Electronic Commerce Protection Act

An Act to promote the efficiency and adaptability of the Canadian economy by regulating certain activities that discourage reliance on electronic means of carrying out commercial activities, and to amend the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission Act, the Competition Act, the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act and the Telecommunications Act

This bill was last introduced in the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session, which ended in December 2009.

Sponsor

Tony Clement  Conservative

Status

In committee (Senate), as of Dec. 15, 2009
(This bill did not become law.)

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment establishes a regulatory framework to promote the efficiency and adaptability of the Canadian economy by regulating certain activities that discourage reliance on electronic means of carrying out commercial activities.

It enacts the Electronic Commerce Protection Act, which prohibits the sending of commercial electronic messages without the prior consent of the recipient and provides rules governing the sending of those types of messages, including a mechanism for the withdrawal of consent. It also prohibits other practices that discourage reliance on electronic means of carrying out commercial activities, such as those relating to the alteration of data transmissions and the unauthorized installation of computer programs. In addition, that Act provides for the imposition of administrative monetary penalties by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, after taking into account specified factors. It also provides for a private right of action that enables a person affected by an act or omission that constitutes a contravention under that Act to obtain an amount equal to the actual amount of the loss or damage suffered, or expenses incurred, and statutory damages for the contravention.

This enactment amends the Competition Act to prohibit false or misleading commercial representations made electronically.

It also amends the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act to prohibit the collection of personal information by means of unauthorized access to computer systems, and the unauthorized compiling of lists of electronic addresses.

Finally, it makes related amendments to the Competition Act, the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission Act and the Telecommunications Act.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Electronic Commerce Protection ActGovernment Orders

November 3rd, 2009 / 5 p.m.
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Conservative

Joe Preston Conservative Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would certainly like to thank the member for Leeds—Grenville for a very informative speech and for what he has been able to share with us on the anti-spam legislation. With electronic commerce being what it is and what it is becoming, it is very important that we are very clear on where we are headed, to help businesses do a better job of electronic commerce.

His speech was really informative and I apologize if he did cover this already, but I need to ask him, will the government be exempting research and survey firms in this legislation, as has been done in some other places and in the do not call legislation?

Electronic Commerce Protection ActGovernment Orders

November 3rd, 2009 / 5 p.m.
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Conservative

Gord Brown Conservative Leeds—Grenville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I know the hon. member stands up for his constituents, in terms of their concerns, especially on this proposed legislation.

His question was a very good one. We did hear from representatives from survey and market research groups, and those that expressed their concerns that such an exemption was not necessary, as long as they were not trying to sell something.

This entire bill is coming forward for those businesses that are trying to sell something. They have to live up to the regime that is being proposed in the legislation. So, those survey and market research firms would be exempted from this legislation. I want to thank the hon. member for such an excellent question.

Electronic Commerce Protection ActGovernment Orders

November 3rd, 2009 / 5 p.m.
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NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, the member, in his presentation, mentioned that a private right of action was included in Bill C-27, and I noticed that was in there when I read it. I would like to know what sort of arguments there were against having that in the law. It seems to me that is something that should be an absolute, that it be in there. I would like to know what sort of arguments were raised against having it in there?

Electronic Commerce Protection ActGovernment Orders

November 3rd, 2009 / 5 p.m.
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Conservative

Gord Brown Conservative Leeds—Grenville, ON

Mr. Speaker, those who came in front of the committee felt that it should be in there. However, some of course were concerned that there may be times when inadvertent communications were sent by email. If in fact there was an inadvertent situation where an email was put through, as long as it was not the intent to go against legislation, there would be some protection there.

The private right of action is there, but there is protection for those who would send an inadvertent email message or a cellphone text. However, they would only be able to get away with that inadvertence for a very limited time because we do need to ensure that this protection is in place to protect Canadians.

Electronic Commerce Protection ActGovernment Orders

November 3rd, 2009 / 5:05 p.m.
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Bloc

Guy André Bloc Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is with great interest that I rise in this House. In politics, one has to adjust quickly at times. I may not necessarily have been ready, but I had made some preparations.

I am addressing today an issue which, as we all know, concerns a vast majority of the people we represent.

Nowadays, emailing is increasingly widespread in our societies, particularly among young people. Internet use is increasingly popular among youth and adults like us as well. I am myself an avid user of email.

Electronic mail is a relatively simple and inexpensive means of communication. It allows messages to be sent simultaneously to a large number of recipients at any time of day or night, basically anytime at all. It makes it easy to send messages to people anywhere in the world.

We can therefore communicate with family, friends or colleagues anytime, day or night, which increases communication between everyone on this planet. In addition, electronic mail allows us, as parliamentarians, to efficiently stay in touch with our fellow citizens. We now have several tools available to us. We have our electronic mail, our websites, Facebook and so on. These tools allow us to communicate with the various stakeholders in the community or our ridings, and with our office staff, whom I greet and whose excellent work I commend.

We used to work with letters written on paper and telephone calls, but emailing is widespread today, and electronic mail is very easy to access and use.

My remarks today concern Bill C-27, to promote the efficiency and adaptability of the Quebec and Canadian economy by regulating certain fraudulent commercial activities using electronic mail, commonly known as spam. That is what it is called in everyday language nowadays.

Unfortunately, using the Internet is not always advantageous. We have seen on occasion that this mode of communication—we have all experienced this—can cause us some difficulties. Anyone who uses email regularly receives spam, in other words, unsolicited electronic commercial messages, the purpose of which is to encourage participation in a commercial activity, such as buying a product, or in a competition or game of chance.

