Do-Not-Call List Undermined By Loopholes in the Law

This month marks the one-year anniversary of the launch of Canada's do-not-call list.  Over the past 12 months, millions of Canadians have registered their numbers on the list and filed hundreds of thousands of complaints with the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, which is tasked with enforcing the law. While the CRTC has found itself subject to considerable criticism for investigating only a small percentage of complaints and levying just a handful of fines for do-not-call violations, my weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes that a review of tens of thousands of complaints obtained under the Access to Information Act reveals a potentially bigger problem.  

Many of Canada's best-known companies have been the target of frequent complaints, yet are not subject to investigation due to the large number of exceptions found in the law.  This has led to genuine dismay, with many people using a comment section in the complaint form to register their disappointment with the do-not-call list.

Working together with University of Ottawa students Sean Murtha and Frances Munn, I recently reviewed more than 60,000 complaints released by the CRTC.  The complaints were lodged in late 2008 and early 2009 using the do-not-call list's Internet-based complaints mechanism.  In each case, the complaint included all relevant information with the exception of the complainant's name and telephone number, which were excluded for privacy reasons. There were hundreds of complaints about automated calls promising cruise vacations or lawncare services.  But the undisputed leader among reputable companies was Bell Canada, which alone was the subject of nearly one thousand complaints.  In fact, the wireless sector had the distinction of taking the top three spots with Rogers and Telus ranking second and third respectively. There were also hundreds of complaints against Canada's top financial institutions and retailers including RBC, CIBC, Scotiabank, TD Canada Trust, and Sears.

Businesses exempt under the law similarly faced numerous complaints.  For example, Canadians lodged complaints against 27 different newspapers, despite the fact newspapers enjoy a full exception under the do-not-call legislation.

The sheer number of complaints against a who's who of the business community places the spotlight on the gap between what Canadians expect the do-not-call list to cover and what it actually does.  Many Canadians reasonably anticipated that placing their phone number on the do-not-call list would mean that the telemarketing calls from telephone companies, banks, retailers, newspapers, and charities would stop.

Yet the law contains large loopholes that let the calls continue.  Bell Canada may lead the way on do-not-call complaints, but it seems likely that the Bell calls qualified under the business relationship exception that allows a business to continue to call a customer for a full 18 months after they leave the company.  In other words, the law does not restrict calls that try to win back customers or sell existing customers other products or services.

Similarly, there are blanket exceptions for survey companies, political parties, charities, and newspapers.  All of those organizations are permitted to continue calling until specifically asked to stop.  

The result is that a system designed to restore consumer confidence may actually undermine it with many feeling helpless to stop unwanted telemarketing calls.  The enforcement side of the do-not-call list may need improvement, but the more critical change is the elimination of overly broad exceptions that turn the do-not-call list into the do-not-hesitate-to-call list.


  1. There’s a difference
    I think people don’t understand that there’s a difference between yelling at the caller that you’re not interested in their product and politely telling them to remove you from their calling list to stop calling you.

  2. Bell Canada is reputable?
    “But the undisputed leader among reputable companies was Bell Canada [..]”

    I’d like to suggest a few other words that would make that sentence more pallatable; infamous, well-known…

  3. Untouchable becuase of surveys
    I’ve been receiving more and more telemarketing calls from companies disguised as surveys.

    It’s sick that an air duct cleaning company can claim that they’ve been asked by the “Canadian Government” to conduct a survey to find out when was the last time I had my air ducts cleaned and how it can help stop H1N1 and other jibberish and then present their services.

    The loopholes must end.

  4. One man’s exemption
    is another mans loophole. If it is necessary to you continuing to do business in the way that you’ve become accustomed, it is an exemption. If you consider it an aggravation, its a loophole.

    This applies to anything of the like; DNCL list, Do Not Spam list, copyright reform, etc.

    Part of the issue appears to have been expectation management. The exemption for having a current business relationship, for instance. Bell, being a company with its fingers in a lot of different things but still a single company (landline phone, cellular, satellite TV, etc) means that chances are you are doing business with them.

