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House of Commons Hansard #105 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was pandemic.

Topics

Electronic Commerce Protection ActGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

Conservative

Vic Toews Conservative Provencher, MB

moved that the bill, as amended, be concurred in.

(Motion agreed to)

Electronic Commerce Protection ActGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

When shall the bill be read the third time? By leave, now?

Electronic Commerce Protection ActGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Electronic Commerce Protection ActGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

Conservative

Vic Toews Conservative Provencher, MB

moved that the bill be read a third time and passed.

Electronic Commerce Protection ActGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

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

3:45 p.m.

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

3:50 p.m.

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

3:50 p.m.

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

4 p.m.

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

4:05 p.m.

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

4:05 p.m.

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.

Business of the HouseGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

Carleton—Mississippi Mills Ontario

Conservative

Gordon O'Connor ConservativeMinister of State and Chief Government Whip

Mr. Speaker, there have been consultations among the parties. I move:

That, notwithstanding any Standing Order or usual practices of the House, during the debate tonight pursuant to Standing Order 52, no quorum calls, dilatory motions or requests for unanimous consent shall be received by the Chair.

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4:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

Does the chief government whip have unanimous consent for this motion?

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4:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

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4:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

(Motion agreed to)

Electronic Commerce Protection ActGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

Questions and comments, the hon. member for Timmins—James Bay.

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4:25 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened with interest to my colleague's explanation of the Bloc's position on the bill.

One of the issues that has been of concern to us for some time is differentiating. We all know that spam is an irritant but the levels of spam are infecting computers to the levels of international fraud. They use people's personal computers as zombie bots to spread further spam.

We saw that in the U.S., in 2007, Robert Alan Soloway was a arrested and charged with 35 criminal counts including mail fraud, wire fraud, email fraud, aggravated identity theft and money laundering. The Americans went after him on the aggravated identity theft because of his taking over other individuals' Internet domains and computers.

The United States has taken this issue very seriously. Up to now we have been the only G8 country without spam legislation. I would like to ask the member, does the member think this bill is enough to put us in line where other G8 partners are going in terms of dealing with spam?

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4:25 p.m.

Bloc

Robert Bouchard Bloc Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for his question.

I think he understands that the current system is inadequate. It makes electronic communication really inefficient and the purpose of Bill C-27 is to clean things up. So I will respond with a brief answer. Yes, Bill C-27 would put us on a level playing field, to some extent, with countries that have passed similar legislation.

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4:25 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, as always, I am very honoured to rise in this place as a representative of the people from Timmins—James Bay, and I take that role very seriously. One of the roles that I am given as a member of Parliament is to review and speak on legislation. This legislation is something that we as members of Parliament need to see in terms of a larger vision. This is not just a one-off bill.

In order for Canada to go where it needs to go in terms of a 21st century economy, we need to have a full vision in terms of the potential for digital innovation and also the pitfalls that are facing us. In terms of a large vision of where we need to be as a country holding its own and being a leader, we need to look at a number of initiatives. Earlier the issue of digital broadband access was brought up in the House. For a country that is as defined by geography as we are, to remain competitive, we need digital broadband.

The FCC report last week, which would be one of the world leaders in terms of its credibility on this issue, it says how much Canada has fallen behind. We have gone from being a world leader in 2003 to a world laggard. Anyone watching this back home does not need the FCC to tell them that we are paying some of the highest fees for Internet access and we are getting some of the lousiest service.

The FCC talks about how it is that Canada went from being a world leader in terms of making sure broadband access was happening, where just in 2003 we were the country to watch, to now being in 20th, 25th, or 26th place on various parts, depending on what indicators we look at.

The FCC points out the lack of competition in Canada. It is not pointing out the CRTC's dropping of the ball on this, but it speaks to something again that we are seeing, that when there is a very small cabal of companies that are basically now running the infrastructure of the Internet, unless there is innovation being pushed forward by small third-party ISPs, we will have a situation where development begins to ossify and that is what has happened. The FCC reports show how much we are falling behind because we are not getting that level of third-party competition from the smaller players. That is one of the elements we need to look at in terms of a larger vision.

Second is the issue of net neutrality, which plays very much into the access of broadband. When there are a few giant players who are deciding the development of speed on the Internet, we cannot have them making the decision as to who is going to be in the fast lane and who is going to be in the slow lane. There needs to be a sense that, in order to have development on the Internet, net neutrality is a key cornerstone. This is not a principle of the so-called computer geeks. Talk to anybody in business and they will say that if they cannot get fast access, they are going somewhere else. They are very concerned about deep packet inspection, for example. They are very concerned that when they put information through VoIP, or through BitTorrent, it could be unfairly slowed down. So that is the second element of an innovation agenda that we need to look at.