Let us hope that this new legislative measure, Bill C-27, which we in the Bloc Québécois all support, will have the same effect as the legislative measure on the do not call list that regulated telephone solicitation.

It goes without saying that the vast majority of email users that I know would greatly appreciate such a measure.

Over the years, unsolicited commercial electronic messages have become a bigger and bigger problem and more widespread as a result, in large part because sending email is free.

Spam has become a real nuisance, damaging computers and networks and representing a significant economic cost. It contributes to fraudulent commercial practices—we are talking more and more about cybercrime—and it often invades people's privacy.

According to a recent Industry Canada study, 80% of email worldwide consists of spam.

That is a very high percentage. Here in the House of Commons, our staff spend quite a bit of time sorting through all these unwanted email messages. It is becoming increasingly important to take action on this, which is why Bill C-27 targets unwanted email.

Spam has huge financial consequences, including the labour costs associated with sorting through all these unwanted emails we receive. Of course, spam occupies a lot of Internet bandwidth, and service providers have to pay exorbitant amounts to filter spam messages. They then pass these costs on to their clients.

We have only to go to places that sell software such as Norton to see that new software is being created every day to deal with all these messages and the viruses that are passed on through spam. Spam is widespread because it is easy and cheap to create and it works. It is effective. According to some statistics, 80% of the email messages we receive are unwanted. And unwanted email is a growing problem on our networks.

With just one click, it is possible to send millions of messages at such a low cost that the operation remains profitable even with a low rate of return. Unfortunately, some people do respond to email solicitations, which leads to major problems with their computer system. Most spam is advertising. We see it when we surf the Internet. It appears as ads, as pornography, unfortunately, as scams and in all sorts of other forms. Pornographic spam, for example, accounts for much of the concern we have as parents about letting our children use email. Often, we see them surfing the Internet and receiving all sorts of solicitations. They see all sorts of pornographic images and receive all sorts of unwanted invitations. Sometimes, these messages are harassing and even criminal. Spam not only threatens the viability of the Internet as an effective means of communication, but undermines the confidence we as consumers have in legitimate electronic commerce.

In recent months, the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology has worked very hard to draft this bill and has heard from many witnesses. Everyone believes in the merits of this bill and I think the House is unanimous in that regard. Preserving the efficiency of legitimate electronic commerce is a vital and pressing issue and the Bloc has worked constructively to have this legislation implemented as quickly as possible.

Not only are legitimate commercial emails sent with the prior and ongoing consent of the recipient important to electronic commerce, but they are also essential to the development of a strong and productive online economy.

We must not forget that spam constitutes a considerable burden not just for consumers but also for our small, medium-sized and large businesses. As I said earlier, these companies spend considerable time managing these unwanted emails that can have disastrous consequences for the management of our Internet services.

Spam wastes time and reduces productivity at work. It obstructs networks and affects the security of computers by forwarding viruses and phishing emails that result in significant losses for businesses.

For all these reasons, the Bloc Québécois and a number of socio-economic players have for years been asking the federal government for legislation to regulate unsolicited commercial email.

We must not forget that service providers, network operators and consumers are all adversely affected by this problem, which is growing rather than diminishing in spite of all the antivirus software and the fact that computer technology is getting better and better. Nevertheless, our networks are facing increasing problems and experiencing more and more situations where they become inefficient. In addition, there are many viruses in our computer systems.

The task force on spam, which was created in 2004, has been calling for such a measure for over five years now. So, taking its inspiration primarily from the final report of the task force on spam released in May 2005, the purpose of Bill C-27 is to establish a framework to protect electronic commerce. As we know, it is a growing business. Internet-based trade and financial transactions are becoming more and more important and increasingly common. We must protect this network. The purpose of this bill is to protect and promote efficient electronic commerce.

To do this, the bill would amend the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission Act, the Competition Act and the Personal Information Protection Act. Furthermore, Bill C-27 would enact the new electronic commerce protection act, which would make it illegal to send spam to any electronic address. The only circumstances under which it would be allowed is when the person to whom the message is sent has explicitly consented to receiving it. In addition, the message must be in a form that conforms to the prescribed requirements and must include an unsubscribe mechanism.

The bill would allow the recipient to indicate, through an email address or hyperlink, that he or she does not want to receive any further commercial electronic messages from the sender. Finally, the proposed legislation makes those may who send spam subject to hefty financial penalties. There must be consequences for this kind of behaviour on the Internet. The bill would allow individuals and companies to sue spammers and hold any businesses whose products and services are promoted using these means partially responsible for spamming activity. That is crucial, of course.

It is important to note that the bill stipulates that certain commercial messages would not be considered spam.

These commercial messages include: messages sent by an individual to another individual with whom they have a personal or family relationship; messages sent to a person who is engaged in a commercial activity and consist solely of an inquiry or application related to that activity; messages that are, in whole or in part, an interactive two-way voice communication between individuals; or messages sent by means of a facsimile to a telephone account. In all of these cases, the bill would not prohibit the sending of these messages.

As a number of my colleagues have already said, this is an important bill, but it will be quite complex to enforce. That is why the Bloc Québécois supported the bill in principle. But the Bloc thinks it is unbelievable that the legislative process took four years. Four years is a long time. Four years after the report was presented by the task force on spam, the federal government finally introduced a new bill, here in the House, on electronic commerce protection, which was becoming more and more necessary. Bill C-27 imposes even more controls on spam networks, and this problem will only get worse in the coming years. Four years was much too long.

