Mr. Speaker, Bill C-37 before the House at this time has gone through all the stages here in the House. Its primary intent is to allow people to request not to receive unsolicited telephone calls. A number of surveys, as well as the general perception of our constituents, have in fact indicated that there has been a growth in unsolicited calls. I myself have received calls trying to sell me something at all hours, weekdays and weekends. If I do not want to be called by these telemarketers, it is quite logical for there to be a way to avoid it. That is the objective of this bill.
The bill has gone through all the stages in the House of Commons. We tried to strike as satisfactory a balance as possible by allowing a number of exclusions. Moreover, the Bloc Québécois focussed particularly on exclusions for not-for-profit organizations which need to carry out campaigns by phone. We wanted to be sure that a bill so filled with good intentions did not have the terrible consequence of stopping not-for-profit organizations from soliciting donations, when they depend on this type of campaign.
We proposed amendments to deal with that. In committee we also considered other types of amendments and exemptions needed with respect to business relations, for health professionals, for instance. Under the government's initial plan, health professionals would have been unable to contact their patients again. After a number of discussions, we all agreed that the best solution was to add them to the list of exemptions in the bill.
The bill has now come back to us after being examined by the Senate, as per procedure. We know how much the Senate, a chamber of unelected representatives, in a way fills a role that has become obsolete. When it was created a long time ago, some felt there were educational inadequacies among the elected members in the House of Commons. That is why they wanted a chamber of sober second thought. These days this is no longer the case, but the Senate remains an integral part of the system nonetheless.
Two amendments proposed by the Senate have been submitted for approval by the House. After they are considered, if we accept them, we will allow the bill to come into effect.
The purpose of the first amendment proposed by the Senate is to ensure that a report is submitted to both Houses of Parliament, according to the legislation review process. In reality, this bill concerns a new domain, a sector in which there is little expertise in the world. Similar legislation came into effect in the United States just a few years ago.
Accordingly, the Canadian law will be re-evaluated after three years. To do so, an annual report will be tabled in both the House of Commons and in the Senate, at its request. When a bill is re-evaluated, both the House and the Senate will have all the information at their disposal.
We can understand the logic behind this argument in terms of the system we use and the way it works. This method will also help in examining this bill and in revising it in a more logical and rational manner. We will not have to repeat in the Senate all the explanations about the annual report when the recommendations are received. The Senate committees addressing the issue will already have the information. Furthermore, we could thus avoid undue delays during the legislative review.
In my opinion, the second amendment weakens the bill somewhat, even though this will not make us vote against it. We had established the need to prohibit unsolicited calls and to impose a penalty on those who did not comply with these provisions. We had set the amount of the fine at $1,500 for individuals and $15,000 for corporations. I think that a $1,500 fine is a significant amount. Therefore, imposing a stiff enough penalty would dissuade people from breaking the law.
The Senate thought that these penalties may have been too stiff. Now it proposes maximum amounts of $1,500 for individuals and $15,000 for corporations, which could lead to some debate.
Whenever a fine is imposed, if the basis for imposing that fine is challenged, the amount of the fine could be challenged as well, which could create some problems.
At the same time, the size of the corporations or the financial situation of the individuals involved will be taken into account.
In this sense, I think it is worth giving this a try, especially since a review of the act will take place after three years. We will then be able to determine if these and other provisions are appropriate.
These are the two reasons why the bill is before us today. The Senate has proposed these two amendments. We must examine them and decide whether or not we should adopt them. We can do that by looking at the bill as a whole and see if these two amendments are indeed acceptable and if they are in keeping with the general thrust of the bill.
Let us remember that this legislation seeks, obviously, to avoid unwanted telephone calls. It also seeks to allow the CRTC to administer databases for the purposes of its power. A section of the act sets out this power to prohibit or regulate the use by any person of the telecommunications facilities of a Canadian carrier for the provision of unsolicited telecommunications to the extent that the CRTC considers it necessary to prevent undue inconvenience or nuisance.
We are talking, here, about telephone calls. In all likelihood, we will need to examine what will happen with regard to the growing use of the Internet. As a result, we have had to consider when the do not call list should not apply.
