House of Commons Hansard #102 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was spam.


Fighting Internet and Wireless Spam ActGovernment Orders

11:55 a.m.


Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, the member for Mississauga South just referenced the fact that there was no information sharing contemplated by the bill. I just want to remind him that in fact it is in the bill. There are provisions in the bill for sharing of information with foreign authorities on this particular issue.

The bill clearly has administrative penalties of $1 million for individuals and a maximum of $10 million for corporations and organizations, but it does not have any provisions for jail sentences. There are no criminal offences in the bill. I think that is a big oversight, because huge corporations normally follow the law and I do not think they are going to be violating the law and paying million-dollar fines. They are just going to stop doing whatever they are doing.

The exposure is for smaller operators such as the gentleman recently who had a $1 billion lawsuit against him by Facebook. He simply declared bankruptcy. He is not paying any fines. He does not have any money to pay any fines. Because there are no jail-time provisions in the bill at all, small operators are going to continue in the same way they have for many years, putting out spam knowing full well that they are not going to pay the fines anyway. Since there are no jail sentences, they do not have a lot of exposure.

They talk about directors' and officers' liability and piercing the corporate veil. All that is great if that is where the exposure is. If the big companies are doing this and they are worried about paying million-dollar fines, then piercing the corporate veil is an issue that has to be addressed, but I do not think that is the reality out there. The reality is going to be smaller operators who do not give a hoot about million-dollar fines and will only be deterred by jail sentences, which are not in the bill.

Would the member like to comment on that?

Fighting Internet and Wireless Spam ActGovernment Orders

11:55 a.m.


Serge Cardin Bloc Sherbrooke, QC

Madam Speaker, clearly, there are provisions for fines and, the member is right, there is no indication that any jail sentences will be handed down. Clearly, we need to create legislation that includes deterrents to prevent people from committing such crimes. How can we do so at this stage, and more importantly, how do we determine the sentences that should apply? Unfortunately, I did not consider that aspect. I am open to suggestions, however, and perhaps even amendments from the member. We will be able to have a closer look at this, analyze it and perhaps even make some recommendations regarding sentences that could go along with the fines imposed.

Fighting Internet and Wireless Spam ActGovernment Orders

11:55 a.m.


Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Madam Speaker, the bill contains many new prohibitions, enforcement measures and changes to the existing law. There are three primary prohibitions: it requires all senders to obtain express consent before sending commercial electronic messages, and to include the contact and unsubscribe information, and it includes provisions designed to counter phishing, spyware and botnets used to send spam.

What is important about the bill is that it also establishes form requirements for those who send commercial electronic messages, including identification of the person sending the message, the person on whose behalf it may be sent, contact information on the sender and an unsubscribe mechanism.

I want to focus my question on that, because an unsubscribe mechanism that allows for an easy opt-out via email or hyperlink, that remains valid for at least 60 days after the message is sent, and that requires the sender to comply very quickly is an important part of the bill.

I wonder if my friend could comment on how important it is that the bill requires spam senders to obtain consent and makes it very easy for the recipient to unsubscribe in dealing with this important problem of spam.

Fighting Internet and Wireless Spam ActGovernment Orders



Serge Cardin Bloc Sherbrooke, QC

Madam Speaker, as I mentioned in my speech, spam is a major problem. What makes it worse is the anonymity behind which people can hide. The system must make it possible to easily identify the source of these emails and the people who are contravening the act and regulations, in order to intervene as quickly as possible. We must raise awareness in the general public, which is inundated by spam, of the importance of acting quickly in order to eliminate as much as possible of this cancer that is invading the lives of businesses and people who use the Internet and the systems themselves. We must eliminate this scourge with the assistance and the co-operation of Canadians, once they have been informed and educated about this problem.

Fighting Internet and Wireless Spam ActGovernment Orders



Derek Lee Liberal Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Madam Speaker, this is an important piece of legislation we are debating here today, if for no other reason than it having been long delayed in finally being dealt with by the House.

I am advised by credible sources that Canada is the only G8 country that does not have legislation governing spam. This legislation deals with more than spam, but the bill's moniker out there on the street is that it is an “anti-spam” bill. So this is what Parliament is attempting to legislate on, and in my view, the bill could have a massive potential impact in the world of electronic commerce.

I am also advised that for a period of time some of the business organizations in our country were uncomfortable with provisions in the initial bill. Some amendments have been made to the initial bill, and I believe those organizations support it now.

It is incredibly important for us to ensure that if this bill is passed at second reading, which I believe it will be, the committee that studies it has the fullest consultation possible with professionals and businesses in this field to ensure that we deliver the best bill we can without impairing our electronic commerce, while protecting the privacy and other amenities that almost all Canadians would agree with.

The bill itself begins by attempting to prohibit. I say “attempting” because it is all very well for us to pass a law that prohibits or criminalizes or somehow regulates something, but the proof is in the pudding. The bill has to have an impact on the street, and in order to prohibit, there must be reasonable enforcement; and in order for there to be enforcement, there has to be a resourcing of those officials who would police or regulate.

This particular bill embarks on a course that has been followed in other legislation. It would allow the private sector to do some forms of enforcement or to participate in the organization of the regulation or enforcement. That is a positive step, but my point is that we just cannot pass a bill that prohibits and purports to regulate; we must also look to the issue of the means and modalities of enforcement. I note that while there is not a Criminal Code type of prohibition, the bill does have some significant potential financial penalties that could be applied.

But just because I stand here and say the bill has financial penalties, and just because we enact it, does not mean that those financial penalties will be brought to bear. The mechanisms of enforcement that involve quasi judicial and judicial enforcement have to be properly resourced.

I will deal with each of the prohibitions in the bill later in a little more depth, but at this point I just want to list them for the benefit of my own remarks.

The first thing that the bill would prohibit is spam itself. In other words, it would prohibit the sending, without the consent of the recipient, of what I call “junk”, what the bill calls something else, and what some people on the street call “spam”. Most of us who work on computers and receive emails are familiar with that type of communication.

The bill would prohibit false statements that disguise the origins of the email or the intent of the email. That involves a communication where the sender disguises what the message is about or inserts some piece of information that would entice the receiver to open it up.

Third, the bill would prohibit the installation of unauthorized programs. While I personally have not known myself to be victimized by this, I know it is a huge problem when emails bearing these bad news programs are opened up and somehow they worm their way into a computer's operating system. In some cases it can have dire effects on the computer system.

Fourth, it would prohibit the unauthorized collection of personal information and email addresses. The real core of that particular prohibition is the personal information piece. I will speak more about that later. That is a huge component of this and one which will have to be managed carefully under this legislation when it is finally put in force.

This series of prohibitions and the other statutory pieces that are proposed arose out of the report of a task force that completed its work about five years ago. I mention that only to indicate that the bill has good grounding in the private sector. The task force brought together industry and government in a way that produced a listing of these problematic issues with the Internet.

While we may have been showing some leadership five years ago, it is clear that we have been really slow to get this legislation enacted. Why it has not been a priority I can only guess, but if anyone wanted to look at the order paper, one would see a list of about 10 or 15 criminal law amendments jamming the legislative calendar when I and most people around the House know that most of those criminal law amendments could have been put into one bill and dealt with together.

However, our Conservative colleagues, and perhaps it was not even our Conservative colleagues, but under the leadership of the Prime Minister or whoever is driving the bus, a decision was made to clutter our parliamentary legislative agenda with all of these separate criminal law amendment bills. Forgive me for making this sidebar reference. I do not want to call all these criminal law amendments spam, but they could have been put into one, two or three bills. It would substantially reduce the number of bills the House and the other place have to deal with.