Computer technology is changing rapidly, and people who want to send spam are unfortunately always finding new ways of doing so. We have to be able to protect ourselves better. Obviously, we want to hear and consult witnesses to ensure that this bill really meets needs and can really help consumers, businesses and companies do business on the web.

We also wanted to know whether the bill will make effective changes to combat the spam consumers receive. Introducing a bill is not enough; we have to be able to meet with witnesses and gauge the effectiveness of the measures contained in this bill.

After a serious study in committee, we still believe that this proposed new legislation will be effective in combatting spam.

In addition to the legislative and legal framework, which is necessary and essential, an education campaign will be needed. It is important to introduce legislation and try to find technical ways to prevent spam, but it is also important to raise public awareness and warn people, especially our youth, about spam, which is often fraudulent and sometimes dangerous.

Consumers know that users have a certain responsibility for controlling spam. We need to start with a public education campaign. We know that our young people are particularly vulnerable to scams and questionable messages they receive by email. International cooperation will also be needed if spam is to be eliminated.

Spam is not just a problem in Quebec and Canada. It is a global problem. Consequently, we need to keep working to harmonize anti-spam policies and to encourage countries to develop and enforce anti-spam legislation.

Electronic Commerce Protection ActGovernment Orders

November 3rd, 2009 / 5:25 p.m.
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Liberal

Joe Volpe Liberal Eglinton—Lawrence, ON

Mr. Speaker, I wish to associate myself with the sentiments expressed by the member for Berthier—Maskinongé because I found that his speech made a great deal of sense. He presented facts which give us pause to consider the principles of this bill.

I, too, believe that we must defend legitimate commercial activities of businesses while protecting ourselves from spam and those who abuse a technology that has a great deal of benefits.

I would like to know if the member has already come up with some ideas and amendments that he will attempt to present during study in committee.

Electronic Commerce Protection ActGovernment Orders

November 3rd, 2009 / 5:25 p.m.
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Bloc

Guy André Bloc Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Mr. Speaker, there is a task force that has studied spam, as my colleague surely knows. The task force recommended that a centre be established to coordinate the various government anti-spam initiatives. This is a very good proposal. This centre's responsibilities would include coordinating policy, conducting education campaigns and providing support to enforcement agencies. It would also accept complaints and compile statistics on spam.

I believe we should also establish a mechanism to monitor the evolution of this bill. It could assess the impact of these measures in the next few years and determine if the measures implemented actually benefit our email networks.

Electronic Commerce Protection ActGovernment Orders

November 3rd, 2009 / 5:25 p.m.
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NDP

Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, one thing that has not been talked about, but I think is important to raise, and I raised it during committee, is people buy their own computers, they buy their own software, they maintain their own software and they also provide the Internet service. Therefore, sending someone an electronic advertisement through this medium should be a privilege, not necessarily a right. That should be the premise in preparing the bill to ensure there is balance. Once again, people invested in the physical hardware, the software, the maintenance of it and also the capacity to bring it across the Internet.

Does my colleague agrees with the presumption? A number of amendments were attempted in committee. One was to allow companies to spy on a person's computer, which was defeated. I want to ensure we support the premise that people have rights first, and it is a privilege, not a right, to send advertisements to someone's home.

Electronic Commerce Protection ActGovernment Orders

November 2nd, 2009 / 3:30 p.m.
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Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont Alberta

Conservative

Mike Lake ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Industry

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to begin third reading of Bill C-27.

At the outset, I would like to put this bill in the broader context of a global digital economy. In a little more than a decade the Internet has become a powerful factor in the competitiveness of the Canadian economy. It is an essential feature in all of our daily lives.

Digital media is poised to transform the economy and our society in ways that we have not yet imagined. It will increase in importance as an engine for economic growth. Worldwide the digital media sector is expected to grow to U.S. $2.2 trillion over the next five years. There is enormous potential and Canada must tap that potential, but Canada has lost ground over the past decade.

When the Internet was new, Canada was at the forefront. We were the first country in the world to connect our schools and libraries to the Internet, for example. We were at the forefront of redesigning our framework laws to acknowledge the new technology. We led in the deployment and uptake of broadband. Our ICT companies were among the world leaders. But we have fallen behind.

As we have gone into this global economic slowdown, several commentators have talked about how Canada will lead the way out of it. The OECD and the IMF have talked about Canada leading the way out of this global recession. The World Economic Forum recently said that Canada will be one of only two industrialized countries to come out in a more competitive position than we went into this global slowdown.

Our falling behind in terms of our ICT laws and legislation puts this progress and increased competitiveness at risk. This pattern is deeply disturbing. To remain at the forefront of a global economy where digital technologies and competencies are increasingly important, we must reverse this slide.

We need to reboot our national strategy for remaining competitive in that economy. Given the complexity of the digital economy, we need to move on many fronts. We are consulting on how best to achieve this to realize its benefits for the economy.

We want to grow the ICT sector to be an even larger share of our economy, because it is a source of high-paying jobs and high R and D intensity. We need to increase the smart use of ICTs in the other 95% of the economy to make them more efficient and profitable, from public services through manufacturing and service industries and natural resources.

We need to close the productivity gap with the United States and increase our global competitiveness through the smart use of these technologies.