We have the right to not receive unwanted telephone calls and to put our names on the do not call list. However, we also want to ensure that this legislation does not apply to some people—meaning some organizations and individuals. It is important to strike the right balance here.
Under subsection 248(1) of the Income Tax Act, registered charities are, for example, excluded. So, we are talking about people who truly need to hold fundraising campaigns, meaning they need to solicit funds to ensure the survival of their organization.
We are talking about charitable organizations. We know that there is great pressure and many such phone calls. At the same time, these people fulfill an essential role in our society. If charities did not do this work, the government would be responsible for picking up the tab. I think that this exemption is something that all of the committee members consider reasonable and fair.
This is also true for business relationships. I said it earlier, this is particularly true for health care professionals.
Then there are political telecommunications. In order to be able to ensure a democratic quality of life in our society, it is essential, in our opinion, that such communications be allowed. Without such an exemption, political telecommunications during election campaigns, including the one we expect shortly, would not be allowed. Many voters would have found this quite interesting. However, overall, this would have led to other actions or illegal actions. I think however that legislation must reflect our reality.
As regards the quality of the democratic debate, those who run for office must make themselves known, present their views and have an idea of how they are perceived by voters. It seemed perfectly normal to us that this should be the case. The same goes for opinion polls.
An amendment was also made to exclude the media, so that they can still contribute to the quality of our democratic life.
According to the data provided by the Canadian Marketing Association, the telemarketing industry employs 270,000 people and has a sales figure of some $16 billion. The interesting thing about this legislation is that those who work in the telemarketing industry find it relevant. It would be useful to them because, right now, when they approach all the consumers, some of them are already on that list and do not want to receive calls.
These consumers already object to receiving calls. In fact, the calls made to these people are neither interesting nor profitable for telemarketing companies. There is a will to ensure that the list works properly so that, ultimately, companies end up dealing with people who do want to get such calls. We understand that this will was expressed by the companies themselves. We would then kill two birds with one stone, because we would exclude those who do not want to receive calls, while ensuring that telemarketing companies contact only those people who could be potential clients and who are open to listening to them.
The bill was put forward after the public expressed a will to have this industry legislated. This measure will allow us to deal with a situation that has developed over the last few decades and has now become somewhat anarchic. This industry is not yet regulated, but the situation will soon improve with this bill.
In fact, a recent Environics Research survey shows that 79% of those surveyed would support a national do not call list, and 66% likely would sign up for the service. This goes to show that there is popular support for this kind of legislation.
This bill came to be, not necessarily on the initiative of the department, but much more because the public wanted it. In that respect, in 2002, a member from the Canadian Alliance put forward Bill C-301, which died on the order paper, but paved the way for this bill. The member described the purpose of his bill as providing, and I quote:
A means for anyone who does not wish to receive telemarketing calls or faxes to place their telephone number on a list maintained by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission.
So, the will already existed, and the government jumped on the bandwagon. I think that the work done in committee reflects the will of all members of Parliament to legislate in that area. Furthermore, this bill was adopted in this House at various stages. The Senate amendments, however, clarify aspects which are not fundamental elements that affect the bill. As I said earlier, these amendments will be subject to review after three years, like the rest of the bill. They will not necessarily create problems.
Allow me to digress briefly to say that parliamentarians can agree on some things. But on some others, it is not possible. My colleague suggested earlier that this might be a sign that the House of Commons should keep on working. There is a consensus about the matter before us. What is at issue with respect to the motion of non-confidence is something completely different.
It is a normal thing in our society for things to be done this way. Everyone can express his or her point of view, and then today all opposition parties can judge that the government no longer has the confidence of the House. This is a reality that a minority government has to face, and this is the outcome we expect to see early next week. We cannot assume that this desire to debate subjects on which opinions differ does not at the same time allow discussion when there is consensus. That is what has happened in the case of this bill.
The mechanics of how this will be done are rather complex. Basically, however, it can be summarized as follows. There will indeed be a do not call registry, a list people can get themselves put on so that they will have the satisfaction of no longer receiving unsolicited calls.