There are complaints about a log jam and that bills are piling up in the pipeline. I know the Minister of Justice will react to this and he will want to explain why the government chose to put 15 bills through the pipeline instead of two or three. Those bills have cluttered the legislative agenda much in the way that spam clutters our inboxes and our individual computers.

There is always a complaint that there is so much legislation that is not getting through the House. I know that complaint is coming. If it does not come today, it will come tomorrow, next week or at the end of the year. In my view, with respect to all of those bills, the government has to be the author of its own misfortune, if there is misfortune. However, I can report that there is some reasonably judicious, if I can use the term, management of all of those bills. We will certainly do our work.

In any event, regarding this anti-spam legislation, we have failed in an international sense, in my view, to provide appropriate leadership. We are a technologically advanced country. We have a parliamentary House that is sensitive to the issue. We had a task force in place five years ago. There was a report. A bill was created at some point and then it just seemed to languish.

In fairness to the government, we have had a sequence of minority governments and shorter Parliaments. I do accept the will of the Canadian electorate in creating these minority Parliaments, but the downside is that we do not get a good long run at the legislative calendar. It gets cut short by elections. I know my colleagues on the Liberal side will relate to this. It also gets cut short by prorogations, as has happened conspicuously a couple of times around here. In any event, we are muddling along and doing our best.

This particular bill is addressing a huge challenge, as has happened in the legislation of other countries. The Internet is new in human history. We do not really have all of the nouns and adjectives to describe exactly what it is. It is an entire universe of activity, communication, buying and selling, and conveying all manner of data. Without a lot of human experience in this field, the human race is grappling with whether, first of all, this particular field should be regulated.

The answer to that in the beginning was no. Many advocates behind the Internet, as it was originally born, took the view that it should be unrestricted and free, that it should be allowed to develop and flourish as another means of human communication and human endeavour.

It quickly became apparent that people with good motives and people with bad motives began using the Internet and its modalities for their own purposes. In some cases, those purposes were seen to be anti-social, and there is a general consensus on this. For example, there is the perpetuation of some form of criminality, to steal, to defraud, to abuse our children, or to steal from our privacy. Those are just some of the alleged anti-social forms of activity that appear on the Internet.

Ultimately we, as legislators, and the task force five years ago, reached the conclusion that there had to be some restraints. The restraints are described in this bill as prohibitions.

I do not underestimate the vastness of all we are trying to regulate as, just to look at it in this country, we are only a piece of the global Internet. This bill is trying to do that, but I suppose it could try to do it in a way that is sensitive to the capacity of the Internet to do good things. I will speak to that later if I have time.

It seems to me that anyone with the capacity to store electronic data could engage in the business of collecting data on persons and institutions. If one really put one's mind to it, one could come up with quite a good collection of financial and personal data. That by itself would not be good or bad necessarily. It could be used for bad things, or it could be used for good things.

It is not clear to me whether the bill really deals with this, but what if those who collect such data began to artificially assemble in the Internet false persons, non-existent identities of persons or institutions? One could, I am sure, create in the Internet world something that looked like a person, that seemed like a person, that had an identity of a person but that really was not a person, and that false identity, that non-existent but Internet-existent thing could do good things or bad things.

I realize my remarks are a bit on the philosophical side, but the capacity is out there to do this. It could be said that this bill comes close to regulating that, but I am not sure it does and I am not so sure that we have seen all of that develop in the Internet. We see little bits and pieces of it developing here and there, but I am thinking in terms of an Internet bad guy or an Internet good guy with all of this data and using it for good purposes or using it for bad purposes. Of course, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but I do not think this bill really deals with that.

I want to deal with each of the categories of prohibition.

The first one is spam without consent. That is easy for most of us because most of us have experienced it. I know from remarks made today that in Canada there are nine billion pieces of spam a year. That is a lot of territory. The cost is $130 billion a year.

It is not because the spam shows up on one's computer that it is costly. The fact is that the communications infrastructure that carries all of this stuff costs money. Whoever is spending money for Internet services is actually bearing the cost of carrying the spam. Are the spammers paying their fair share? They might be. It is not clear. I have not seen that addressed with a great deal of precision. I suppose I could say if the spammers were paying a commercial rate for all of their unwanted spam it might lower the cost burden on those users who do not send out spam and it might lower the cost to everybody. However, I will leave that aside.

Electronic filters that software provides do make a difference. It is a big help to Internet users around the world to have filters to clear out most of the spam.

I do want to point out a problem which is particular to members of Parliament and the way they manage their immigration files.

Many of us in the House have large numbers of immigration files where constituents have brought matters to the MPs. I recently came across a situation of a potential immigrant who was in the queue waiting for his application to be processed. An email was sent to him advising him of the need for a further piece of documentation. He never got that email. As a result, 90 or 100 days later, his file was dropped, closed, terminated, by our immigration department because there was not a response. The thinking is, why did that happen? Clearly, the email was sent to the right address. There is some sense that a filter on the recipient's computer may have blocked it and, regrettably, we do not know how to fix that kind of problem. Filters are usually good, but sometimes they are not.

The enforcement under this bill would be with the CRTC, the Privacy Commissioner and the Competition Bureau. The fines would be between $1 million and $10 million. They are administrative monetary penalties and would not be delivered by a judge but by these organizations.

I hope we do find teeth and enforcement. Time will tell. I only raise one caution. We should make sure, in this bill, that we do not restrict political communications or communications from religious groups, and I hope our international treaties will begin to reflect these issues involving the Internet.

Fighting Internet and Wireless Spam ActGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.


Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, as the member knows, the bill gives quite a wide variety of enforcement options to the authorities. For example, there is a provision to deal with issues by way of undertakings, and I suspect that is probably how a lot of the issues will be resolved. Fines will be sort of a secondary option, and if the violators undertake to stop doing what they are doing, that probably will end the issue there.

Nevertheless, we do have these fines, as the member pointed out, of $1 million for an individual and $10 million for organizations, but the bill stops short of dealing with criminal offences. I just wonder whether there is a role or if there should be provisions here for criminal offences.

As I mentioned before, we had that recent case, and there are probably going to be many more, of Facebook suing a spammer and getting a $1 billion settlement. At the end of the day, the fellow who was doing the spamming simply declared bankruptcy and basically laughed at the system and got a lot of publicity out of doing so. Clearly if this act were in place, it would have done nothing to stop him, because he has no intention of paying any fines whatsoever, and I am sure he would have no intention of following an undertaking that the CRTC would offer him or demand of him.

I know the member is a lawyer, and I would like to ask him whether he foresees a problem here with not at least having an extra option of jail time for cases where the other options do not seem to work.

Fighting Internet and Wireless Spam ActGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.


Derek Lee Liberal Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member has described a situation involving an impecunious loser. If he had no resources, then the fine was not going to be of much use.

In that situation, that is where criminal law could or should come into play, but the difficulty with criminal law, and even with some of the other enforcement of the fines, the administrative monetary penalties, is that it is quite possible that a lot of this spamming and messaging and a lot of the collection and storage of personal information is going to happen outside of Canada. It is going to be international.

That is why at the end of my remarks I made a fairly brief reference to treaties. We really are not going to be able to get a solid handle on this, in my view, unless we are able to reach outside the country, in conjunction and in collaboration with the other foreign jurisdictions, and that is only going to be done with treaties. With very few exceptions, we cannot impose our criminal law outside the country, so we still have a distance to go.

This is a very timid first step in trying to regulate this type of activity.

Fighting Internet and Wireless Spam ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.


John McKay Liberal Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member spoke eloquently about this bill and expressed a certain skepticism with respect to the effectiveness of the bill. In his last remarks, he described it as a timid bill, and previously he analogized to the multiplicity of justice bills that are on the floor of the House, clogging up the order paper, many of which are long on title and short on content and could be dealt with in a number of different ways, the most obvious of which is an omnibus bill.