These goals rely on certain fundamentals, such as a high-speed network infrastructure and an online marketplace that has the trust and confidence of consumers and firms. We are working closely as a government with businesses to encourage sectors and firms to use information and communications technology more effectively.

Even as we wrestled with the worst economic crisis in a generation, Canada's economic action plan targeted a number of specific actions to energize the ICT sector. All told, nearly $1.5 billion was devoted to this effort. Among those initiatives was $225 million to provide broadband coverage to unserved Canadians. This money will leverage additional investment to expand access for many Canadians to important economic and social benefits, including online health services, business opportunities and distance learning.

Our action plan also provided a 100% capital cost allowance rate for computer hardware and systems software for two years, which is helping companies realize the benefits of adopting new ICT solutions.

These investments are part of a much broader agenda to put Canada once more at the forefront of the digital age, but we will not do this by investment alone. Government has a responsibility to create the economic conditions that will help build the digital economy.

One of the ways we are doing this is by creating the right framework laws to build trust and confidence in online transactions and communications. Rules that counter unsolicited email are critical to that framework.

Spam represents between 80% and 90% of email traffic around the world. It is estimated that a total of 62 trillion spam emails were sent last year. This bill is about removing a major barrier to electronic commerce. Canadians see spam as a major problem. The Canadian business community sees it as an impediment to productivity.

Spam is more than a nuisance. When unsolicited emails, websites and even freeware programs such as screen savers contain viruses or other forms of malicious programs, they inflict considerable damage and undermine the confidence of consumers in the electronic marketplace. They discourage businesses from relying on the Internet to reach their customers in new markets. This is harmful at the best of times, but it is particularly damaging during an economic downturn. More people go online to look for job opportunities or the best deals and better ways to manage their finances. It is in these tough economic times that consumers are most susceptible and more likely to fall for the get-rich-quick schemes offered on various websites.

More than ever, we need to maintain consumer trust and confidence in an online marketplace as a tool to help build the economy and eliminate deceptive marketing practices that can cause grave economic harm to Canadians. Spam and related threats impose heavy costs on network operators and users. They threaten network reliability and security and they undermine personal privacy.

Canada is the only G8 country and one of only four OECD countries without legislation dealing with online threats, such as spam, spyware, computer viruses, fraudulent websites and the harvesting of electronic addresses. These electronic intrusions are unacceptable. Some invade privacy and some are used to infect and gain control over computers. Most Internet service providers use filters to try to screen out spam. These filters tie up bandwidth and slow the system down. Even with these defences, spam still manages to get through.

One of the best ways to combat spam is through effective legislation. Bill C-27 puts in place important provisions that would protect Canadian consumers and businesses from the most damaging and deceptive forms of electronic harm. It provides a regulatory regime to promote compliance and protect the privacy and personal security of Canadians in the online environment. It provides a clear set of rules that will benefit all Canadians. It will encourage confidence in online communications and e-commerce.

This bill combats spam and related online threats in two ways. It provides regulatory powers to administer monetary penalties and it gives individuals and businesses the right to sue spammers. Bill C-27 makes use of the federal trade and commerce power rather than the law enforcement authorities in the Criminal Code. A civil administrative regime such as that in the ECPA is consistent with the approach taken internationally. The law will be enforced by the CRTC, the Competition Bureau and the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada.

A significant responsibility for enforcing the bill falls to the CRTC, which has a mandate to ensure the reliability, safety and effective operation of telecommunications networks in Canada. This includes the Internet. The CRTC will enforce the provisions against sending unsolicited commercial messages and will have responsibility for the provisions that prohibit the altering of transmission data without authorization.

It will further prohibit the surreptitious installation of programs on computer systems and networks by requiring consent for the installation of all computer programs. In this way, we can help stem the flow of malicious computer programs such as spyware and key loggers. The Competition Bureau will also have responsibilities in stamping out spam under this bill. The bureau has a mandate to ensure fair marketplace practices for businesses and consumers.

The bill before us will extend the Competition Bureau's powers to address false and misleading representations online and deceptive marketplace practices such as false headers and website content. The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada has responsibilities to protect personal information in Canada. This legislation will prohibit the collection of personal information without consent through unauthorized access to computer systems and the unauthorized compiling or supplying of lists of electronic addresses. The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada will have the authority to enforce these provisions using its existing powers.

All of these are important elements in restoring confidence and trust in online communications.

The bill provides for administrative monetary penalties for those who violate the law by sending spam, making false and misleading representations in commercial electronic messages, installing spyware and viruses on computers, and for stealing personal information.

These laws have sharp teeth. For violation, the maximum administrative monetary penalty is $1 million for individuals, and up to $10 million for businesses. In this way, we provide government authorities with the power to fight spam and related online threats.

The second way to fight spam is for consumers and businesses to combat spam to pursue a private right of action. This private right of action has been very effective in the United States. We heard much testimony during the course of the hearings. Obviously a lot of the research and a lot of the work that has gone into this has relied on efforts by other countries to address the very same issues that we are dealing with today. We have learned some things about what to do and what to put in the legislation. We also have learned some things about what maybe does not work so well in the legislation. We have had the advantage of looking at what other countries have done well and using that to inform our own legislation.

The private right of action will allow individuals and businesses that suffer financial harm an avenue of recourse to be compensated and awarded both actual and statutory damages. Network operators will be able to prosecute spammers in civil cases. This would allow them to take action against spammers that make use of their facilities without the threat of subsequent legal action from a spammer.

