House of Commons Hansard #53 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was spam.

Topics

Presence in Gallery
Oral Questions

May 7th, 2009 / 3 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

I would like to draw the attention of hon. members to the presence in the gallery of the recipients of the Governor General's Performing Arts Awards.

There is a list so I urge hon. members to withhold their applause until the end.

For Lifetime Artistic Achievement in the Performing Arts: Peggy Baker; Édith Butler; R. Murray Schafer.

The Ramon John Hnatyshyn Award for Voluntarism in the Performing Arts: James D. Fleck.

The National Arts Centre Award: Paul Gross.

Presence in Gallery
Oral Questions

3 p.m.

Some hon. members

Hear, hear!

Presence in Gallery
Oral Questions

3 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

I invite all hon. members to meet the recipients at a reception in Room 216-N after question period.

Business of the House
Oral Questions

3:05 p.m.

Liberal

Ralph Goodale Wascana, SK

Mr. Speaker, I have the usual Thursday question about the program the government has in mind for the rest of this week and the week laying ahead.

I would specifically like to ask the government House leader if he is in a position today to designate the dates upon which the committee of the whole will meet for the purpose of examining the estimates of two departments, in particular, the Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. It would be helpful if the minister could inform us of the dates he has selected during the month of May for that examination.

I have a specific suggestion to make to him about Bill C-29, the bill having to do with agricultural loans, which is both useful and to the largest extent, non-controversial. I wonder if we might be able to agree to have that bill called on Monday and see if we might be able to dispose of it at all stages before the end of next week.

Business of the House
Oral Questions

3:05 p.m.

Prince George—Peace River
B.C.

Conservative

Jay Hill Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the questions and the suggestion from my hon. colleague, the House leader for the official opposition.

For today and tomorrow, we will continue debate on Bill C-27, the anti-spam bill, which is at second reading. If we complete Bill C-27, it is my intention to call Bill C-20, the nuclear liability bill and Bill C-8, the matrimonial real property bill. All of these bills are at second reading.

On Monday, we will begin debate at the second reading stage of Bill C-29, the agricultural loans bill, to which the member just referred. Once that bill is completed, we will continue with the unfinished business that I mentioned earlier plus Bill C-30, the Senate ethics bill.

It is my intention to give top priority to any legislation that is reported back from committee next week.

Finally, in response to my colleague's question about committee of the whole, I would like to designate Thursday, May 14 as the evening the estimates of the Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada are considered in committee of the whole pursuant to Standing Order 81(4).

I will be announcing the date of committee of the whole study of the estimates of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans at a later date.

As to the member's suggestion about debating all stages and moving Bill C-29, which is so important for our agricultural producers heading into the spring planting season, I would note that one of the reasons we are not debating it today is because there was a request from his critic, the member for Malpeque, who will be returning to the House on Monday. Therefore, we have scheduled that for Monday.

In trying to continue in our spirit of working together with all opposition members, I would certainly be open to his suggestion. I know the Minister of Agriculture would be eager to work with the three opposition parties to try and move Bill C-29 through the House at all stages and get it down the hall to the other place as quickly as possible.

Electronic Commerce Protection Act
Government Orders

3:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

When the bill was last before the House, the hon. member for Pickering—Scarborough East had the floor. There are six and a half minutes remaining in the time allotted for his remarks.

I therefore call upon the hon. member for Pickering—Scarborough East.

Electronic Commerce Protection Act
Government Orders

3:05 p.m.

Liberal

Dan McTeague Pickering—Scarborough East, ON

Mr. Speaker, I hope to be able to encapsulate some of the thoughts that I have before the House with respect to this important piece of legislation.

I was concerned not just about the international implications but that Canada must demonstrate a greater willingness to co-operate, to work collectively, and to find solutions that are certainly concurrent with new developments in technology, particularly those who are involved with spam, the illegal sending of electronic information, phishing and that sort of behaviour, including the use of malware. We must be able to ensure that we have at our disposal the availability of the best technologies, and that the best practices in consultation with the provinces, the international community and the federal government are brought to bear.