The third part of an innovation agenda is upgrading our copyright laws to the 21st century to ensure that we are moving forward and encouraging innovation and encouraging new ideas that may threaten some existing business models, but the only way we are going to have innovation is if we bring our copyright laws up to the 21st century agenda. I spend a great deal of time on the copyright file and I can say that we are finally at the point where we are agreeing that trying to implement laws that would work in 1996 is not going to get us anywhere. We need to be enacting laws that will bring us into the next 20 years.

The other element in terms of a digital strategy is dealing with the irritant factor. That is how most people see spam. They see spam as an irritant. It affects all of us. Every time I go on my computer I have someone offering to sell me a product that is going to make certain parts of my body much larger than they otherwise would be. I think my ears are large enough as it is. I do not need any help, thanks very much. Nonetheless, they will not leave me alone. They are always offering to sell me real estate when I am still paying for the house I bought many years ago in northern Ontario. I could have used the help then, but I certainly did not need the help of spammers.

We laugh about the silly and stupid things we come across in spam day after day, but we need to see the effect that it is having in terms of not just our ability to do our work but the very nature of the threat it is posing to average citizens. Spammers are very tied into a growing level of Internet fraud. They undermine confidence. We do not want to go to a website and leave our email information, because we do not want it to be taken and misused.

If we do not have confidence, it undermines our ability to move forward. Certainly the issue of spam is very serious. Canada has been singled out as the only G7 country without spam legislation. That puts us in a really bad light, because spammers will use our jurisdiction to push for spam. It is all well and good to say that we will get the emails of the spammers and hunt them down. If anybody has ever tried to track one of them down, they know that these emails do not go anywhere.

What ends up happening is that there is a much more insidious move afoot. They move very quickly in terms of their technological innovation. They do not send the spam from a home computer, so they cannot be tracked. They use a number of techniques to basically act as a parasite on other messages going out, to the point where they can actually take over a person's computer without the person using it and download malicious software. They create these zombies or bots.

The threat to privacy and innovation and the threat of fraud become compounded on a massive scale. This needs to be addressed and taken seriously.

For example, just last year, the U.S. came down with some of the heaviest attacks on spammers. I was referring earlier to May 31, 2007, when they went after Robert Alan Soloway. They charged him with 35 criminal counts, including mail fraud, wire fraud, email fraud, aggravated identity theft and money laundering. Prosecutors were alleging that Soloway was using these zombie computers to distribute spam across wide networks.

I will give an example of how this plays out. It is classic in terms of the development of the Internet. The greatest strength of the Internet is the ease with which one can get information out there. Of course, the greatest threat is the ease with which spammers can undermine it.

We can talk about the famous Nigerian 419 scam. Back in the day when the fax machine was the most exciting cutting-edge technology and I was working at a northern magazine, we used to get these emails from this guy. He was a former colonel in the Nigerian army. He was being held prisoner. If only I could send him $500, he would send me $100,000. It was very crude. It cost them money every time they sent that out. It went on a fax machine. It made tracking these guys a lot easier.

The 419 scam was a very marginal scam in the 1980s when it was first developed in Nigeria. It is interesting that Insa Nolte from the University of Birmingham said that the development of email turned the 419 scam from a local fraud to one of the largest export businesses in the country of Nigeria. That is how effective it has been.

For every million people who click delete, one person in a million might respond. That is how the fraud happens. I am sure that my colleagues here can tell similar stories, but I am now starting to see email requests for help coming much closer to home, where similar last names of family members of constituents and local references are being used.

This comes from the trolling of information that has been enabled under these massive networks of zombie computers. They can track and pick out names from the email traffic. They are picking out bits of stories and they are able to tailor the stories of personal need and personal threat. My daughter received one yesterday from someone who she thought might be a student who was lost in London. They had two or three key pieces of information about her and she could not figure out how they got that.

That is the kind of computer fraud that is now being perpetrated. Again, many of us will click through and delete. The problem is that there are enough people out there who will respond. So we are looking in terms of basic computer protection and basic civic protection. We need to do that.

However, we need to look at it in a larger area, in terms of what basic rules we are going to put down so that developers, innovators and citizens can use this wonderful new medium that we have, without fear.