I am noting that this is essentially a three-way debate among the Bloc, the NDP and the Liberals, and the government members are not participating in the debate. This appears to be one more bill by the government where it is, as they say in the west, all hat and no horse.

Would the hon. member comment on the limitations of this bill, but also on the several things that the government could have done had it actually responded effectively to this issue?

Fighting Internet and Wireless Spam ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.


Derek Lee Liberal Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is appearing more and more that our Conservative colleagues opposite are really not debaters; they are voters. They come into the House and follow the lead of their House leader and whip.

There surely are in this bill some debatable concerns. One should not pretend that this bill would solve the problems outlined, even prohibiting these various anti-social activities. The bill would never succeed in eradicating those activities. The bill comes across more as a threat to those who might do it, certainly those in Canada, even if we got all of the institutions and players in Canada to be good boy scouts, which I expect will happen. We have a good reputation around the world for this kind of thing once we regulate or prohibit.

I suspect that our friends around the world, even in the United States of America, Europe and everywhere, will not pay any attention to this at all. They will take every opportunity to continue what they are doing for profit or whatever other motive.

At the end of the day, any tangible global initiative to eradicate, reduce and restrict is going to involve treaties. Whether it starts at the UN or some other mechanism, I would encourage it. However, before we even take that step, it is really important for us to get our legislation right in Canada and understand the difference between all the freedoms we have and the privacies that are protected.

I did not get a chance to go into the definition of commercial activity, but it is important to get the definitions right so that individuals remain as free as they can be in this country and, at the same time, restrict the institutional, business and corporate activity that involves spam and unauthorized collections of personal data. It is treaties that will ultimately be the foundation and groundwork of future successful regulation, in my view.

Fighting Internet and Wireless Spam ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.


John McKay Liberal Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Mr. Speaker, a lot of the justice bills, as I see them frankly, are responses to problems that do not exist or exist in a minimal sort of way, if they exist at all. However they have gained some notoriety for some reason or another, some fact situation, and as my friend and I well know, bad facts make bad law. This bill, however, is in response to a real problem. It is a response, but seems to be a timid response.

Were the hon. member to rewrite the bill in a way in which it should be written, what would be one or two specific suggestions he would make to the government, assuming it is participating in this debate, that would make this bill a useful response?

Fighting Internet and Wireless Spam ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.


Derek Lee Liberal Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, the one thing I would seriously consider doing in the bill is finding a way to ratchet up the response into the Criminal Code. It is not that everything that happens in this bill has to be criminalized, all the bad stuff, but we need to find a way to take an accumulated happening or event, either by size or quality, and allow it to be moved into the Criminal Code. At least we would be able to hammer down pretty seriously on Canadian-based perpetrators of what I call these anti-social activities.

That is what I would have done. I would have provided a step up into the Criminal Code for some of the more egregious breaches of the prohibitions we have here.

Fighting Internet and Wireless Spam ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.


Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to Bill C-28. I enjoyed the remarks by the member for Scarborough—Rouge River. He made some valid observations in the beginning about the fact that the delays of the government in bringing the bill to fruition were in some way unavoidable because of the election. However, sometimes delays can actually work out to one's benefit.

I note that because of this process involving a previous bill dying and then the government re-forming it as Bill C-28, the fact of the matter is some improvements were actually made along the way.

Coming out of the committee there were some improvements, even one that the government made itself as a result of representations made by presenters to the committee. They resulted in amendments to the bill.

I know governments oftentimes introduce legislation and they themselves bring in a number of amendments at the committee stage, so it is a process to get it right, a process that involves in many cases correcting oversights and making amendments as we progress.

At the end of the day, we may actually have a better bill than we would have, had we gone with the earlier versions.

We have not heard from the government very often during these debates. One of the questions I would ask is: How many actual cases have not been dealt with because of a lack of this type of legislation?

This type of legislation has been in the pipe since 2004. There were two senators involved with bills of their own. As has been pointed out, we are the only country in the G8 that does not have legislation of this type at this point.

Therefore I would be interested in knowing what the experience has been with the other countries in the G8, with their type of legislation, and how many consent orders have been dealt with in their jurisdictions and how many fines have been collected. If in fact they have jail provisions, how many people have actually gone to jail in any of those G8 countries?

However we have not had any representations from any government members about those particular issues. Surely we could learn from the other countries that have this legislation. If in fact there has been an increase in one type of activity over another in one of those G8 countries, I would assume that the government would have been quick enough to respond and would have been able to cover that off in our legislation.

Having looked at the legislation, I see it is quite comprehensive. The NDP members support the legislation over and above the questions that we have about it on the issue of the jail provisions. It is quite a substantial bill and deals with many areas that need to be dealt with.

Another point I would like to make is that this is a relatively new area. The technology has expanded so much. It has only been since 1995 that emails have become a regular occurrence and certainly e-commerce has been on the radar only since 1999.

At the provincial level, 10 years ago we were looking at bringing in e-commerce legislation, and in Manitoba around 10 years ago we brought in Bill 31, which I mentioned before in the House, which was the best e-commerce legislation in the country at the time. It was following the Uniform Law Conference. I believe that all of the provinces in Canada have since followed suit and brought in their own type of legislation to deal with those substantial issues.

However, that was a response to e-commerce in 1999 when it was very new and people were reluctant to purchase things online. We brought in some consumer friendly amendments to that bill. One of the provisions was that anyone in the province of Manitoba who purchased a product or service online and did not receive the product or service, the credit card company would have to back it up and compensate the customer.

The credit card companies had some concerns about that but it was something that we copied from at least four states in the United States that had that type of legislation in 1999. Those were the beginnings of e-commerce legislation. Today, e-commerce has burgeoned and exploded in spite of any type of legislation. I do not think I could point to many thousands of people in Manitoba who would even know we put in that protection for them in that bill.

That was only part of why we brought in the bill in the first place. We were dealing with the whole issue of databases, which is very controversial. It was shortly after the Jane Stewart experience in Ottawa with databases. However, what we were trying to do was come up with a common business identifier so that businesses in the country could deal with the federal tax department through a single business number. By doing that, we had to have a legislative framework in place to begin dealing with, not only within the government but within companies in Manitoba and the federal government, taxation issues, making corporate tax payments, the whole issue of T4 slips, records of employment and all those sorts of business type issues.

The governments of the day were looking at low-hanging fruit, things that they could control. They were looking at their own government to start with, but the view was to expand out to the private sector companies to try to make them more efficient and make the government more efficient. Before we went with the SAP computer system, we had no idea that the Department of Industry was giving a grant to a company that was in arrears with our taxation department and not paying its PST. In fact, that was happening. I am not sure what systems are now being used through federal government departments, whether it is SAP or a different ERP system, but we wanted to ensure we knew what we were doing in our own house.

This was a very controversial type of legislation that we had to deal with. We had to deal with the sharing of databases. We had interjurisdictional issues. We also had to deal with the existing silos within the provincial government where each department was saying something different. For example, finance was saying that it could not do this because of certain reasons and justice was saying something else. In each department there were five or six involved in the legislation. Since each one had its own concerns, we needed to get them together and say that this was the way we were going and that we would need to accommodate to the changing environment.

That is a big problem and it is a big problem with the federal government as well.

We have had to do a lot in this whole area and the federal government was under a lot of pressure. Why did it wait so long when seven of the eight G8 countries have had legislation dealing with spam for a number of years?

At the end of the day, it is time to pass this legislation and get it through. Some debate will continue about whether we went far enough. There are some provisions that I will get to later but there are so many provisions to this legislation that it is impossible to deal adequately with them in a 20 minute time period. However, a lot of provisions in the legislation may provide some sort of upset or cost to our nation or to the businesses in the country. We will only know over time whether that will be the case.

