Do-not-call list made situation 'worse,' says group
CTV.ca News Staff
Published Thursday, January 15, 2009 10:36PM EST
After its launch last September, Canadians added more than 2.7 million phone numbers to the national do-not-call list.
But now, with nearly 6 million numbers registered, many Canadians who signed up are feeling duped because they're receiving more telemarketing calls than ever before.
That's because the do-not-call list may have gotten into the wrong hands.
To access the list, a telemarketer simply has to go to the National Do Not Call List website, enter the appropriate information and pay a small fee.
The problem is, anyone can pose as a telemarketer and obtain the list. If they're willing to break the rules, they could then call the numbers, which are all recent.
And if that list makes its way to a telemarketer outside Canada, the CRTC does not have the jurisdiction to stop them from calling Canadian numbers.
Eleanor Friedland, vice-president of the Consumers Council of Canada, said the situation is "now worse than it was before."
"If you don't have somebody checking up on it, how do you know it's working or how do you know bad guys aren't taking advantage of it," Friedland told CTV.ca on Thursday.
"We want to make certain that whatever loopholes exist are filled."
She said the CRTC needs more power to enforce the new rules.
"It should be fully staffed and the money has to be there to pay staff if that's what has to happen to check up on it," Friedland said.
"Otherwise, what's the point of putting in something that's to protect consumers if you don't watch out for the bad guys."
The CRTC says that the do-not-call registry has been a success and that an increase in unwanted calls cannot be absolutely attributed to the registry.
Lynne Fancy of the CRTC told CTV.ca that they are seeing "positive feedback from Canadians, that they have actually seen a reduction in the number of calls."
"In terms of an increase of calls . . . telemarketers can obtain calling lists from a wide variety of different sources, and these sources are unrelated to either the CRTC or the national do-not-call list," she added.
But the list has no shortage of critics.
Michael Geist, a law professor at the University of Ottawa and prominent national commentator on technology, says the do-not-call list is so flawed he likes to call it the "do-not-hesitate-to-call-list."
He said the list of exemptions -- which include registered charities, political parties and candidates, and newspapers selling subscriptions -- is so extensive that there aren't many organizations forced to abide by the new rules.
"In many instances the calls haven't stopped because the law permits those organizations to continue to make the calls," he said.
Geist also said jurisdiction flaws have provided a clear loophole for telemarketers.
"We've seen almost from the very outset, organizations set up shop outside the country and call using either automated calls, robocalls or just regular calls coming from outside Canada -- which is beyond the CRTC's jurisdiction," Geist told CTV.ca.
The CRTC maintains that they will take action against those misusing the do-not-call registry.
"Any telemarketer can access that list, but if anyone is found to be misusing the list, then we will be taking action," Fancy said.
When asked what actions the CRTC would take against telemarketers overseas, Fancy replied: "The CRTC will take all the complaints we receive seriously and will conduct investigations and if we find an organization or person is misusing the list, then we will take the actions we can do.
"We have the right to impose penalties."
John Lawford, counsel at Public Interest Advocacy Centre in Ottawa told CTV.ca that the CRTC can impose fines of up to $15,000 per call against a company or up to $1,500 per call against an individual.
But he also said fines could be as low as one cent per call.
More than a year ago, Geist called for a "mutual recognition" approach between Canada and the U.S., which also has a do-not-call list.
The law would prevent anyone in the U.S. or Canada to call numbers on either do-not-call list.
Still, that wouldn't stop calls coming from overseas.
Geist said even domestically, the CRTC has been inundated with complaints.
He was so fed up with the "designed to fail" program that he set up his own website www.ioptout.ca, which allows Canadians to tell exempted organizations that they don't want to be contacted.
"From the CRTC level, they've got to accelerate some of the complaints, hand out significant fines where appropriate and send a strong message to the market that this is a law with some teeth and the CRTC stands ready to enforce it," he said.