Whether through the regulatory agencies or the private right of action, our message to spammers is clear: We do not want them. We will not tolerate them, and if they try to operate in Canada, we will come after them either as private consumers and businesses or as regulatory authorities that make Canada a safe place to communicate and do business online.

At the same time, I want to assure hon. members that legitimate businesses will not be negatively affected. The regime allows for consumer opt-in and some exceptions for implied consent so that legitimate businesses can continue to market through email.

The Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology studied this bill very carefully. It heard from many witnesses, and as a result of some of the testimony, we introduced amendments to this bill. I want to emphasize that the government remains steadfast in its commitment to reduce spam and other computer-related threats that discourage the use of electronic commerce and that undermine privacy. It will protect both consumers and Canadian businesses from unwanted spam.

As we saw during the debate at second reading in this House and as we saw in committee, there is widespread support for the spirit of this piece of legislation and what we are accomplishing. Canadian businesses know that spam costs them money, in the billions of dollars. In this House and in committee, we saw all parties support this legislation as well, and that is important to note. The time is due for this type of legislation.

At this time I would like to thank the members and senators from all parties who have helped make this bill more effective. I would remind this House that this bill has been guided also by the recommendations of the spam task force. We heard from many of the members of the task force as witnesses before the committee as we discussed this important legislation.

This legislation has also been inspired by the now retired senator Goldstein, when he introduced his bill in the other place. I would also like to recognize the hon. member for Pickering—Scarborough East who has been a long-time champion of anti-spam legislation.

Finally, what I would like to do is assure this House that the bill before us is one step toward a much broader agenda for the digital economy. Our goal is to see a Canadian business climate and social climate that are innovative, adaptive and able to participate fully in the global digital economy.

We as a government will continue to seek input and advice from stakeholders. We will reassert our leadership. As a necessary first step, we want to shut down the electronic threats that are such a source of concern to businesses and consumers.

The challenges are clear, but the potential is enormous. By getting this right, we can do more than simply participate in the digital economy; we can lead. But let us begin by joining our trading partners and neighbours in closing down the inappropriate and harmful use of Internet communications. Let us pass this bill as amended.

Electronic Commerce Protection ActGovernment Orders

November 2nd, 2009 / 3:45 p.m.
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NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest to my hon. colleague. The New Democratic Party has been pushing for some time to have a larger framework of understanding that innovation in the 21st century has to have a full, holistic view of where we go in terms of digital innovation. That is where the new economy rests.

I listened to a number of the issues my colleague brought forward, the need for broadband and to protect us from spammers and the criminal element that is out there to undermine digital innovation.

I was interested in his comments on how Canada has lost its way somewhat in terms of broadband. I am sure he has read the recent FCC report that just came out, which looks at the OECD countries. Canada has gone from a world leader just five years ago to a world laggard in key areas of innovation. We are paying some of the highest Internet rates in the world and getting some of the lousiest service. I do not think any Canadian consumer needs to confirm this. They know this.

The FCC points to the fact that the CRTC, although it does not mention the CRTC by name, talks about the lack of competition, the fact that there is a very small cabal of cable companies that see no interest in further innovation and expanding their broadband access. Therefore, we have a market that is stuck. People have to pay high fees. We get slower service. Competing countries are moving far ahead of us.

Since 2003 until 2009, the big change I have seen is the Conservative government has come to power. We have now gone from leader to laggard. What would the member tell the House to assure Canadian businesses and innovators that the government will get back on track and start to gain some of the ground that it has lost?

Electronic Commerce Protection ActGovernment Orders

November 2nd, 2009 / 3:50 p.m.
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Conservative

Mike Lake Conservative Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont, AB

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member points to one study. As usual, the study he chooses is probably the most negative one. There have been several studies and many of them point to leadership in terms of Canada's approach to digital issues.

That said, obviously in this area, the area that the bill addresses, we have needed to do more. One of the challenges we have had, and we discussed this in committee at one point, was the fact that through successive minority governments, and we are in our third minority government situation, it is difficult to see legislation such as this pass through the entire process.

We saw a concern early on in this process, and that was we would wind up in an election and this bill would die before it could actually go through. This is why we urge members from all parties to ensure the legislation gets passed, as amended, gets on to the Senate and gets passed there.

On the issue of leadership and competitiveness, I would point out that in terms of the overall economy, the World Economic Forum just recently stated, and I stated this in my comments but I will highlight it again, that Canada would be one of only two industrialized countries to come out of this global recession in a more competitive position than we went in.

Legislation such as this to solidify our digital economy and to strengthen it can only help that circumstance. I encourage all members to pass this.

Electronic Commerce Protection ActGovernment Orders

November 2nd, 2009 / 3:50 p.m.
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Liberal

Anthony Rota Liberal Nipissing—Timiskaming, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-27.

The Internet first came into being about 15 years ago, and since then has grown exponentially, showing no signs of slowing down. We are all using the Internet more and more in our daily lives. It should enhance our productivity. We use it every day, whether to look for work, to shop, to communicate with our friends or to do business. We use it every day, yet there are still some barriers that prevent us from benefiting from the Internet's full potential.

Today, I would like to speak to Bill C-27. Simply put, Bill C-27 is an electronic commerce protection act that intends to prohibit sending of commercial electronic messages without the prior consent of recipients. This is what is more commonly known as spam email. The bill also looks to prohibit the use of false or misleading statements that disguise the origin or true intent of the email, the installation of unauthorized programs and the unauthorized collection of personal information or email addresses.