One of the concerns I also have is the economic damage that spam has created. Given my work on this file, going back to Bill C-460, back in October 2003, I have always been troubled with the penalty, not just the question of resources to ensure that we enforce but of course the penalty. The penalty is a significant, on paper, administrative monetary penalty.

I realize that this is the way we have gone in Canada, but the bigger concern is that the damage done to the industries or consumers is never fully and properly compensated. Sooner or later we are going to have to recognize that administrative, monetary penalties, while they may form a deterrent and while industries or consumers may in fact receive, ultimately, proper payment from those who have purveyed or who have been accused and charged, and ultimately convicted, the fact is that victims will continue in this context to remain victims.

I would hope the moneys that the federal government will be getting when it catches those who are involved with the use of illegal forms of electronic messaging are in fact moneys that could be used for better training, to be reinvested in ensuring that we have proper, best practices that can be advocated, that we can share with small and medium sized enterprises, and that we can help to educate in our schools. So we are not just saying, “Here is $1 million to stop the problem”, but once we seize those assets, once we get that kind of money, it should in fact be reinvested into the very resources, the very force, the very effectiveness of this legislation.

As I pointed out earlier, this bill has good intentions. However, if it cannot be vigorously implemented, it will not give the desired results. Therefore, my expectation is that the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology and the other committees that may examine this issue should be prepared to take into consideration the evidence of witnesses in order to adopt the most important practices. We must reassure people that this bill will not just be a document but that it will also represent the demands of people who work very hard to combat this problem, which continues to be a veritable impediment for consumers and businesses.

With regard to spam, this issue understandably affects everyone, especially in a country such as ours where we use BlackBerries and receive messages from businesses.

I cannot emphasize how wrong it is for all of us to have cellphone companies actually charge people for spam that they neither asked for nor did they in fact encourage. So it seems to me it is attacks on a problem that Parliament has missed for years. I am hoping that we can actually address this issue and that we also reach out to cellphone companies, and stop this practice of billing Canadians for something that is no fault of their own. It is the result of negligence perhaps by Parliament over the years not to get a proper model together.

As it turns out, the legislation in terms of other jurisdictions may be behind the eight ball. We may have been a little slow in getting off, but nothing stops us from working with the various software companies and large computer companies to make sure that we avail ourselves of the best, the most modern, the most up-to-date best practices, and best abilities to detect those fraudsters who, in my view and I think the view of all parliamentarians, are engaging in a practice that undermines the integrity of one of the premium and most important forms of communication that we have in the modern age.

Since the time that I presented my bill and the time in which my party has been interested in this, we have gone through several ministers of industry. I am hoping and I challenge the current industry minister to put his rhetoric aside and to continue to focus on the importance of having this legislation passed. The importance of the legislation passed also means taking in necessary amendments as they become available. I have mentioned some that could be considered.

I look forward to questions and I also look forward to a speedy third reading debate to get this into the Senate, so that we can give Canadians a modicum of assurance that Canada is acting in a way that is not only consistent with the best practices around the world but we are acting in a way that ensures that above all we are protecting consumers in this country.

As a Liberal, I am proud of the fact that my party has taken this issue very seriously. We began the blue ribbon panel. I am seeing that several years later the Conservatives have finally realized how important a consumer issue this is. Be it as it may that it is late, I think we can stand together and ensure that this legislation, with some modification, should pass as soon as possible, assuming of course proper and appropriate parliamentary due diligence.

Electronic Commerce Protection Act
Government Orders

3:15 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for an excellent presentation. I do recall hearing a lot from him over the last few years on consumer issues, particularly the high price of gasoline, when he has actually been ahead of his party on consumer issues. I really appreciate him doing that. He indicated he introduced the first bill in 2003 and certainly had his battles with his own government at the time because he could not get it to move. But I applaud him for sticking with his principles and sticking to the issues by taking positions that were not always consistent with his government at the time.