  5. Vincent Clement says:

    If Only
    Bell Canada invested the amount of money they are spending on marketing into improving their services then maybe people wouldn’t be leaving it. I literally get at least one addressed junk mail from Bell Canada every week. Enough is enough. Stop sending me stuff.

  6. Similarly with Rogers, I must receive at least 2-3 pieces of unsolicited mail from them each and every week. I think the largest loophole is the telemarketers calling under the guise of surveys. I don’t yell and scream, I politely tell them I am not interested and to take my name of their list. Most irritating to me is the calls I keep getting from the 416 and 905 area codes, clearly within Canada. I complain to the CRTC but nothing seems to be done. AND, not being able to fine or otherwise severely admonish countries other than Canada is ridiculous. I feel that any outside-of-Canada company that calls me and harrasses me should be able to be fined. Perhaps we need “treaties” or other acts between countries that allow for such punishment.

  7. Jack Robinson says:

    The DNCL is no substitute for Taking Control
    As someone long-plagued by the black fly swarms of telemarketers’ attacks upon my paltry land-line privacy, I adopted the following measures, which… at least in my case… seem to have achieved a measure of Muskol success:

    I joined this site’s iOpt-Out initiative prior to signing onto the DNCL…

    Confirmed my subsequent DNCL status by e-mail…

    Don’t pick up the infernal Pavlovian device whenever it beckons…

    Manage my potentially infectuous on-line interactions with the same hardass discretion.

    The resulting silence is almost spooky.

  8. “Do” Call List
    Instead of a “National Do-Not Call List”, I think there should be a “National Do Call List”.

    That way people who want to be called at all hours of the day with offers of lawn care, moving services and “free” vacations would be called and the rest of us who do not want unsolicited calls can enjoy the use of our phones in peace.

  9. Just tell them to stop calling you
    Gotta love the CRTC. They sure know how to protect the consumer. Ever since they deregulated telephone and cable rates we get to hear from all the people who are trying to compete. Who, of course, were conveniently left off the do-not-call list. How many lists do we have to have to be left alone?
    Mr Geist, thank you for the service. Hopefully, we can get eventually get to real service from the feds.

  10. VancouverDave says:

    Does anyone happen to know..
    …Mr. von Finckenstein’s home phone number?

    I’ll bet it wouldn’t take many calls at all to close a few of those loopholes (solicitations for the Pirate Party, for VancouverDave’s Relief Fund, the VancouverDave Times-Sun-Colonist-Examiner-Advertiser, etc.)

  11. Bell among reputable companies? O RLY?
    “undisputed leader among reputable companies”

    “reputable” is too good, “notorious” would be more appropriate.

  12. Hendrik Boom says:

    Are there any actual statistics on whether putting your number on the do-not-call list increases or decreases the number of calls you get?

  13. Sounds familiar
    After the US anti-spam act passed, I had high hopes that the amount of spam I was receiving would diminish, despite the fact that I am a Canadian. After finally having enough from one particular spamming company, I decided to look up the act only to find the total lack of any effective remedies. The provisions described here remind me of those found in the anti-spam act. I for one would be someone who would prefer not to receive calls from charities (especially one I have not donated to in the past) as all of my excess income (which isn’t much) currently goes into a savings account. I simply can’t afford to both save for a rainy day (or emergency, or a period of unemployment) and donate to multiple charities. Also, the fact that a company can call – no, harass you up to 18 months after going to a competitor is simply ridiculous. I can understand allowing exemptions for allowing a company to call a current customer regarding promotions, some of which might be useful. But at least to me, other exemptions just don’t seem reasonable.

  14. What about unsolicited calls coming from the US?

    I get these calls two to three times a week; following instructions to be removed from the list is not a valid option, if you try to speak to a live person they hang up on you if you ask to be removed from the list.

    What to do?

