If you woke up today, poured yourself a tall, steaming mug of coffee, flipped on the TV and asked yourself the same question you ask yourself every day, then you’re not alone.“What, good sir, is the use of a punitive law without punitive action?” Or something like that. It’s the question that burns at the deepest core of our souls. Well, not really, but it still has merit. So even if you haven’t asked yourself that burning question, we’re going to ask it anyway. What good is a law that isn’t being enacted? Answer: not too darned much.
IT professionals, legal eagles, media wonks, and Canadians have been asking the question for years, though. The Canadian Anti Spam Law (CASL) was unveiled back in 2011, and it was an instant lightning rod for doubt, criticism, and even fear. The last G-7 country to introduce anti-spam legislation, Canada’s been under a lot of fire for what instantly became regarded as the most punitive law of its type. Perhaps the Conservative Party government led by global climate villain Prime Minister Stephen Harper felt a little insignificant and decided to overcompensate. Who knows? What we do know is that the law proposed severe penalties: up to $1 million per infraction for individuals, and up to $10 million per infraction for organizations.
There were several problems with CASL, however. First, it took forever to grow up from a backyard threat into a schoolyard bully. While countries like Australia and The United States had been enforcing their anti-spam laws for more than a decade, CASL couldn’t seem to tie its own shoelaces. Then there were the endless ministrations by media giants and mega corporations, which didn’t like being told that they couldn’t spam people. Newspapers like The Globe and Mail, an arm of media giant Bell Globemedia, made it known that this law wasn’t going to cut into their multibillion dollar profits.
Then there was the confusion over who the law was going to punish. Charities were running for cover and government agencies didn’t know whether they were allowed to send emails to anyone. Small businesses were freaking out and everyone wondered if they’d ever be able to email their uncles again. There has been plenty of criticism about the law which seems to want to do nothing and everything at the same time.
Even the enforcement arm of CASL, the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), wasn’t willing to give CASL a chance. Keep in mind that the CRTC had the responsibility of managing the Pandora’s Box known as CASL thrust upon it unceremoniously, without so much as a single additional penny with which to try and manage email communications on top of their existing duties regulating television, radio, and wireless communications.
With so much going against it, it’s a bit of a shocker that CASL even survived, but less than a year after the thing became law, the CRTC has levied its first fine in the war on spam, and it’s a doozy. According to several media outlets, this week the CRTC fined Quebec-based corporate training company Compu-Finder CDN $1.1 million. The Toronto Star reports the CRTC is taking action in what it “flagrantly” calls “flouting of Canada’s anti-spam legislation.”
According to The Star, “The CRTC alleges the company sent commercial emails to consumers without their consent and did not allow recipients to unsubscribe from the mailings. The investigation was based on reports of four apparent violations of the law last year between July and September.” IT World Canada reports that Compu-Finder “committed four allege violations that occurred between July 2, 2014 and September 16, 2014,” and that “Compu-Finder accounted for 26 per cent of the complaints submitted in its industry sector.” One-quarter of the market share. Wow. At least Compu-Finder can feel good about that.
Compu-Finder has 30 days in which to appeal the fine, and over a million bucks, there’s no doubt that they will. Then we’ll find out if CASL is for real or just for show, because if what they’re saying about the training firm is true, then they shouldn’t have a leg to stand on. Regardless of the outcome in this case, the real question becomes is this just a token action to prop up CASL and the CRTC, or is this the shape of things to come? According to Global News, Manon Bombardier, Chief Compliance and Enforcement Officer at the CRTC, said in a statement that the agency takes “violations to the law very seriously and expect[s] businesses to be in compliance.” But one little company in Quebec does not the war on spam make, and how the Canadian government proceeds will be of great interest to all of us.