I think some of the basic provisions in Bill C-27 are fairly straightforward. We should be asked for consent before any computer program is downloaded on our computer. That should be basic. The idea that spyware could be put into our computer without us knowing should have criminal consequences. We know, for example, there are various forms, such as Trojan rootkits. Sometimes legitimate companies think that by being able to put this spyware into our computer it is going to protect them. But it does not. It undermines consumer confidence.

I just have to refer to the famous Sony rootkit disaster, where Sony decided that on its CDs it was going to put spyware and not tell the consumers. Consumers were buying these CDs, thinking they were buying a piece of music, putting them into their computers, and their computers were crashing and they could not figure out why. It turned out that Sony, one of the biggest entertainment companies in the world, had put in the spyware thinking it was going to go after copyright infringement and what it did was undermine its credibility in the marketplace to a great degree. Companies should never have been allowed to think that kind of move should have been able to take place. No citizen who buys a CD or any computer product to put into his or her system should have to worry that there is spyware in there.

So the issue of asking consent before any computer program or any spyware is put into our computer is a very reasonable provision and a necessary provision.

I think the other thing we need to speak to is that companies cannot take personal information without consent. That is another primary element of the Internet. When we go on the Internet and we go to a website or when we respond to email from someone we might not know, we want to know that our records on the computer, our data on the computer, is not being accessed, and that when we go to a website our information is not being passed on to someone who is then going to come and try to sell us some kind of scam product that we do not want.

If we do not have that assurance, it starts to undermine the ability of consumers and companies to make the most of what they need to make the most of in terms of moving forward.

Earlier a Liberal colleague said he was worried that this was a big hammer that was going to shut down business, and we know there was certainly a big backlash against the Liberals when they seemed to be led around by the nose by some lobbyists on watering down provisions of this bill.

I have looked at the provisions and I have looked at what the Liberals were trying to sneak through, and I do not think it is in line with the 21st century digital innovation agenda. Fortunately, the Liberals are not in the position to run a bill like this, where they would be able to undermine it and ensure that the corporate lobbyists got their way. There are citizen provisions that have to be addressed and this bill is looking at that.

It was the Liberals who wanting to limit the scope on spyware. I am astounded by that. I do not know if they think it is okay to spy on my computer, but I certainly do not think it is. And I, as an average citizen or a legislator, would not support that they wanted to exclude surreptitiously installed DRM from the gambit of the bill.

Once again, when I go to a website or when I respond to an email, I do not want to have to worry that some company thinks it is okay to bury mechanical means for spying on what I am doing.

I was surprised by my Liberal colleagues on this bill, but I think there was certainly a large backlash, because the consumer public is very aware in terms of where we need to go with a digital agenda. So I am glad to see that we have moved forward with all parties on this bill.

The bill only addresses commercial electronic messages. This is not an attempt to shut down individuals who maybe want to do mass emails to their friends and to their friends' friends. There is no provision in the bill to go after people who send out those emails. Personally, I find those emails rather irritating. I do not think I have ever reached the bottom of one of the long lists of cc and cc and cc. I do think it is okay for individuals to do that. The question here is electronic messaging for commercial use. That is the main focus of this bill.

A personal relationship, a family relationship, a pre-existing business relationship would not be stopped. Companies would still be able to send information with respect to previous business dealings, such as someone buying software or something from a company.

I ask the simple question: What is the problem with asking the person for consent to continue? I do not see that impeding in any manner. If I purchase goods and I develop a relationship with a company, that is perfectly fine. But I want to know that my Parliament and legislation will back me up if I am not interested in receiving mass emails, that I can say I am not interested. That is not an unreasonable situation. Contrary to what the Liberals are saying, it is not going to grind business to a halt in Canada. It might if we were still back in the age of the fax machine, but this is certainly not going to grind innovation to a halt.

We worked at committee on this. This is a big bill. We had to look at many areas in terms of ensuring that spam legislation would actually address the problems. I am hopeful that this is the proper first step because we need to start addressing this.

We need to address this in terms of lost potential. We need to address this in terms of interference with competitiveness. We need to address this in terms of fraud. We need to address this in terms of the fundamental issue of consumer rights.

Our computers should not be open to some third party that we do not know, a third party who could be dropping spyware into it, or using it to send out harassing emails, possibly fraudulent emails. When we are plugged into the web, we should not have to worry about what is going to come back down the pipe that we do not want.

