think the member might be aware of that. There are published reports to that effect, and it is not true. For greater certainty, there is a section of the bill that remains dormant until it is made law by an order-in-council and by regulation."
Angus and Young then go back and forth on the issue:
Angus: I have heard from the member and the parliamentary secretary that there is no power to cancel the do-not-call registry. Yet sections 41.1 to 41.7 of the act is the do-not-call registry. Either the Conservatives are slipping it in the bill or they are not sure it is in the bill.
Young: I want to reassure the member opposite that there is no intention to repeal the do-not-call list.
Angus: Why, then, is it in the bill? Should we strike it now before we send it to committee?
Young: The provision at the end of the bill, which is clause 86, allows for the repeal of the do-not-call list at the time of the government's choosing in the future. It does not repeal the list. It leaves the door open for greater certainty. Clause 86 will remain dormant until the government chooses to enact it by order-in-council.
Angus: I am very glad we finally dragged it out of the hon. member. It is in the bill, but it is not in the bill unless the government decides to enact it, so we would be giving the government the power to do that. The Conservatives have told the House again and again that it is not there, but now we finally see it is there, but they will only enact it when they choose to enact it. Again, why is it in the bill? Why does the government not at least have the guts to come out and say that it completely blew it on the registry. It had no enforcement plan. This has been a complete debacle.
Later, Liberal MP Derek Lee remarks:
I want to say that I am just as curious as the last member who spoke in relation to the revocation of the do-not-call list framework in this bill. A summary is a written piece customarily found within the leaf of the bill in a statutory document like this. There is no reference to it in the summary, at least in any way that one could identify it. I may not be quite so accusatory, but I am just as curious. Perhaps we could get something on the record here in this debate from the government's side about that.
The discussion continued on Friday, with NDP MP Jim Maloway again raised my column and focused on the do-not-call issues. The Government MPs did not respond and the bill was referred to the Industry Committee for review.