I know that in dealing with legislation, governments try to the best job it can to have an open process by having witnesses come before committee to give expert testimony. Provincially, we have a system where we allow almost anybody to come and make a 10 minute presentation on a bill.

Having said that, we would have a similar bill to this where we would do a round of consultations over the course of a year and then we would have the hearings and the press coverage. Still, at the end of the day, a year down the road after we had passed the legislation and had the regulations in force, people in the affected business communities would come forward and say that they knew nothing about the legislation and that it was a total mystery to them. They would accuse the government of bringing in the legislation and causing them a lot of problems without having proper consultation, when in fact we could prove that we did a lot of consultation.

In the spite of the fact that we have done all this work and that it has taken so much time, I still anticipate that we will have some problems at the end of the day with people or companies saying that they did not know about it, even after all of the speeches and the consulting that has been done.

Some adjustments may be necessary. For example, small businesses are very concerned about the relationship they will have or will continue to have with their previous clients. The new laws put some restrictions on how they can deal with their clientele. Before the do not call list came into effect, it was routine for a business to contact its customers, in-house, over the phone or through the mail, regarding other products. However, they cannot do that anymore because it is not allowed.

The way the system works now is that customers need to give their agreement for the business to approach them. This will cause a lot of stress for businesses in the country. Every time the government comes out with a new set of regulations, businesses that are doing what businesses do best, which is conduct business, will need to retool their operations and re-educate their employees on what is involved. There is no end to the questions being asked about whether companies can contact previous clients and under what conditions they can be contacted.

We introduced the do not call registry but the government found that the system did not work so well. I think it is working a little better now. However, in the initial periods, some people who were put on the do not call list found that they were receiving more calls after they were on the list than they were before being put on the list. People were accessing the do not call list.

This bill would deal with the do not call list. As a result of the much improved wording in the bill, the government has the option to phase out the do not call list over a period of time. When that time comes, the government can simply invoke the provision of the act that allows it to eliminate the do not call list. The do not call provisions are covered under this bill.

The bill has a lot of good things with respect to the definitions and the wording. With the volume of clauses and changes in wording that we are dealing with, it is impossible to get into all of the minutia in a 20 minute presentation.

A lot of good improvements have been made to the bill. Three or four years ago, people were not aware of some of the technical terms and technology issues, so it is possible that this legislation will be outdated before it comes into effect.

I have mentioned the issue of fines a few times but I want to deal with it again. I want to look at the case involving Facebook. The fellow who had a $1 billion judgment against him by Facebook for spamming, basically turned it into a media extravaganza for himself. He was on all the national television networks as a result of it. He laughed at Facebook. Facebook spent a huge amount of money on lawyers and chasing him down to get this $1 billion settlement and he just declared bankruptcy. If we are dealing with the likes of that fellow and other people like him, how in the world will we be able to deal with them by passing this type of legislation? Let us take a look at what is being contemplated in this bill in terms of enforcement.

I do not have any complaints about it. It is a good idea to look at consent orders. However, we can always be suspicious of regulators who deal with consent orders because they may show favouritism to their friends or may not fine people who should be fined. People who co-operate and people the regulators like will get a consent order and a cease and desist order but no fine. People not in their favour may get fined.

Nevertheless, let us assume for a moment that consent orders are a good idea and will solve a lot of problems. If the consent order does not work, the backup is a $1 million maximum penalty for individuals and $10 million for corporations. That is not bad but I do not know of any corporation that can afford a $10 million fine that will be guilty of spamming in the first place. These big companies have lawyers. They know the law. They will not be spamming in the first place.

Who we will have spamming are offshore people, people who are hard to catch, people who do not have any assets or people who hide their assets. A consent order will not stop them. Fines will not stop them. It seems to me that only a jail sentence will put the skids on some of these people--

Fighting Internet and Wireless Spam ActGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Order, please. We will now move on to questions and comments with the hon. member for Vancouver Kingsway.

Fighting Internet and Wireless Spam ActGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.


Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is very difficult to hold senders of spam accountable for their mass mailings. We all know that the barrier to entry is very low. Spammers are numerous and the volume of unsolicited mail has become astronomically high in the country. We have already heard the figure of some two billion spam messages a day in Canada alone.

The cost of spam should not be underestimated in lost productivity and fraud. Those costs are borne by the public and by Internet service providers, which have been forced to add extra capacity to cope with that deluge. A recent study from California demonstrated how spammers profited from their activities by shifting the costs traditionally borne by marketers to the recipients of spam, which are namely Internet providers and Internet users.

My hon. colleague has already commented on the need to have tough sanctions to deal with this, which I think is quite positive in many respects. However, there is an absence in the bill of any criminal sanction. Could he tell us what his feelings are with respect to having criminal sanctions added to the bill so we can ensure we can deal with this problem?

With civil penalties, the people have to be found. Many are companies that are set up in houses or in the cyber world. We may have no real ability to track them down. We may be unable to get at their assets. In fact, they may have no assets. Civil action against entities like that simply will not work.

Could the member comment further on the need for criminal sanctions as a real means of getting at this problem?

Fighting Internet and Wireless Spam ActGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.


Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I also wish the bill would be sufficient in the form it is right now. As I said, I look at the consent orders and think they should solve a lot of the problems. I think a lot of people would be reasonable. The fines are good as well. I do not have any problem with the $1 million for individuals and $10 million for companies. However, I do not see how that would solve the issue of somebody declaring bankruptcy and not paying the fines.

Some sort of criminal offence and jail time should be in the bill to stop people like that from spamming. In future, we may have to revisit the bill and add that in.

I want to mention the private right of action. This is another important part of the bill because it creates a private right of action for individuals who have been affected by contraventions of Bill C-28. A person who alleges that he or she is affected by an act or omission that breaches the key provisions of the act might apply to a court for an order of compensation. This is another outlet for people who think an issue is not being dealt with by the government. There would be a private right of action. It is important for those who are watching today to know that.

Fighting Internet and Wireless Spam ActGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.


Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to focus on spam and its use in crime. Spam can be used to spread computer viruses, Trojan horses or other malicious software. The objective may be identity theft or even worse, for instance, advance-fee fraud and other kinds of commercial fraud transactions.

Some spam attempts to capitalize on human greed, while other attempts use the victim's inexperience with computer technology to trick them, for example, phishing.

In May 2007 one of the world's most prolific spammers, Robert Soloway, was arrested by U.S. authorities. He was described as one of the top ten spammers in the world. He was charged with 35 criminal counts, including mail fraud, wire fraud, email fraud, aggravated identity theft and money laundering.

We also have to take this issue seriously, not only in terms of the irritation and costs that are borne by consumers and Internet providers in our country in extra overhead, transaction costs and damage to computer and community channels, but we have to recognize that this has an important criminal element as well.

Could my hon. colleague talk about the need to control spam and the effect it may have in terms of being a tool to deal with fraud and other crimes in our country?

Fighting Internet and Wireless Spam ActGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.


Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, as I mentioned, because of the lack of government speakers on this bill, we have been unable to determine what the government's thought process was in developing it and whether it consulted with the other seven of the G8 countries to hear what their experiences were with similar legislation and whether it solved a lot of the problems. Hopefully, the government is building on the positive experiences of those other countries.

Let us look at the example of the do not call list. That was very well-intentioned legislation. However, it backfired right away. People on the do not call list were getting more calls than they had been before.