Bill C-27 takes some steps toward addressing that. Does it do everything that is necessary? I do not think that is possible at this point. We are going to have to amend and change it as we go because the Internet changes quickly, fraudsters change quickly. We have to run just to keep up as legislators, but this is a good first step.

I am proud of the work of my colleague from Windsor West who worked on this bill at committee. We will be supporting it as it goes ahead.

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4:45 p.m.

NDP

Wayne Marston NDP Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member for Timmins—James Bay has taken a leadership role relative to the Internet and the impact that it has had culturally. Being a bit older than my colleague, to listen to him talk today and give us his thoughts on this helps a person of my generation deal with some of the issues that are happening.

One of the things that I am concerned about is phishing. It strikes me that is a very significant issue.

In my little more innocent time, when I first started going on the Internet, I was asked to take an IQ test, which I should not admit publicly. I had to change every password on my computer after that because I realized that I had made a mistake, especially when the first email showed up at my address. I wound up changing my email address as well.

Does my colleague think this particular bill deals with that situation appropriately?

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4:45 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, the issue is of how phishing is used to send out a simple email. Someone responds and then basically they have got that person. They have information. They can use that information against that person. That is a huge concern.

I would like to put it in a broader context. Where it is being used now in a very dangerous way is on Facebook. The Privacy Commissioner has certainly come out, as a result of the excellent work of the Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic at the University of Ottawa, and raised the issue of privacy concerns on Facebook.

Every one of us is on Facebook, I am sure. Our kids are on Facebook. They do not see that posting their names, their cellphone numbers, all kinds of personal information about themselves, can hurt them down the road, because there are scammers out there. What is our solution? Is our solution as legislators to say, “Bad, bad, bad. We have to shut this down”, or is it to say that, no, we need to have the laws in place to protect people and to go after the people who misuse it.

Second, I think it is as important, not within the confines of the bill and it would not fit within the bill but I think it is something we need to look at, is the need to educate young people. Until people have been scammed, they will never get scammed so they do not have to worry about it. But as I said earlier, I used the example of a young student who received a scam yesterday and it had three pertinent pieces about her and her personal identity that she figured it had to be someone she knew.

All we have to do is go on Facebook. I could tell a people what high school they went to. I could tell them who their first girlfriend was. I could tell them their date of birth and their star sign. If I am looking to scam a person, going on Facebook is the first place I would go. It is the ultimate phishing expedition and people will see some long-term implications from that kind of free flow of personal, private information that people think is protected because it has just been seen by their friends, but third party applications are using it, and all kinds of corporate entities are getting in and getting access to this information.

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4:50 p.m.

Conservative

LaVar Payne Conservative Medicine Hat, AB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate the member for Timmins—James Bay on his speech today in the House. I found it very interesting in terms of the scamming and so on that is going on.

Today, I actually received two requests for information from what I believe are people trying to scam me, and those are from organizations trying to get banking information. One of my friends back home was scammed on that very technique and provided this individual with information on banking and got scammed for just over $3,000.

I am wondering if the hon. member thinks this legislation would help prevent that sort of situation.

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4:50 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member's example is very pertinent because it actually speaks to another level.

I spoke of Facebook and young people getting scammed. The banking information tends to affect older people because they are very concerned about their bank credit. They receive an email, and I have received a similar email which looks just like it comes from my bank, and the email says it needs my banking information because there has been a fraud committed. That is how it happens. A person believes they have had a relationship with their bank, but if they look at those emails closely, they will suddenly realize there is something not quite correct. The hon. member raises an excellent point.

Within the confines of the bill, it will be able to go after the scammers who are sending these kinds of messages out. It will allow for people to sue, which is an important provision. The bigger issue, though, goes back to the issue we face with Facebook. We really need a larger information campaign about the rights of the digital citizen and what people need to do to protect themselves. It is not about locking the Internet down. That will not happen. It is about giving people a level of assurance, whether they are senior citizens who are getting on the Internet for the first time or whether they are young people or whether they are people like us who press, press, press, click, click, click all day long. We never know when we will make that mistake.

We do need to have this discussion. It is not a partisan discussion. This is a discussion we need to have as a Canadian legislature in terms of looking at some of the problems out there that are not being addressed. Education will be one of the key ones in stopping these kinds of scams.

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4:50 p.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, this has been a very informative discussion today and I was quite intrigued by a number of my colleague's points. First and foremost, he talked about the threat to innovation, that if we do not get a handle on using the Internet in its most positive way and avoiding the pitfalls, as it were, we are going to lose out in terms of innovation.

I was hoping that he would expand on that notion of innovation.