He indicated the way the bill is structured and set up by the government. He also talked about the poor resources that Industry Canada may have and the problems it has with coordination. Does he have any suggestions for amendments that would make this a much tougher, easier and forceful bill?

Electronic Commerce Protection Act
Government Orders

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Dan McTeague Pickering—Scarborough East, ON

Mr. Speaker, as new as the hon. member may be to this Parliament, he is certainly a quick study on a number of consumer issues and I have noticed that from a number of other members. This grey hair is now starting to show the amount of time I have spent on some of these issues.

It is critical that if we are going to properly resource enforcement in this country, particularly as it relates to the CRTC and to the Competition Bureau, that the money the government acquires under administrative monetary penalties be added to the resources which the government contemplates thereby ensuring that we stamp out spam to the extent that we can.

In fact, I am asking the government to not use these monies prior to making a commitment to vigorously strengthen the bill. I am proposing that it provide more money.

This is the least we can do because if we are not going to actually compensate the victims who have been badly hurt by the wanton attempts by spammers, as is done in many other jurisdictions including the United States, my view is that the money at the very least should be given back to better resources, to acquire the best modalities, so that we can continue to be one step ahead of this.

I know that in my neighbourhood, in Pickering, there are hundreds of people I have spoken to in the past two or three years whose computers have been completely destroyed by this, costing them several hundreds of dollars. They do not ask for money. They just ask that the federal government stand up, stamp out this problem, and stop using Canada as a sieve to export the problem externally, which is something that Parliament has to consider. It is not just saying we are going to stop it here in Canada. We have to recognize once and for all that spammers in Canada are doing this nation a disservice and creating a black eye for our country as they export this problem to other countries as well.

Electronic Commerce Protection Act
Government Orders

3:15 p.m.

Bloc

Robert Bouchard Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is always a privilege to rise in the House, especially on a matter that affects the vast majority of people.

I am referring to Bill C-27, whose purpose is to promote the efficiency and adaptability of the Canadian economy by regulating certain fraudulent commercial practices that use email. To do this, the bill would amend the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission Act, the Competition Act and the Personal Information Protection Act.

With all the modern means of communication at our disposal, we are constantly being solicited. This bill seems at first glance, therefore, to be a good idea. When the House of Commons passed the Telemarketing Act in 2006, a national do not call list was established to reduce telephone solicitation. People who so desire can now put their telephone number on the list, which greatly reduces telephone solicitation.

I say “reduces” because there are still regulations that allow solicitation, although the new act clearly stipulates that if a person asks not to be called any more, the company must immediately stop contacting him. In addition, companies or individuals who want to have the right to contact people must be registered on the list.

Under the act, any person or organization that is not registered or fails to comply with the regulations under the act is liable to a maximum fine of $1,500 for an individual or $15,000 for a corporation.

Initial results show that the list created in September 2008 seems to have had a major effect on solicitation.

There is a simple connection I wanted to draw with the telephone do not call list. All email users are very familiar with spam, that is to say, email sent to sell us products and offer prices and many other annoying things.

In short, I do not know whether other members have noticed, but there seems to have been a considerable increase in the amount of spam over the last few months. It makes me wonder whether companies have not just changed the way they contact consumers.

I do not know specifically whether this Bill C-27 to protect electronic commerce will have the same effect as the telephone do not call list, but it goes without saying that the vast majority of email users I know would greatly appreciate an initiative of this kind.

Bill C-27 has a number of objectives. Its main purpose is to prohibit the sending of commercial electronic messages without the prior consent of the recipient.

Another objective is to protect the integrity of data transmissions by prohibiting other practices related to the unauthorized installation of computer programs. It seems only natural we would want to avoid the use of consumers’ personal information to send spam.