The government has dealt with that issue in this bill. We will be able to phase out the do not call list in favour of the bill. We have brought in very good wording in a lot of the sections do deal with expanding areas in technology. I see a lot of very good parts of the bill, which is why I, my colleague and the NDP support the bill. However, we do have some cautions, and we have mentioned them many times now, about the lack of criminal sanctions in the bill. We perhaps should have looked at that, but time will tell.

As to how many cases we have missed in the past because of a lack of this type of legislation, we do not know. I would have expected the government to explain that to us through its speakers to the bill had there been any. We would have liked to have been alerted to the fact that one of the reasons the government brought in the legislation was to deal with a number of issues in Canada. However, we never heard any examples of missed opportunities. If we have not had any missed opportunities, if we have not had any bad experiences, then what is the need for the legislation?

There should have been more background information and more updates from the government. I am familiar with some ministers in provincial governments who routinely give opposition briefings, and that is very important. Yet I know under the Conservatives in Manitoba, some ministers would give briefings and some would not. However, the ministers who gave briefings were rewarded for it because the members of opposition had a better understanding of the provisions of a bill. They could make suggestions for improvements to it and it was a less confrontational approach. However, other ministers have a very bad attitude. They do not want to help the opposition at all. They do not want to share any information. At the end of the day, they pay the price for not co-operating.

I am not sure just how many ministers in the Conservative government provide briefings on bills to members of the House. If they are not doing it right now, they should consider it. If they are doing it, that is really good. However, they could at least have informed us about some of the reasons for coming in with this bill.

We do not have a lot of problem with the bill. Barring another prorogation of the House by the Prime Minister by the end of the year or a quick election, hopefully this legislation will be in place. When we see what sort of regulations are promulgated by the government, then we will have a better idea of where the government is headed with it. At the end of the day, only time will tell whether this was a good move. If it was not, there is always the opportunity for a future government to bring in amendments to the bill if we find there were some areas that we missed.

Fighting Internet and Wireless Spam ActGovernment Orders

1 p.m.


Anthony Rota Liberal Nipissing—Timiskaming, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to Bill C-28, the fighting Internet and wireless spam act, better known as FISA. It is designed to curb the flow of spam, unwanted installations of unauthorized and sometimes malicious software and the unauthorized collection of personal information. In other words, it aims at stopping spam emails. With spam emails, we do not always give prior consent and that is what makes them so obnoxious.

I have been listening to a lot of the speeches and going through the bill and it really is a dry topic. It is something that, unless one is really into the technical side of things, does not excite people until it hits our computers or our homes. That is when we really feel the impact that spam has on individuals.

I want to do a bit of a history. In 2004-05 the Liberal government of the day established an anti-spam task force and recommendations for actions were put forward. The Liberal recommendations called for the government to introduce legislation to prohibit four things: first, the sending of spam without prior consent of recipients; second, the use of false or misleading statements that disguise the origins or true intent of the email; third, the installation of unauthorized programs; and fourth, the unauthorized collection of personal information or email addresses.

I would like the members to remember these four points because they will be showing up again and it is important that we finally get there. Of all the G8 countries, Canada is the only one that does not have legislation in place yet. When we look at something like this, we have to ask why Canada has really lagged behind.

Had the government continued under a Liberal government back in 2005, we would have had legislation. However, unfortunately the NDP leader decided that in 2005, it was time to stop supporting the Liberal government of the day. I think history will look back and see where progressive thought really slowed down, if not stopped, for a number of years. It will not be pretty when people look back and see what was lost. Whether it was legislation on spam, child care or first nations rights, it will not be viewed positively.

Let us get back to Bill C-28. It was originally introduced by the Conservative government as Bill C-27, which died in prorogation. Prorogation normally is not something we speak of positively. I look at prorogation and it really was something Canadians did not want, it was something Parliament did not really want and it caused a lot of problems. However, one thing it caused was the death of Bill C-27.

Prior to the prorogation, many flaws were exposed in the bill and when it came back, the good thing was that many changes were made. Bill C-28 was introduced after the return from prorogation, with the changes to correct many flaws identified. I am pleased to see the Conservative government decided to act on the recommendations of our Liberal task force and the recommendations of the industry, science and technology committee.

Legislation in a fast moving area such as technology must be monitored closely to ensure it does not stifle legitimate electronic commerce in Canada, while accomplishing its intended purpose.

The real test of Bill C-28 will be in its implementation. How diligently will it be reinforced? What resources will be allotted? How serious is the government in protecting Canadian citizens? Those are the questions we will have to look at and really look to see how strong the legislation will be.

One of the things that the legislation calls for is periodic review of the legislation. I talked about how fast electronic media changes and how fast technology changes. That is why the legislation in particular has to be reviewed on a regular basis so it keeps up with what goes on.

In its main provisions, Bill C-28 introduces a new regulatory scheme and monetary penalties for spam and related threats such as identity theft, phishing, spyware, viruses and botnets, and it extends the rights of civil action of their victims. I know a lot of us have heard these terms, but I thought I would take the time to go through them because they are not always well understood and I want to clarify them.

I went on the Internet itself, to Wikipedia, and got some definitions of the individual terms, because I know there are people listening at home wondering, “This is wonderful, but what exactly does it mean and what effect does it have on me?” We all know about spam, which I will define at the end, but spam is just one part of it.

We hear about identity theft. Identity theft is a form of fraud or cheating of another person's identity in which someone pretends to be someone else by assuming that person's identity, typically in order to access resources or obtain credit and other benefits in that person's name. The victim of identity theft can suffer adverse consequences if he or she is held accountable for the perpetrator's actions. Organizations or individuals that are duped or defrauded by identity theft can also suffer adverse consequences and losses, and to that extent, they are also victims.

Again, identity theft is one of the points that this legislation takes on. We look at the fraud in it. Someone spoke earlier and asked about the Criminal Code. This identifies it, and fraud is covered under the Criminal Code.

The other term that comes up quite often is phishing, not fishing with an “f”, but phishing with a “ph”. Phishing is the criminally fraudulent process of attempting to acquire sensitive information such as usernames, passwords and credit card details by masquerading as a trustworthy entity in an electronic communication. Communications purporting to be from popular social websites, auction sites, online payment processors or IT administrators are commonly used to lure the unsuspecting public.

Phishing is typically carried out by email or instant messaging and often directs users to enter details to a fake website that looks and feels almost identical to a legitimate one. When we go somewhere on the web and see something saying it is a certain company, we want to make sure that it is real, that it is what it says it is.

Phishing basically sets up a fake facade that people think they can trust. People input information and then the information is harvested and used to hurt individuals. Whether it is taking their money or identity or causing problems for those individuals, we can see where the problem would come.

The one we hear about often is spam. That seems to be the generic one that covers everything. Spam is the use of electronic messaging systems to send unsolicited bulk messaging indiscriminately.

While the most widely recognized form of spam is email spam, the term is also applied to similar abuses in other media, including instant messaging spam, Usenet newsgroup spam, web research engine spam, spam in blogs, wikispam, online classified ad spam, mobile phone messaging spam, Internet forum spam, and junk fax transmissions.

People who have faxes in their offices have had junk fax transmissions come to them. It uses up trees by using paper, it uses up resources by using ink, and it uses up copies that the individual receiving it has to pay for. Sometimes when these transmissions are received in large number, it becomes an expense that hurts.

Social networking spam is something that people are aware of, as well as television advertising and file-sharing network spam.

We have all heard the word “spyware”. Not many people really realize what spyware is. It is a type of malware that can be installed on computers and collects little bits of information at a time, without the user's knowledge. The key is “without the user's knowledge”. Users do not know that this spyware is in their computers and it constantly transmits little bits of information. The presence of spyware is typically hidden from the user and it can be difficult to detect.

