Critics say the national do-not-call list is a sham and should be scrapped after figures suggest there is little enforcement despite more than 300,000 complaints against unwanted telemarketers.
Responding to a query by Liberal Senator Percy Downe, the federal government said it has imposed $73,000 in fines in less than two years – but collected only $250 as of March 1.
“It is a colossal disappointment,” said Dan McTeague, one of the Liberal MPs who first drafted do-not-call legislation when he was a member of Jean Chretien’s government in the late-1990s.
“The reality is that expectations of the legislation have not been met,” said McTeague, now the Opposition consumer affairs critic.
He called the list “a very hollow and very empty promise to provide consumers with a modicum of assurance the list would be respected.”
“It’s up to Parliament now to scrap the legislation to begin anew. This is clearly not worth the paper it is written on.”
The National Do Not Call List is a free service that is supposed to restrict the number of unwanted telemarketing calls and faxes people receive. Telemarketers are barred from dialing a number once it is on the list, and are supposed face stiff fines if they do – up to $1,500 for individual telemarketers and $15,000 for companies, if a registered household files a complaint.
There have been 11 fines imposed since the list was launched by the governing Conservatives in September 2008, said the response from the office of Industry Minister Tony Clement.
“As of March 1, no company has officially refused to pay the imposed administrative monetary penalty,” said the response. “Collection action continues to be pursued on all files where the CRTC has imposed a (fine) in relation to a violation of the National Do Not Call List rules. The CRTC is utilizing all means of collection available for outstanding accounts.”
Those means include withholding income-tax refunds, it said. But McTeague says it’s evident the list is not being respected and enforcement efforts are failing.
“Parliament has to send a much stronger message … and follow through in a much more deliberate way that protects consumers from these kinds of calls,” he said.
The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, which administers the program, projected in 2008 that 60 per cent of the 27 million residential telephone numbers in Canada would be registered on the list within two years. More than seven million numbers were registered by last August.
Numbers can be registered at www.dncl.gc.ca or by telephone at 1-866-580-3625.
University of Ottawa professor Michael Geist said the do-not-call list feels more like a "do-not-hesitate-to-call list” and needs to be revamped.
“With exceptions for charities, political parties, newspapers, and businesses with a prior business relationship, virtually all calls can continue even when a number is on the do-not-call list,” said Geist, who holds the university’s Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law.
“Millions of numbers have been registered … demonstrating that Canadians want to regain control over their privacy at home. “
“It has become clear that the law needs significant retooling to provide a genuine, effective system against unwanted calls along with an enforcement system with tough consequences for violations.”
The minister’s office said the CRTC first seeks voluntary compliance from violators. Failing that, it issues a “notice of violation” setting out penalties. Violators can contest the fines in writing. The commission publishes status reports on its website monthly. Violators’ names are not published if they comply with the terms of a notice of violation. But they are published along with details of their violation and fine if they contest a notice and lose.