Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-27, the electronic commerce protection act. This legislation enacts important restrictions to the volume and frequency of spam in business transactions. I was pleased to have the opportunity to work with other members of the industry, science and technology committee to review this legislation and respond to some of the concerns brought forward by stakeholders.
Spam, or in essence, unwanted commercial emails, is a significant problem for Canadians. Spam currently represents 60% to 80% of all email traffic around the world. The sheer volume of messages challenges the capacity of Internet service providers and legitimate businesses that conduct their activities over the Internet and by email. Most important, it has a significant negative impact on consumers. Spam is a large source of computer viruses, phishing programs designed for identity theft, deception and fraudulent business practices that target the vulnerable.
A 2003 report estimated that fighting spam cost businesses and consumers $27 billion annually in information technology spending, including increased expenditure in Internet bandwidth, storage costs, anti-spam software and user support. In May 2004 the Liberal government 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 this anti-spam task force tabled its final report outlining 22 major recommendations, including a key recommendation to strengthen federal legislation in this area. Specifically, the task force recommended that Canada implement legislation that would prohibit the sending of spam without the prior consent of recipients, prohibit the use of false or misleading statements that would disguise the origins or true intent of the email, prohibit the installation of unauthorized programs and prohibit the unauthorized collection of personal information or email addresses.
Bill C-27 looks to implement those recommendations. The electronic commerce protection act would introduce fines for violations up to a maximum of $1 million for individuals and $10 million for businesses. It would establish rules governing warrants for information during investigation and injunctions on spam activity while investigations are ongoing.
Bill C-27 would also establish the private right of action, allowing individuals and businesses the ability to seek damages from the perpetrators of spam. It looks to prohibit the sending of commercial electronic messages or, in other words, spam email without the prior consent of recipients. The bill also looks to prohibit the use of false or misleading statements that disguise the origins and true intent of the email, the installation of unauthorized programs and the unauthorized collection of personal information or email addresses.
Bill C-27 would introduce legislation to enact all of these recommendations. We are pleased that the Conservative government has finally decided to act on the recommendations of our task force.
However, upon more detailed review of the provisions included in Bill C-27 at committee stage, there were flaws exposed in the bill and several changes were made that looked to improve and ensure that the productivity of businesses activities dependent on electronic commerce would not be impacted.
While the Liberal Party believes the bill remains unnecessarily restrictive to legitimate business in its approach in many regards, we will support the bill at third reading as action must be taken against spam. We will monitor the legislation closely going forward to ensure that it does not stifle legitimate electronic commerce in Canada.
However, 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 coordinated enforcement of the law. As it stands, this legislation will only go as far as the willingness to enforce the law. Without additional resources toward enforcement and toward working with other nations to stamp out spam, the gains intended through this legislation will not be made.
We have yet to see how the government will put appropriate resources into enforcement. Dedicated resources should be put in place to work with Internet service providers and Canadian businesses to establish the best methods of enforcing these important regulations.
As I mentioned previously, through close review and testimony provided by witnesses at committee stage, flaws were discovered within the bill. Specifically clause 6 was found to have been written too broadly and could have suppressed legitimate business communications over the Internet. Clause 8 also defined “computer program” very broadly and could have suppressed legitimate businesses, software development and impeded legitimate Internet functions.
After considerable work, many amendments were made to improve the bill, refining measures for electronic messages, computer programs and the protection of privacy rights.
The bill, however, retains a very strict philosophy. Bill C-27 takes a very broad approach to defining a rather wide definition of electronic messages that puts the onus on individual businesses to seek exemptions if they believe their activities to be legitimate.
The proposed Liberal approach was to define known spam irritants and define them 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 and negatively impact the productivity of the business community.
Overall, however, many good changes were made to the bill at committee stage. As such, the Liberal Party will support the bill at third reading.
When it was first tabled, it appeared that while stakeholders supported the concept of the bill, they were quite concerned about the details of Bill C-27. Business groups, including the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, the Electronic Software Association, various interests in the technology sector all felt that Bill C-27 was too restrictive and could hamper legitimate commerce.
With significant amendments at committee stage, these stakeholder groups now feel the legislation has better balance. However, they maintain the legislation is still heavy-handed and could suppress legitimate electronic commerce activity. Many, however, have indicated that they will look to see further amendments as the bill passes through the Senate.
The following issues in no particular order of priority present the outstanding concerns heard during the review of this legislation, but were not amended under the clause-by-clause consideration of C-27.
First, in hearings before the committee, the Canadian Bankers Association raised concerns dealing with Bill C-27 and confidentiality. In its testimony to the industry, science and technology committee the Canadian Bankers Association recommended that the electronic commerce protection act be amended to specifically protect information produced under the act from disclosure by CRTC in respect to an access to information request.