Typically, spyware is secretly installed on the user's personal computer, and while the term “spyware” suggests software that secretly monitors the user's computing, the functions of spyware extend well beyond simple monitoring. Spyware programs can collect various types of personal information such as Internet surfing habits and sites that have been visited, but it can also interfere with the user's control of the computer in other ways, such as installing additional software and redirecting web browser activity.

Spyware is known to change computer settings, resulting in slow connection speeds, different home pages, or loss of Internet functionality and other programs.

We have all come across that, where we are working on something and it seems that everything is going along really well, and suddenly everything stops. What happened? There is a piece of spyware that went in there and changed things around. There is a frustration and a cost to the individual.

If someone sitting at home, likely retired, working on a computer, has a fixed income and suddenly he or she has to expend dollars to get the computer running again, there is a direct effect there.

There may be those who ask how that affects them. We have all had the frustration. We have had to bring someone in to fix the problem, if he or she can fix the problem. When the individual gets it running again, that individual has money out of pocket. On a limited income, if one is retired, it really hurts individuals directly.

Computer viruses are something that we hear of a lot. A computer virus is a computer program that can copy itself and infect a computer. A true virus can spread from one computer to another when its host is taken to a target computer, for instance because a user sent it over a network or the Internet or carried it on a removable medium such as a floppy disk, CD, DVD or USB drive.

We see a lot more of that now where we have people coming in with USB drives, collecting the information and then going to another computer. It is a perfect way to spread viruses.

I have a 13-year-old daughter who works on her computer. She brings her homework back. She will input the information and take it to school. She might be bringing back something from the school or someone else might be bringing it to the school. So we can see where a virus can cause a lot of problems for many people.

Viruses can increase their chances of spreading to other computers by infecting files on a network file system or a file system that is accessed by other computers.

One that we do not hear much about is botnets. That is covered under this legislation. A botnet is a collection of software agents or robots that run autonomously and automatically. The term is most commonly associated with IRC bots.

The best way to describe IRC bots is when we go to a website or even an email and think we are interacting with another individual but we are not. With an IRC bot, we are basically interacting with another machine. We think that person is there responding to us. We can see the problems that could cause: someone going to one site, getting answers, building up a trust, and then suddenly finding out it is a machine on the other side.

The other thing that happens with the IRC bots is that one can access a number of people, all interacting with this one machine, so the individual is not duping people, a machine is, and the spread can cause a lot more damage because it is so pervasive.

As well, it does spread some malicious software and it can also refer to a network of computers using distributed computing software.

Anyone who has used a computer can relate to the kind of frustration that this malware can cause in some of these unwanted infiltrations into one's computer.

It is not only frustration. As I mentioned earlier, there can be a real financial loss to the individual who is using that computer and connecting and who will be affected by some of these issues.

Let us take a look at Bill C-28 again, now that we know what some of the definitions are.

Bill C-28 contains four main thrusts. It prohibits the transmission of commercial messages, basically spam, without express consent. The only conditions under which express consent is not required are those where family or prior recent business relationships exist. Messages requesting consent have to provide the names of the sender and the client on whose behalf the message is being sent, contact information for both, and a way to unsubscribe.

Quotes and estimates that are requested are not covered by this, nor are emails or follow-ups on business previously transacted.

There is one loophole or one barrier in this legislation that I would like to talk about. That is in regard to people who are in sales, such as financial advisers, real estate agents, or stockbrokers. What often happens is that they will do business with someone, and at some point, using real estate as an example, the person they are doing business with will say, “My brother, John, is looking for a house. Give him a call or get hold of him. I am sure you can help him out. You have done a great job for me, and John, who is my relative, could use your help”.

This legislation unfortunately does not allow the real estate agent to send an email to that person. He has to get express consent from the individual to whom he will be sending that email.

I was talking about how this legislation has to be reviewed on a regular basis. I think this is one of the areas we are going to have to look at and ask if it really allows business and e-commerce to continue and to flourish. We can see the barriers that are set up and the problems it would cause to people who earn a living in the sales field.

As we see this going on, I think it is important that we monitor some of the effects of this legislation. Maybe in about a year or so we should review it, see what is going on, and see what the unintended effects of this legislation will be.

The bill attempts to curtail phishing, with a prohibition on false or misleading information on the source of an email. The bill also prohibits the installation of programs to operate another's computer or the dissemination of messages on a computer without the individual's consent, and there is the option to withdraw the consent.

As we can see, it goes back to malware, the spam that we spoke about earlier and how this bill will block that.

The bill includes provisions that halt the collection of personal information, by amending PIPEDA, the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act, to include a ban on collecting or using electronic addresses obtained through a computer program designed for their collection, as I mentioned earlier, the phishing program.

So this legislation does come into play, and there are additional provisions that specify that a tougher regime under FISA take precedence over the existing Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act and all the legislation that could apply.

The bill's provisions extend not only to those who violate it, but also to the agents or directors of the corporations who aid, authorize or acquiesce to the violations. The bill follows the money. That is the key right here, because when we look at a lot of this, the infractions and the invasion, it comes right back to money. It follows the money, stripping protection for those who hide behind a corporate shield.

When we look at some of the fines that are out there, the fines could go as high as $1 million for individuals and $10 million for corporations. The bill aims to accomplish ending the practice of spamming.

Will this bill end it completely? I think when there is something illegal going on, it just keeps going and going. What this does is minimize it and at least offer some protection to Canadians when it comes to spamming, phishing and the rest of the electronic malware that exists around the world and on the Internet.

Fighting Internet and Wireless Spam ActGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.


Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, the authorities intend to deal with violators as much as possible by way of undertakings, to have people voluntarily quit doing what they are doing. That may solve a lot of the problems but then our backup is the fines. I say the fines are high enough at $1 million and $10 million.

The question comes down to the fact that violations are not criminal offences. We can talk all we want about vicarious liability of directors and officers of corporations, but in the recent Facebook case, the spammer was ordered to pay $1 billion, but the gentleman simply laughed at the system and declared bankruptcy. So, what good is a fine of $1 million? What good is it for the authorities to go after the guy and ask him for an undertaking to cease and desist and stop what he is doing? If that does not work and fines do not work, what is going to work? This is a well-known case that got national coverage in the last few weeks.

The bill would do absolutely nothing to deal with this issue. If we already have an example before the bill is even passed, then how many more of these little guys are going to do what that gentleman succeeded in doing?

Fighting Internet and Wireless Spam ActGovernment Orders

November 23rd, 2010 / 1:20 p.m.


Anthony Rota Liberal Nipissing—Timiskaming, ON

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member for Elmwood—Transcona talks about criminalizing people, putting people in jail because they have done something. If they are taking part in a fraudulent act, the Criminal Code will cover it. If they are trying to defraud someone of money, this is an instrument in catching those individuals and pressing the criminal charges that apply. They are not getting off scot-free.

Let us take a look at sending out spam. What is the intent of this legislation? The intent is to stop spam. The individual the member referred to sent out millions of spams. I do not know what the number is but it was a huge number and it was very annoying. What is the intent of this legislation and how would this do it? It would cause him first to declare bankruptcy. He would be shut down. Second, he would stop spamming. When we look at it, for most people declaring bankruptcy is a bit of an inconvenience, if not a complete embarrassment. It would cause someone to stop.

If someone is a repeat offender and causes problems over and over and keeps spamming, bankruptcy can only be declared so many times and suddenly the person has a problem coming up with money. I am not sure what we are going to get as we cannot get blood from a stone. The intent of the legislation is not to criminalize someone unless it goes to the next step and there is fraud committed. The intent is to stop the spamming from continuing and that is what the bill would accomplish.

Fighting Internet and Wireless Spam ActGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.