Studies show that of the total email traffic that exists on the Internet today as much as 85% can be considered spam. The hon. member who spoke previously spoke of different levels. There is some as low as 60% and some as high as 90%. At any level, those levels are unacceptable and something has to be done to correct them.

When we consider the time that is spent sorting through in boxes and deleting unwanted email at work and at home, it does not take long to figure out that spam kills productivity.

How many times, whether at home or at work, have we started reading emails only to realize that many of them are unsolicited and cause problems? Such emails can make us waste half or a good part of our day. At any stage, these emails are a waste of time in terms of Canadian productivity.

A 2003 report estimated that fighting spam cost businesses and consumers $27 billion annually in information technology spending, including increased expenditures in the Internet bandwidth, the storage costs, anti-spam software and user support.

This does not take into consideration the numerous hours that people waste just sorting through and finding out what they want, what they do not want, what they have asked for, what was sent to them without their request and getting rid of it. Again, it kills time that we could be using more productively as Canadians. It limits us from taking full advantage of the Internet, whether it is for personal or commercial purposes.

To say that spam is a serious problem to Canadians and Canadian business is an understatement. Spam is a large source of computer viruses, phishing programs designed for identity theft and deceptive and fraudulent business practices that target the vulnerable.

At these times, when the economy is faltering, when people are losing jobs and looking for hope, unscrupulous people are putting emails out there, putting ads on the Internet that are fictitious. They are causing problems. For people looking for somewhere to hang their hat, hang hope on something, what do they get? They lose their hard-earned money or what little they have left.

In May 2004 the Liberal government recognized the danger of spam and established a task force to lead the anti-spam action plan for Canada. The task force held public consultations and led round tables with key stakeholders in the industry.

In 2005 the task force tabled its report outlining 22 major recommendations, including key recommendations to strengthen legislation.

Specifically, the task force recommended Canada implement legislation to prohibit the sending of spam without prior consent of recipients and prohibit the use of false or misleading statements that disguised the origin or true intent of email, better known as phishing, prohibit the installation of unauthorized programs, otherwise known as spyware, and prohibit the unauthorized collection of personal information or email addresses. Bill C-27 looks to implement these recommendations.

Bill C-27 introduces fines for violation of the acts up to a maximum of $1 million for individuals and $10 million for businesses. It establishes rules for warrants, for information during investigations and injunctions on spam activity while under investigation. Bill C-27 also establishes the private right of action, allowing individuals and businesses the ability to seek damages from the perpetrators of spam.

At committee stage, flaws were discovered in the original bill. Clause 6, for example, was found to have been written too broadly and could have suppressed some legitimate business communications over the Internet. Clause 8 also defined computer program very broadly and could have suppressed legitimate business software development and impeded legitimate Internet functions.

After considerable work, many amendments were made to the bill, refining measures for electronic messages, computer programs and the protection of privacy rights.

The bill, however, maintains a very heavy-handed approach, which is not always the most effective approach. We looked at different options. We thought for now, with this broad, heavy-handed approach, which seems to be the way the Conservative government likes to do things, we would let it go through in the interest of protecting Canadians, with some options for modifications later on by the people who administer it.

Bill C-27 takes a broad approach to defining a very wide definition of electronic messages that puts the onus on individual businesses to seek exceptions if they believe their activities to be legitimate. The proposed Liberal approach was to define known spam irritants as illegal, with the flexibility to add further definition as electronic messages on the Internet evolved. The concern with the Conservative approach is that an overly heavy-handed approach could stifle electronic commerce in Canada.

I want to remind Canadians that we want to look at the Internet as a tool that will make our lives better, more efficient and allow us to work more effectively. We have to be careful when a bill has a very wide span and catches everything. Overall, however, many changes were made to the bill at committee stage to make Bill C-27 acceptable to the Liberal Party.

We are pleased that the Conservative government has finally decided to act on the recommendation of our task force. At committee stage, many flaws were exposed in the bill and many changes were made. Is this bill perfect? Simply put, no.

One of the areas that is still of concern and will continue to be monitored is the issue of materiality. Materiality comes up in clauses 71 and 73 of Bill C-27. The issue is under the Competition Act's new sections 54(1) and 74.01(1), which cover false and misleading representations. Bill C-27 would make it a criminal offence or a reviewable practice under the Competition Act if sender information or subject matter information in an electronic message was false or misleading, regardless of whether it was false or misleading in a material respect.

The material respect standard is important to retain in respect of electronic sender information and subject matter information.

First, it provides the Competition Bureau with the necessary discretion to brush aside complaints that are raised about purported misstatements that are trivial, and there are many of them, especially from business competitors.

Second, it provides businesses in Canada the comfort of knowing that an honest mistake in an electronic business communication that does not materially affect consumers will not automatically face potential criminal prosecution or civil action under the Competition Act.

Third, it is a standard under the Competition Act that applies to representation that business makes in all other places, whether it be print, in store, radio, TV or, as we see here, in the body of an email.

It is incorrect to say in advance that anything included in the sender information or subject matter information is always material. If it were correct, then including “in all material respect” could do absolutely no harm because any representation would still be caught as if “in a material respect” were not there.

While the Liberal Party believes the bill remains unnecessarily heavy-handed in its approach, we would support the bill at third reading as action must be taken against spam.