Bill C-27 would therefore prohibit the collection of personal information by means of unauthorized access to computer systems and the unauthorized compiling and distribution of lists of electronic addresses.

It is hard to be against motherhood and apple pie, and we in the Bloc Québécois think that companies that want to email consumers should obtain their consent first.

This bill has some fine objectives therefore. How the act will actually be enforced, though, appears rather complicated. It seems to me upon reading it that three agencies will be involved.

The CRTC must take the necessary steps to take action against the sending of unsolicited commercial electronic messages.

At the same time, the Competition Bureau must address misleading and deceptive practices and representations online, including fraudulent emails from financial institutions.

The Office of the Privacy Commissioner must also take measures against the collection of personal information via access to a computer and the unauthorized communication of lists of electronic addresses. Lastly, the Telecommunications Act will be amended by the provisions that provide the framework for this new dimension.

I know the government wants to tackle spam, and I agree that it should. Will this bill successfully prevent an American company, for instance, from sending information by email to electronic companies in Quebec and Canada? That is an important question.

I know that a number of countries have established measures like the ones proposed in Bill C-27, and they seem to be producing positive results. In Australia, the United States and Great Britain, the various pieces of legislation to combat spam seem to be making a real difference.

Those countries probably also have a mechanism to reduce the amount of spam coming from other countries.

At first glance, Bill C-27 deserves to be studied further in committee. Establishing measures that will help prevent as much spam as possible from being sent by people who use false representation, prohibited software or who exchange information about email addresses appears to be a good idea.

Of course, we would like to examine the bill's impact and application more carefully with witnesses. We are in favour of the principle of this bill, but we would like it to go to committee so we can hear from and consult with witnesses, and see if Bill C-27 would really meet needs. We would also like to know if it will properly address the spam that consumers are currently receiving.

The Bloc Québécois supports the principle of Bill C-27. It appears to respond to a problem. Unsolicited commercial electronic messages are becoming a serious social and economic problem that undermines the personal and commercial productivity of Quebeckers.

Spam is a real nuisance. It damages computers and networks, contributes to deceptive marketing scams, and invades people's privacy. Spam directly threatens the viability of the Internet as an effective means of communication. The Internet is supposed to be an effective means of communication but clogging it up with spam decreases its effectiveness. It undermines consumer confidence in legitimate e-businesses and hinders electronic transactions.

This is a constantly evolving problem, and the government has finally presented a bill four years after setting up a spam task force. That bill is C-27, the Electronic Commerce Protection Act.

Essentially, this Electronic Commerce Protection Act governs the sending of messages by email, text messaging or instant messaging without consent. Transmission of spam to an electronic mail account, telephone account or other similar account would be prohibited.

The only circumstances under which spam may be sent is when the person to whom the message is sent has consented to receiving it, whether the consent is express or implied.

Here are some of the other prohibitions: No person may alter the transmission data in an electronic message so that the message is delivered to another destination. Nor may they install a computer program on any other person’s computer system or cause an electronic message to be sent from that computer system without the owner's consent.

Bill C-27 suggests a number of administrative recourses, such as a fine of up to $1 million for an individual and $10 million in other cases. The CRTC would be responsible for investigating all complaints and must have the appropriate powers to do so.

Bill C-27 also proposes the provision of a private right of action that would enable companies and individuals to institute proceedings against any wrongdoer, which is similar to a law that has been passed in the U.S. .

Any organization covered by Bill C-27 may, on its own initiative, transmit to the CRTC, the Privacy Commissioner, or the Commissioner of Competition any information in its possession if it deems that information to be related to a violation of the Electronic Commerce Protection Act. These three bodies must also consult each other and may exchange any information in order to fulfill the responsibilities and activities they carry out under their respective statutes. Under certain conditions they may also provide such information to the government of a foreign state or an international organization.

Canada is not the only country to legislate the protection of electronic commerce. As mentioned earlier, other countries have adopted legislation in this regard. I heard one of my colleagues say that Canada is lagging behind in terms of introducing spam legislation.