Dan McTeague Liberal Pickering—Scarborough East, ON

Mr. Speaker, my colleague from Nipissing—Timiskaming is an esteemed member of the industry committee. He piloted through committee substantive changes to the original version the government had for this bill, such that with amendments, it has become very palatable to all of us here. However, we all recognize there is still work to be done. The hon. member quite rightly has pointed out there may be areas within the legislation as it exists which will fall short not just of being able to curb the presence of spam in all of its various characterizations, but also to stop it from appearing on our computers, which is in essence why I introduced the bill originally in 2003.

Has any thought been given to ultra enforcement? How do we get around the problem which will no doubt occur of enforcement in other nations from where a lot of spam now emanates? More important, how does this legislation envisage the next step which is coordination among other nations?

Fighting Internet and Wireless Spam ActGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.


Anthony Rota Liberal Nipissing—Timiskaming, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member made a good point.

In 2003 we started working on this while the Liberal government was in power. Now in 2010, after five years of Conservative rule, we are finally getting around to enacting it. A lot of progressive legislation has fallen by the wayside and we are trying to get some of it back. This is a small step in the right direction.

Internationally, Canada no longer has the same esteem it had prior to the 2006 election when the Conservatives took over. That we know. We have heard it. I travel to Europe and other places. People have asked me what has happened to Canada. They say that Canada used to be an open country where people discussed things and came to an agreement, but suddenly it has become difficult to deal with Canada. I am speaking of countries in Europe, South America, all around the world. They are wondering what is going on.

One thing about Bill C-28 is that we would have to co-operate with other countries. We would have to talk to other countries and negotiate with other countries. We do not want another Camp Mirage situation to happen with this legislation.

It is important that the Conservatives start opening up when dealing with other people. They cannot just dig in their heels and say it is their way or the highway. It may sound good to some people, but not to most people, that here in Canada there is a government that can dig in its heels and do whatever it wants. The government has to be open. It is not about black and white. There are different shades of grey and the government has to negotiate to come to an agreement that works.

That is one of the keys of this legislation. It has to do with individuals in the government negotiating with other governments so that we can come to agreements and settlements that work so that the people of Canada can be protected from spam and other malware in the Internet.

Fighting Internet and Wireless Spam ActGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.


Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, all Canadians know that the Internet is an extremely important public resource. It has acquired profound importance to Canadians not only as a news gathering tool and a communications tool but as a form of commerce. When we talk about spam, we are talking not just about an irritant, but about something that has a grave and critical potential to harm Canadians in many different ways.

Some of the overhead costs of electronic spam include bandwidth and developing and acquiring spam tools or taking over and acquiring a host or zombie. The transaction costs for each additional recipient once a method of spamming is constructed can be immense.

Could my hon. colleague elaborate on the critical importance of the Internet to Canadians and why this piece of legislation is important? In his opinion, how could it be improved?

Fighting Internet and Wireless Spam ActGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.


Anthony Rota Liberal Nipissing—Timiskaming, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member for Vancouver Kingsway raised an excellent point.

Spam and a lot of the malware can make up 60% of the email transactions that take place.

I come from northern Ontario which is very limited on bandwidth. Some of the smaller communities have to download through a telephone cable. It is not universal high-speed yet. I was talking to someone not too long ago who lives about 100 kilometres from Ottawa who is still on dial-up.

This large volume of malware, spyware and spam slows everything down. Sixty per cent is wasted. If we could get rid of a lot of the spam, open up that bandwidth and put stuff through that people want to receive, our overhead would be much lower.

E-commerce is very important for isolated communities. We have to encourage it so that everybody has access to the same items and so that a business can be run from anywhere in the country, not only in major centres. Getting rid of a lot of spam and opening up the bandwidth would allow everyone to compete equally. It is an important resource. It is a public resource. It is an essential resource.

Fighting Internet and Wireless Spam ActGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.


Dan McTeague Liberal Pickering—Scarborough East, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to speak to this bill.

The impetus for this bill dates back to 2003, when I introduced the first bill to combat emails containing commercial electronic information.

The fact that there have been changes of government and four Parliaments since then is obviously a problem. But the situation continues to get worse, and it cannot be minimized by arguments that we will hurt industry if we pass a bill to protect consumers and ensure that industry can function. We recognize the importance of sending commercial information through electronic media.

I reflect on the several years and how long it may take for a bill to make its way through Parliament and to address an issue, which I think for most Canadians is obvious. We have heard my good colleague from Nipissing—Timiskaming talking about the fact that many parts of his riding in northern Ontario and places outside of the beaten track of larger urban areas still are without significant access to the Internet, even though we all recognize in this Parliament, and Canadians recognize, the importance of commercial information through electronic media.

I was here 17 years ago as a member of Parliament and recall the then minister of industry having a BlackBerry. It was a new, revolutionary idea, but of course it had not really taken off at that time. One wonders how we could function as a nation today, recognizing the great advances that have been made in many respects with Canadian technology, Canadian prowess and Canadian utilization, were it not for these kinds of developments, which have caught on in Canada and around the world. It seems to me that we would certainly be somewhere well behind the rest of the world.

Therefore the legislation, albeit rather late, is timely in the sense that it does address a domestic problem, but as I indicated in my question for the previous member from our party, who sits on the industry committee and has sat on the industry committee, I am most concerned about the ability to reflect upon what this legislation will do as much as what it will not do.

I do not want to create false expectations for the Canadian public that suddenly tomorrow, or when the legislation is passed and accepted in the other house, there will be in fact a cessation of spam, malware, spyware, botnets and other programs that are added on, nor will this stop those who exercise beyond our jurisdiction, beyond our geography, from continuing to engage in something that is now more than just a nuisance, as it was in the early 2000s when I introduced the first spam bill.

It is important for us to recognize the work that has been done over the years.

I also want to give specific recommendations and a commendation, not just to the committee that passed this very recently, but also of course to my own party, which in 2004 and 2005, in order to address this issue, set up a task force, the Liberal task force on spam. Of course, it recommended that we come forward as quickly as possible with legislation that would prohibit the sending of unintended, unwarranted, unsolicited emails and information without the prior consent of recipients.

At the time it also recommended the prohibition of the use of false and misleading statements that suppress, ignore, set aside, or disguise the true intent of the email, not to mention of course its origins. This was a very serious point, where people would open up information and it was in fact nothing short of a commercial nuisance disguised in a fraud.

The Liberal task force on electronic emails also called for the prohibition of the installation of unauthorized programs. My colleague who spoke previously talked at great length about what those programs look like, the kind of information that is often inserted, unbeknownst to the recipient, on his or her computer. It also, of course, talked about the prohibition of the unauthorized collection of personal information or email addresses, the aggregation of which would be to see constant emails sent to us ad infinitum.

These were very important recommendations that were made and they formed literally the basis of what the government has now brought forward and with which we agree. We agree with it because it also does take into consideration the balancing of ensuring that privacy questions are also paramount. The committee took great pains to ensure that personal information and the laws that support PIPEDA are in fact in this piece of legislation, and that it reflect very carefully, endorse, and inform Canadians as to just how the legislation proposes not only to ensure the optimal protection of privacy, but also the steps in terms of coordination of how the legislation is to be enforced.

I go back to the Liberal Party task force recommendation because it is very telling.

As Bill C-28 looks to be implemented, it provides fines for violations of any one of these particular acts of up to $1 million for individuals and $10 million for business. It also establishes rules for warrants of information during investigations.

It is extremely important to understand that there has to be a coordinated and collaborative attempt to ensure that there are rules of engagement in terms of enforcement. We cannot just walk in and seize someone's computer.

The legislation, through the Department of Justice I presume, has met a number of very stiff and significant tests: privacy, the way in which the legislation is enforced; and, as the bill calls for the injunctions of spam on activity while under investigation, it does provide the ability to force a cease and desist.