It is important that we continue to monitor the legislation closely going forward to ensure it does not stifle legitimate electronic commerce in Canada. The Liberal Party further notes that the fight against spam is much more than just legislation. The Liberal task force also recommended resources to be put toward coordinating enforcement of this law.

Legislation will only go as far as the willingness to enforce the law. Will the government put the appropriate resources into enforcement? Will the government put resources into working with other nations to stamp out spam? Will the government dedicate resources to work with ISPs and Canadian business to establish the codes of practice? These questions will be answered in the fullness of time.

Electronic Commerce Protection ActGovernment Orders

November 2nd, 2009 / 4 p.m.
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NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest to my hon. colleague. I was particularly interested because the issue of spam should be supported by all parties. Yet we have seen a number of articles that were written about the Liberal Party bringing forward a number of amendments that would seriously water down this bill, including an amendment to tighten up the provision on false subject headers.

The Liberals wanted to introduce a provision to limit the scope of spyware. There were motions being promoted by the copyright lobby to allow the surreptitiously installed DRM from being covered under the bill and an exception to a ban on the collection of personal information through any means of technology, if the collection was made by assessing a computer system or causing a computer system to be accessed without authorization. This would be in cases related to investigations, a breach of agreement or laws.

The NDP was very clear in fighting spam and even the Conservatives, who tend to roll over for the lobbyists, at least were willing to hold the line, but the Liberals were the fifth columnists in bringing forward many motions that, fortunately, were voted down or they decided to pull at the last minute, which would have very much undermined this.

Would my hon. colleague tell me why the Liberal Party brought forward those motions, which clearly would have gutted the bill from having any strength at all?

Electronic Commerce Protection ActGovernment Orders

November 2nd, 2009 / 4:05 p.m.
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Liberal

Anthony Rota Liberal Nipissing—Timiskaming, ON

Mr. Speaker, I was there during the discussions that took place. We have to look at Bill C-27 as a wide net that captures absolutely everything in its path. It is very important to look at Bill C-27 and ensure that it is functional.

One of the concerns that we had with the bill was that it would be so broad that Internet use and all possibilities would come to a grinding halt. We had to explore all the possibilities so that business could continue to operate. We wanted to ensure that when we see a false statement being made that it actually is a false statement. What I believe the hon. member was referring to is materiality and that comes into play within the subject matter that he was talking about. If the subject matter says something and it is an omission or an error, then there should not be an automatic criminal charge put forward.

We have seen that in other laws which I know the Conservatives are very concerned about, but it is important that we look at the bill and look at all possibilities, listen to all the people who have a vested interest in this, and look at what is best for all Canadians, so the Internet can continue to be a tool that we can use and grow with into the future and make it work to the full ability that it was intended to be.

Electronic Commerce Protection ActGovernment Orders

November 2nd, 2009 / 4:05 p.m.
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Bloc

Robert Bouchard Bloc Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

Mr. Speaker, first, I want to thank all the groups that appeared before the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology. I also want to thank members from all political parties who sit on the committee.

When I spoke during second reading of Bill C-27, Electronic Commerce Protection Act, I said that this legislation would address several issues facing many Quebeckers. The Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology heard a number of witnesses during its hearings on Bill C-27.

Several groups raised more contentious issues relating to the bill, or asked for some justification. But all in all, witnesses told us that it was necessary to move forward with such legislation. I note in particular that when we compare our situation to that of other countries, we find that this bill is necessary. I would even say that Canada is a step behind some comparable countries. Therefore, the Bloc Québécois supports Bill C-27, as amended by the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology.

Incidentally, the clause by clause review of the bill did not really trigger a debate between the various parties, because all seemed to agree on its merits. However, I want to point out a contradiction by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice in the Conservative government. Last week, he said, in this House, that opposition parties had put up roadblocks to delay the passing of Bill C-27. That is absolutely false. That member surely did not ask for a report from his party colleagues on the committee, because he would have found out that the Bloc and the other opposition parties worked positively. I want to confirm that my party, the Bloc Québécois, and members representing the government and other opposition parties on the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology, did work in a constructive fashion.

I sincerely believe that, during the hearings of the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology, all members worked hard to find a solution to the issue of spamming, while also meeting the needs of those businesses that voiced their concerns. Clearly, for some businesses, there is a natural fear about how legitimate businesses can continue to reach consumers and customers if the bill becomes law. I suspect that it will pass, because all the political parties at the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology unanimously supported it.

Bill C-27 clearly spells out that organizations will not need the explicit consent of their own customers to communicate with them in the context of what can reasonably be called “existing business relationships”. However, if they want to reach potential customers to market a product or a service, or to expand their activities, businesses will not be allowed to communicate by email directly with these people without their prior consent.

Based on the testimonies of a number of groups, it became clear to the Bloc Québécois that an amendment was needed to extend from 18 to 24 months the period during which a business can communicate by email with a consumer without his prior consent. Members of the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology agreed with the amendment proposed by the Bloc Québécois.

Even though the bill contains a number of legally complex clauses, its aim is to improve the efficiency and adaptability of the Canadian economy by regulating certain fraudulent commercial activities that use electronic mail. With all of the communications tools available today, we are constantly being solicited. We must have effective tools in place to protect the public.

In this regard, the Bloc Québécois expressed concern with regard to clauses 64 and 86 of Bill C-27, the electronic commerce protection act. It would amend the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission Act. In reality, these two clauses would give the government permission to eliminate the national do-not-call list. Implemented just over a year ago today, this legislation governing telemarketers has been a big success. Today, no fewer than 7,000 telephone numbers of Quebeckers and Canadians are on the list. This means it is working well.