I also looked at one country among others, France, which introduced a law called “law to support confidence in the digital economy“. This law was adopted in June 2004, and had a six-month transition period. Apart from specific rules set out in the postal and electronic communications code as well as the consumer code, France is required to ensure that solicitations by email, no matter their nature—business, charitable, political, religious, or membership, for example—are subject to personal information protection legislation.

Bill C-27 is not unique when we look at what other countries are doing. The Bloc Québécois is in favour of the principle of this bill. It meets several objectives that I mentioned earlier and that I would like to summarize. It will prohibit unsolicited emails from a business, protect the integrity of data transmitted by prohibiting practices related to the unauthorized installation of computer programs, prohibit the collection of personal information by accessing computers without the consent of the individuals involved and prohibit the unauthorized compiling or distribution of electronic address lists.

I will close my statement by repeating that the Bloc Québécois is in favour of the principle of Bill C-27, which seeks to assign responsibilities to three organizations we are familiar with and which will regulate email in order to have a much more efficient system of Internet communication.

The proposed legislation is interesting. We are prepared to support it, in principle, so that the bill can be studied in committee.

Electronic Commerce Protection Act
Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

NDP

Niki Ashton Churchill, MB

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for his very detailed remarks on the matter before the House today.

Before I ask my question, I would like to say a little bit about myself. I am one of the youngest members here. I belong to a generation of people who use the Internet constantly, not just in our professional lives, but in our daily lives to stay in touch with friends through email or Facebook. Those of us who use a lot of online resources get a lot of spam and so forth that slow down our communications.

I believe that Canada is a leader in many respects, but this is one big exception. Canada is way behind the rest of the world. Worse still, Canada is part of the problem for the rest of the world because it does not have legislation that covers this and because many of those who send troublesome emails to us and to others are based in Canada.

I would like my colleague to comment on that and on the fact that Canada has not really shown leadership on this issue.

Electronic Commerce Protection Act
Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

Bloc

Robert Bouchard Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank the member for her question.

As I said earlier, some countries have passed legislation to regulate, reduce and perhaps even eliminate spam. It has to be said that Canada is lagging behind a bit on this aspect of protecting electronic commerce.

I believe that this bill is a good initiative, even though it comes a bit late. At first glance, we support the bill in principle, but we think it should be referred to committee for study. That way, comprehensive consultations will be held to make sure that the bill better meets the needs of young people, as I said earlier, and all users.

We also have to recognize that electronic commerce is a very good thing in and of itself, but when it gets bogged down in spam, it becomes much less efficient.

Electronic Commerce Protection Act
Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, I would like to commend the member for a very good presentation. I do have some concerns. They are not necessarily regarding the legislation, because we in our party do support the legislation. We think that it should have been brought in long ago because we are behind the curve in this area.

What we have here is a pro-business government. It is not really known for being a leader in consumer-type legislation. The issue becomes whether one trusts the government. We could have the fanciest, most comprehensive legislation in the world, but if the enforcement is not there, we really have not accomplished much.

I would like to know whether the member and his party have any ideas on how we can not only make the best legislation possible here in the House but also limit the possible loopholes the government might have for not giving it the full enforcement that it deserves.

Electronic Commerce Protection Act
Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

Bloc

Robert Bouchard Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

Madam Speaker, as I said earlier, the Bloc Québécois supports this bill. It is designed to protect electronic commerce, which is a good thing in and of itself. We also want the committee to hold consultations on the bill in order to make sure that it really meets people's needs.

At this point, we do not necessarily have any changes or proposals to make. We want to hear what businesses and the people concerned have to say about this bill.

We want the bill to benefit the public. We want the Internet to be an efficient system. Currently, because of the huge amount of spam people receive, the Internet has problems and is less efficient, when it should be more efficient. We want to make the Internet more efficient by combatting spam.