Bill C-28, as we know, establishes something new, but it is something that was also discussed some years ago, and that is the private right of action. We have seen this in other areas where, if enforcement is not adequate and an individual or business feels there is something where they have been targeted, they have that as a recourse.

I think that is fundamentally important to distinguishing this bill from its previous characterizations and incarnations. It gives a significant step forward for individuals to take up these matters when there may be the possibility of a lack of interest as a result of a number of circumstances.

Of course, it also allows those individuals who have been aggrieved, who have been the target, whose businesses or affairs have been trampled on, affected, or impeded, to seek damages from those who are involved in the perpetration of spam. I think that is important.

We all understand the significance and importance of this kind of legislation. What cannot be misunderstood and certainly cannot be gainsaid is the significance and importance of ensuring that we have legislation that does not have unintended consequences. That is why legislation like this must, I emphasize, be reviewed periodically and more frequently. As technology evolves, so does the ability to make legislation that is relevant.

While we have constructed a piece of legislation that would have been good in 2003 with some modifications here and there, it may not be relevant to the overall concern that I think consumers have, and that is the prospect that they are going to continue to get unwarranted and unsolicited spam emanating from jurisdictions outside of Canada.

As my good colleague from Nipissing—Timiskaming has emphasized, and it cannot go unnoticed, we have to do a better job at working with other nations. We must ensure that individuals do not use jurisdictions with the least amount of enforcement in order to continue to harass, sully and act with relative impunity in assaulting and taking up so much space on the Internet.

It is one thing for northern and rural parts of this country to still be on dial-up or DSL. It is quite another thing to have 60% to 80% of all electronic traffic in this country originating from spammers. Quite apart from the sinister side of what that means in terms of malware, spyware, botnet, and as that has been described by my previous colleague in considerable detail I will not go over it again, it seems to me we have to ensure that the legislation is pragmatic and can evolve with time.

It is not clear to me that this legislation will do that. While I support it and believe it is a step in the right direction, let us understand that this is really only a first step. This is a first step towards understanding that Parliament has to be continuously vigilant in ensuring legislation meets the expectations of an economy that more increasingly depends, in this digital age, on the ability to receive and transmit information, and to use the Internet and electronic means not only to convey private information but indeed as a means by which our economic infrastructure becomes more increasingly dependent.

This brings me to the question of enforcement. I understand that there are other significant pieces of legislation that we have before us now in this House. There are a number of committees embarking on the issue of copyright. However, this legislation will require constant review by those in business, by those in the know, to recognize areas where the legislation should be modified from time to time. It will also be incumbent on future industry committees every year or so to have a periodic look to see where we are going, where the bill has had an impact, what it is failing and what it is addressing.

One of the areas that I think we have not discussed sufficiently about this bill, but which we are going to require, will be the unintended consequences this would have on domestic business.

Here I talk of legislation that is meant to do the right thing for business and the right thing for consumers.

At the same time, we have to recognize the impact it will have on small and medium-sized businesses that, for some reason, are unaware of this bill's real impact and of the fact that the bill provides for penalties. As well, these businesses may not be aware that some transactions they conduct, not for fraudulent reasons but for legitimate business reasons, may violate the legislation.

I am worried about the sudden impact it will have on our small and medium-sized businesses. This is not something this bill is merely silent on. We will have to use the federal government's communications resources to ensure that businesses do not run afoul of the law because they are unaware that, in the future, it will prohibit them from sending messages and notices to promote their business.

Let us be very clear on this point. We want to make sure that small business, as well, is aware of the impact of this legislation. It is great that we have finally come to the point where we have legislation that actually has a very positive impact on assuring Canadians that we are finally getting on the ball to address spam. However, we certainly do not want to negatively or adversely impact those who, through no fault of their own, do not have a real understanding of this legislation, business in particular.

People may be out there actually trying to make a living as opposed to hearing what we are saying here in Parliament, but those individuals should be contacted. Organizations that work with small and medium-sized enterprises in this country should at least be aware of what is in store should the law be broken unintentionally.

There has to be some deference given. We understand there is a civil sanction. This is where the hon. member for Nipissing—Timiskaming got it right. Criminalizing may have the horrific outcome of putting someone in a very difficult position. People who engage in advertising and unintentionally send electronic emails to prospective or perhaps even existing clients without the clients' consent could find themselves afoul of the law. It is a very fine balancing act that will not be resolved by criminalization.

Quite frankly, that would be the worst road we could go down and we should be very careful. If we do not have in place a strong communication strategy to ensure small business has the opportunity, we may hurt the very people we are trying to protect.

I look forward to hearing comments in the next few days as to where this legislation will go. It is a hybrid of what Parliament can do if parties decide to set aside their partisan differences and focus on some very important pieces of legislation.

It also requires us now to take this legislation, should it be passed in the next several weeks, to other committees. I would hope the trade committee of the House also takes on the responsibility of ensuring that there is co-operation and coordination between other jurisdictions. We have talked a bit about those, but if we receive spam originating from, say, Sao Tome, a very famous place off the continent of Africa that tends to be a channel or switch for a lot of information, we may not have the jurisdiction or wherewithal to stop it, prevent it or provide assurances to Canadians that they will not continue to be harassed.

It seems to me that when this bill was first introduced some years ago, there were individuals as close as Detroit. There was one individual I will not mention who was responsible for a significant amount of the junk we used to receive in our emails. It took us a considerable amount of time to work with our American friends to shut down the practice. The practice was not just about harassment. The practice itself was also about mismanaging and directing computers to open up programs and direct us to other addresses or simply to shut down or break down our computers that were otherwise intended for very innocent reasons.

It is also important to understand that the legislation itself has as its intentions all of the elements that have been brought forward to us in the more recent times, but we must be careful that we do not involve a debate that suggests this bill will be the be all and end all. I know some believe that Parliament is capable of doing far more and that this legislation may be the silver bullet. However, it is not. We have to be very realistic about what we believe this would accomplish.

My own sense is that, if the House of Commons were to be properly disposed, it would also want to allocate within a period of time an understanding of how much money will be spent on enforcement and what agencies would be responsible for collecting information on an ongoing basis to determine whether this legislation has in fact been properly impacted. We need appropriate benchmarks over the next year or so to demonstrate what the effectiveness and efficiency of this bill is.

I am talking about down the road. We have got to one point, but we have a long road ahead of us, and this is not going to end anytime soon. Canadians will continue to look upon parliamentarians and government to be able to correct problems they cannot themselves fix.

The last thing, as I have suggested, is that we do not want legislation that leads us in the direction of creating more problems than we are resolving. That is of course a real prospect and a concern that I have in looking at the legislation, because the legislation itself does not provide all of the guarantees.

I have looked at other concerns that have been raised in Bill C-28. There are some very hard penalties that come with this piece of legislation. It will be interesting to see whether those penalties in fact can be borne by those who unintentionally make an error. I think there has to be some kind of judicial discretion given in these circumstances so we are not looking to make a particular example of an individual.

That brings us to legislation as it relates to the do-not-call list. With that list, in many respects some are walking away with a literal slap on the wrist or, worse, being given an opportunity to send money to a particular academic organization in order to sort of make amends.

I think we have to provide an effective balance, a balance that takes into consideration the seriousness of the damage done to others, while giving people a private right of action but not going to the point where we are simply trying to make one example as a means of scaring off everyone else.

The law must be applied fairly, consistently and evenly, and above all it must be applied pragmatically in order to ensure that we are aware and can stay on top of all the new nuanced ways in which people will try to get around the legislation to harm our economy and, above all, really bother our consumers.