The amendment proposed by the Liberal members was under clause 29 of Bill C-27. This amendment sufficiently addressed concerns that a document produced for and then kept by the CRTC would not be available to be made public under the Access to Information Act. It also served to specifically protect the information from disclosure by CRTC in response to access to information requests that could be important for proprietary reasons.
Our ability to make this change was limited by the need for a consequential amendment to the Access to Information Act, which we were unable to move as it fell outside the jurisdiction of Bill C-27.
The next issue the Liberal members of the committee felt important to bring to the attention of the committee under its review of the bill dealt with materiality. We believed it was important to retain the standard of materiality in respect to electronic sender information and subject matter information and brought amendments to clauses 71 and 73 to include the words “in a material respect”.
The main reasons for these amendments are as follows. The first is the chilling effect on individuals and businesses doing business. Without this change, concerns remain that individuals and companies doing business in Canada will automatically face potential criminal prosecution or civil action under the Competition Act every time someone asserts that the subject matter information in a business email is somewhat misleading, whether by understatement, by overstatement or otherwise or is in some other aspect false.
The addition of “in a material respect” is consistent with the language used in the Competition Act. Without this amendment, even trivial or immaterial misstatements or representations that are false or misleading will be subject to the serious consequences in the Competition Act.
The second effect could be felt in the Competition Bureau, including materiality, which would provide the Competition Bureau with the necessary discretion to brush aside complaints raised about purported misstatements that were trivial. Given the thousands of complaints made annually to the Competition Bureau, this change would allow the immaterial or trivial representations to be automatically filtered.
Third, materiality would impact double consequence. Due to an amendment brought in by government members to clause 51, the sender of a misleading email would be held accountable twice, once under the serious consequences in the Competition Act and again under penalties to Bill C-27, by heavy penalties for a misrepresentation that may not be material.
Unfortunately, the Liberal amendments to make these important changes concerning materiality were not supported by other members of the committee, so Bill C-27 retains these potentially problematic sections.
The next major area of concern dealt with referrals for legitimate professionals. We received interventions from several organizations concerning the need for certain professionals to make and follow up on third party referrals by email. Referrals are key to many professionals' success, for example, financial advisers and realtors to name a few, and initial changes brought forward by government for discussion at committee included changes allowing clients to pass along the electronic address of a contact, family member or friend to the professional.
The amendment originally proposed by the government does include a number of conditions that must be met, which we feel will prevent abuse.
First, the sender needs to be in an existing business relationship with the referrer. The referrer needs to have a personal or family relationship with the recipient. The sender has to name the referrer and the sender is limited to sending a single message to the recipient. Unfortunately, the government decided not to present this amendment at the clause-by-clause review of the bill and did not support the Liberal amendment to include these important exemptions in the legislation.
The most effective way to exclude legitimate website codes from the anti-spyware provisions seems to be to propose a comprehensive definition, which is subject to amendment by regulation to ensure it is kept current against new and emerging online threats. The amendment proposed by the Liberal members of the committee was defeated and officials pointed to the changes made to clauses 8 and 10 of the bill to address some issues dealing with consent around computer software.
Finally, concerns surrounding the communication between regulators of self-regulated professions and their members under the electronic commerce protection bill were raised during the committee review, and Liberal members brought forth an amendment to address this issue.
As currently drafted, Bill C-27 prevents professional regulators from sending legitimate communications to their members for innocuous purposes, such as continuing legal education opportunities. In many cases, these regulatory groups are required by statute to make members aware of such opportunities.
This could be a simple oversight and could be remedied by introducing an amendment to provide an explicit exemption for self-regulated professions under clause 6. This amendment was initially contained in the draft changes brought forward by government officials for discussion at the early October meeting of the committee, but was not brought forward as an amendment by the government during the clause-by-clause review of the bill. A Liberal motion on this issue was presented at a later date, but was ruled out of order, so this oversight remains an unfortunate component of Bill C-27.
While there remains room for improvement to the bill, the Liberal Party will support the electronic commerce protection bill at third reading in the interests of taking necessary action against spam in Canada.
The concerns that I and my Liberal colleagues have articulated throughout our study of this legislation will hopefully be given some thought by the government for inclusion within regulations. The Liberal Party would have approached this bill from a different philosophy than the government has, but we also recognize it is important for the bill to move forward for the sake of Canadians. It is important that we continue to monitor technological advances throughout the progress and implementation of this legislation and any changes that are enacted to increase the productivity of Canadian business.