In the Bloc's opinion, the current list is doing its job and is used by millions. For a number of businesses, complying with the requirements of the national do-not-call list has meant reorganization of resources and considerable financial cost. In Quebec, for the Desjardins financial security group, which accounts for 10% of the business of the Desjardins movement, whose head office is in Lévis, a portion of the costs has been calculated at over $500,000. As this is 10% of the business of the Desjardins movement, it means that meeting the requirements of the national do-not-call list has cost the Desjardins group some $5 million. We can imagine that a new structure would mean additional costs for businesses that have had to comply with legislation that is one year old.

We understand that Industry Canada wants to keep the door open to replace the list with a new system. We have been given assurance by government officials that there will be no change to the do-not-call list without public hearings and consultation with those concerned to establish how it should proceed.

The link I wanted to create with the national do-not-call list is simple. All email users know about spam. In recent months, the amount of spam appears to have increased significantly. We might ask ourselves whether businesses might have changed their means of contacting consumers before Bill C-27, the electronic commerce protection act, comes into force.

As an MP, I am concerned about the way businesses obtain consumers' consent to transfer or pass on their contact information or email addresses to other organizations. The new legislation will enable us to reduce spam and go after unsolicited commercial emails.

The Bloc has expressed support for another provision of the bill, which aims at prohibiting detrimental practices to electronic commerce, protecting the integrity of transmission data and prohibiting installation of computer programs without consent. It makes sense to avoid the use of consumers' personal information to send them spam.

Bill C-27 thus prohibits the collection of personal information via access to computer systems without consent and the unauthorized compiling or supplying of lists of electronic addresses.

We can hardly be against motherhood and apple pie. The Bloc Québécois feels that companies that want to send consumers information by email should get their consent first. Companies should get prior consent before communicating by the Internet or sending email.

This bill has a noble objective, but it will be a complex law to apply. According to the officials in Industry Canada, though, the CRTC, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner and the Office of the Information Commissioner are all going to work together in perfect harmony to figure out how to do it.

The three agencies that will be affected by this change to the law will have to work closely together on the implementation of it. The CRTC will have to do what is necessary to stop unsolicited commercial electronic messages from being sent. The Competition Bureau, for its part, will have to deal with practices like misleading representations online, such as emails falsely claiming to be from financial institutions. The Office of the Privacy Commissioner will have to take measures to prevent the collection of personal information by means of unauthorized access to computer systems and the unauthorized compiling of lists of electronic addresses.

I know the government wants to tackle spam as well. It accounts for 80% of all communications sent over the Internet. These are all the unwanted and unwelcome messages that consumers receive. I certainly agree with that. The committee has convinced me of the need to proceed with this kind of bill.

A number of countries have already passed measures similar to those in Bill C-27 and seem to have had positive results. The various laws passed in Australia, the United States and Great Britain to combat spam have apparently been quite successful.

Bill C-27 will make it possible to develop measures to dissuade as many people as possible from sending spam involving false representation, unauthorized software and exchanges of email address information.

The Bloc Québécois is in favour of Bill C-27. It should help solve a lot of problems that our constituents are encountering and help protect their privacy. Over the years, unsolicited commercial electronic messages have become a major social and economic problem that reduces the personal and business productivity of Quebeckers. As I said before, spam accounts for 80% of all the email that is sent to people. Thus, communications over the Internet are much less efficient than they could be.

Spam is a real nuisance. It can damage computers and networks, contribute to fraudulent and misleading commercial practices, and infringe on our privacy. Spam poses a direct threat to the viability of the Internet as an effective means of communication. It undermines consumer confidence in legitimate electronic commerce and hampers electronic transactions.

This is a constantly growing problem and, after years of study, it is time to pass a measure like this. In 2007, the Liberal government established a working group following the tabling of a report in 2005.

The two elections held between 2005 and 2009 have delayed the project. We are now at the important stage of discussing and adopting 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 accounts would be prohibited. The only time 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.

There are other prohibitions as well. 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. This bill clarifies consent before sending. Naturally there will be a timeline for implementation. It was 18 months at first, but it has been extended to 24 months following an amendment presented by the Bloc.

Bill C-27 proposes a private right of action, modelled on U.S. legislation, which would allow businesses and individuals to take civil action against any wrongdoer. 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 to an international organization.

Canada is not the only country to legislate the protection of electronic commerce. Other countries have passed laws in this matter. France's legislation is known as the law to support confidence in the digital economy. It was adopted in June 2004 and was phased in over six months. Apart from specific rules set out in the postal, electronic communications and consumer legislation, France is required to ensure that solicitations by email, no matter what their nature—business, creative, political, religious or membership, for example—are subject to personal information protection legislation.

Therefore, Bill C-27 is not unique when we look at what other countries are doing. However, having considered the evidence heard by the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology and having carefully read the bill, the Bloc Québécois is in favour of this bill. Therefore, at third reading, we will be voting in favour of this bill.

To conclude, I would like to summarize the main aspects of this bill: to prevent the receipt by consumers of unsolicited business e-mails; to prohibit certain practices in order to protect the integrity of transmission data and prevent the installation of unauthorized computer programs; to prohibit the collection of personal information by unauthorized access to computer systems and the unauthorized compiling or distribution of electronic address lists.