The system will be set up so that there will, of course, be no cost to the consumer. There are economic advantages for telemarketers and also for our fellow citizens. The goal is to make people's lives easier and improve quality of life.
There is, however, one important component of telemarketing that was not addressed in the bill: telemarketing scams. This will need to be addressed at some point. There have been charges laid on this. This can be a broad-scale operation, often all over North America. Unfortunately, some of these boiler rooms are located in Canada. This is an aspect that is not addressed by the bill, possibly because it comes more under the Criminal Code. The legislators do need to do something about this, however.
What is a telemarketing scam? It is a fraudulent solicitation of certain groups of society using telecommunications or misleading advertising. The term “fraudulent” is used in this case because the victims have been persuaded to send in money in exchange for something worth more. Often this kind of scam targets more vulnerable clienteles, people who are perhaps less well informed and more easily persuaded.
We are told that all telemarketing schemes require that the victims send money in the form of a certified cheque or money order to receive a prize. Anyone receiving a phone call asking for that kind of payment should be very cautious. Indeed once the money is sent, it is very difficult to get it back. These operations can be moved very quickly and are not easy to trace after they have changed location.
We are also told that criminal organizations involved in this type of fraud are usually structured according to very specific roles. They have a chief financial officer, a manager, front-end staff, back-end staff and a mail clerk. These operations using front-end and back-end workers are also known as boiler rooms. They operate as long as the fraud continues to work. When things get too hot, they fold. This aspect has not been dealt with in the bill and should be dealt with eventually.
We have come to realize that Canada is somewhat of a paradise for fraudulent telemarketing. Right now, the amounts of the fines are too low and the prison terms are too short. In most cases, it is very difficult to convict a repeat offender. To fight against this type of crime, we try to extradite some offenders to other countries that have tougher laws, but that does not really work as we would like it to.
There is a whole aspect of fraudulent telemarketing that will have to be dealt with in legislation by the government in the months and years to come. In the meantime, the purpose of the bill before us is essentially to ensure the best control possible over unsolicited calls.
Some people are greatly affected, including the Canadian Marketing Association, which is the largest association of marketing businesses in Canada. Its members provide 480,000 jobs and generate over $151 million in annual sales. It is a powerful lobby within the marketing sector. It spoke in favour of Bill C-37 because of what I said earlier. In fact, telemarketers like the idea of having legislation that would deal with this situation.
The committee also gathered information on what was going on in other countries, particularly the United States. I think there was even a conference call with people in that country to find out what approach they developed. The approach being taken does not follow the same model, because it is more in line with our situation. Considering the large American market, there may be calls from the United States and other countries.
We have to ensure that our legislation is logical in terms of what is put forward. The bill is going in the right direction. That is probably one of the elements that will have to be studied in more detail when the bill in question is reviewed.
Consequently, we will soon be at the stage of passing this bill so that it can come into force. That includes the Senate amendments. At the same time, there has to be monitoring—the most appropriate monitoring possible—so that we know when the law is reviewed whether the entire model that is developed is adequate.
I recall the comment by my colleague in the Conservative Party who said that there should not be a repeat of what happened with the Canadian firearms registry.
We have to be vigilant. There should not be another firearms registry. We have already spent enough money on that initiative. The idea behind it was a good one. I honestly think there is a real need for a firearms control system. However, what the government did with it, the way it was set up and the costs it generated are completely unacceptable. I hope that the Auditor General will report to us quickly so that we get the most complete picture we can.
In the case at hand, we have to ensure that the new registry works in a way that avoids that type of excess so that we do not suddenly find ourselves looking at high costs a year or two down the road when the act is reviewed. When mechanisms are being put in place, the government has a responsibility to ensure that the job is done right.
It is very obvious that Canadians want a law that prevents unwanted telephone calls. However, it is also certain that they do not want a law that will generate wild expenditures far beyond what they would like us to spend on this type of system.
I therefore urge the House to vote in favour of the amendments so that the bill can be put into effect as quickly as possible.