    I work for a real estate company in toronto, last year my brokerage paid crtc $700.00 for each area code so we can have the ‘ do not call list ‘ data files.

    Now the price is $1600.00 for each area code…..

    what a price to pay..AND how many can afford it now… maybe they might just take their chance….its more remote than lotto 649 with the way Big Brother enforce it…..what a laugh.

    whoever register their phone no. with crtc should get paid because their phone no. will be sell to anyone who is prepare to pay $1600.00 .

    think of it….416 $1600, 905 $1600, 647 $1600…add them up and see who much bell canada collects …also each phone no. inquiry bell charge over $1.60

    it’s all about business……big bucks and volunteer who keep register their phone number to them for free.

  16. Wiggling around the DNC list
    I just got a notice from HBC GE clarifying that the language in the agreement to use their credit card:

    Privacy: The consent language is being clarified to make it explicit that Hbc or GE Money may contact you regarding products or services that may be of interest by way of telemarketing communications such as Automatic Dialling Announcing Devices (ADAD).

    It’s illegal to contact someone using such a device in Canada, but I suppose you can waive your rights by signing, or continuing to participate in an agreement with such a change.

  17. DNC….Waste of time!
    I get calls everyday at 11:57 and 7:18 from 204-927-2271 trying to sell me the Sun or Province news paper. It seems that Newspapers Telemarketers are exempt…how can the CRTC think that people who hate telemarketers won’t mind be harassed by someone selling newspaper subscriptions. Telemarketing is telemarketing…I don’t care what your selling…I DON’T WANT IT!

  18. ….
    1.3M? Pocket change. That’s what some board members get for attending a 2 hours meeting.


    These penalties should be correlated to the company’s size, otherwise they’ll have little effect.


  19. Impersonating to call DNC #s
    We happen to be the ‘victim’ of harrassment, not from a telemarketer but from consumers. So happens that another company is doing business using our company’s name, their call center is in Pakistan & those idiots gladly give our company’s info. to any consumer who complains about their unwanted calls. We have complained to the crtc with proof of the other duct cleaning co. but nothing has been done about it. We have posted a warning for consumers on our website, some consumers are smart and ask questions, other consumers are just plain idiots and believe whatever the telemarketer tells them over the phone. It seems that nowadays anyone can just impersonate someone else, and dial anyone on the DNC list, clever I imagen.

  20. newspapers
    Just got a call from a newspaper. Even though I am on the do-not-call-list I was told that it was legal for newspapers to call me up and tell me what wonderful offers they could give me. I told him to take my number off the list and he was gracious enough to do so. What bothered me was that the telemarketer was unable to realize that I thought his call was an intrusion and a real waste of my time. Is it so hard for them to understand that it is annoying to constantly have to pick up the phone at all hours to talk to a stranger who is trying to sell you something?
    e ven though

  21. well wisher says:

    telemarketing call
    if guys got calls regarding The air duct cleaning services so that call generated from pakistan call center in karachi Esquareis the name of call center address Esquare suit 104 ,207 tariq center main tariq road karachi pakistan fawaaz shafiq is the hr manager and waqar is the operation manger that call center control and run from canada i dnt know the name of owner but she is resident of canada and provide the air duct cleaning services in 115 for under 2500 sq/ft house

  22. Business Listing says:

    Business Listing
    A very clever idea, will impliment it as soon as possible. Keep up the good work.
    Business Listing

  23. DNCL a complete failure!!
    The Loopholes that allow the telemarketers to continue are a sad joke on us, the consumer. Where are our concerns listened to? The service provider’s can’t/won’t provide effective technical relief(Call Blocking devices, or censure of area codes originating from outside Canada which might force stronger interventions from the senders network for instance) This is never a topic in political campaign speech’s but I’d like to see this “Elephant in the room” dragged out and slaughtered! I’ll be strongly influenced to vote for those candidates who will put teeth in the legislation to eliminate all unwanted calls, Isn’t this a service we pay our own $$ for and taxes are collected from? Big Brother is Here!!