Long-delayed and watered-down, federal legislation to prevent unwanted telemarketing calls is proving to be worth as much as the paper it’s printed on. Not much also applies to the number of fines levied for rampant violation of the the National Do Not Call List.
Since the list was introduced in September 2008, only 11 fines have been imposed, a total of $73,000. Of that, only $250 had been collected by last March, a report revealed this week. The numbers are miniscule even compared to the low fine limits – $1,500 for individuals and $15,000 for telemarketing companies – for those who call someone registered on the do-not-call list.
Apparently the Conservative’s law-and-order agenda doesn’t extend to its own weakly-worded legislation, despite the fact millions of Canadians have joined the battle against telemarketers by signing up. Either that or the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, which runs the program, is being extremely lax. Or both, which does seem to be the case.
To those of us facing those calls that usually come as we’re sitting down to dinner – Do you want your carpets cleaned? New windows? Trash hauled away? – the solution is simple: ban such calls outright, impose crippling fines and enforce them vigorously. That would represent a major shift in government policy: doing something that Canadians actually want, instead of finding new ways to waste money and inconvenience us.
Critics, largely those in the telemarketing field, naturally oppose such a move, claiming it would put some companies out of business – the industry is worth some $18 billion, employing almost 300,000 people.
That may be a concern, but it is irrelevant to the argument: like so-called spam e-mail, unwanted calls clog up a resource the consumer pays for himself and interferes in receiving valued information. The phone is an essential tool: people shouldn’t have to deal with unwanted calls if that is their desire, nor should they have to resort to technical screening tools to do so.
The government’s own studies show 80 per cent of us find telemarketing calls annoying, with more than 60 per cent in favour of the registry.
When the current legislation was introduced, it was immediately lambasted for its looseness and loopholes, critiques that have proven to have been well founded. The list was essentially neutered from the start.
A better idea? Make the practice of telemarketing illegal – that includes any and all groups, no exceptions – and allow the industry to create a “do-call” list: anybody who wants such calls can sign an agreement explicitly allowing the annoyance.
In that way, the costs are borne directly by the industry, and everyone is automatically covered, with no need to opt out.
Sweeping changes and severe penalties offered up at no cost to taxpayers is the only useful course of action in what would otherwise be a public relations stunt doomed to backfire.