WTF?

Parliamentary Review of CASL: A Festival of Asinine Discourses

If you believe, like many do, that you still receive a lot of unsolicited messages (i.e., spam) in your inbox, you’re all hallucinating.

At least this is what the Canadian Chamber of Commerce seemed to imply when it told members today, during the second revision session of CASL by the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology, that spam is no longer a problem.

Today’s session consisted of a long series of approximations and erroneous or exaggerated assertions. The discourses, whose similarity might suggest that they are secretly coordinated, all revolved around the same central idea:

Overseeing commercial electronic messages sent from businesses prevents the authorities from dealing with the “bad guys” who threaten IT security. So let’s give companies the opportunity to send all the messages they want to whomever they want because the real problem that the CRTC should be concentrating on are fraudsters.

This type of assertion is asinine: Imagine the CAA calling for the abolition of the driving rules so that the police can devote themselves to the fighting against terrorism.

Let’s look at and analyze the central pearls of this type of reasoning.

Spam is no longer a problem (???)

According to Scott Smith, Director, Intellectual Property and Innovation Policy at The Canadian Chamber of Commerce, spam is no longer a problem for Canadians. This hyperbolic assertion is taken from a report, supplied by anti-spam software vendor Trustwave, which Smith relies upon and states that anti-spam software blocks 99% of spam.

Even if this statement was objective and credible, how then does one explain the over 5,000 complaints that the CRTC continues to receive on a weekly basis, and the 1 million + complaints its registered in the last three years?

Technological illiteracy or misinformation?

The complexity of CASL has been rightly pointed out by speakers, especially when it comes to the various types of “implied consent”.

But to argue, as Mr. Smith did, that there is no technology that exists for businesses to manage consents, or that you have to invest a lot of money to do so, is to misinform and mock the intelligence of the members of the committee.

While not all marketing technology suppliers are up to regulatory compliance standards (a consequence of inadequate educational work on behalf of the CRTC regarding CASL), there are already several solutions available to manage and document different types of consent.

Providers, such as Dialogue Insight, iTracMarketer and Cyberimpact for mass mailings or emailChecker and CASL Cure for individual emails, all offer practical solutions tailored to all sizes of businesses, with costs that go from ten dollars to a few hundred a month.

A plethora of alternative facts

At a time when everyone is concerned about the phenomenon of “fake news” and its impact on society, it is impressive to see the number of “alternative facts” than the lobbyists delivered to the members of Parliament.

For example, Ms. Aïsha Fournier Diallo, Senior Legal Advisor at Desjardins General Insurance Group, daftly stated that CASL prevents her from sending SMSs to VISA Desjardins clients, informing them of their credit limit, or from sending password reset emails to customers.

Even Barry Sookman, senior partner of McCarthy Tétrault and considered a top figure in the field, gave testimony that could cast doubt on his credibility. He stated that CASL had no impact on fraudsters. In fact, because of CASL, the CRTC was able to dismantle an international network of cyber-pirates who sent out malware affecting millions of computers around the world.

He went on to illustrate the excessive nature CASL, by explaining that it prohibits a teenager from offering babysitting services to neighbors or prohibits a person from recommending their dentist to a friend. When deputy Eva Nassif challenged him, he acknowledged the exaggerated nature of his examples.

Me Sookman went on to talk about the perils that CASL causes to Canadians by referring to a National Post article, whereby American television game show Jeopardy had banned Canadian candidates specifically because of CASL. The producers of the show have since denied this fake news and indicated that Canadian candidates were never banned from the show, but that applications were simply suspended to take the time necessary to adapt its form to Canadian regulations.

Mr. Sookman even attempted to persuade the Honourable Maxime Bernier, (who addressed the fact that politicians should be held accountable under CASL) that if CASL applied to politicians, Mr. Bernier would not have been legally allowed to send messages to his list of 65,000 supporters during the Conservative Party’s leadership race. A false assertion because those 65,000 people subscribed to Maxime Bernier’s list to receive those messages.

Ignoring the real problems

What is most damaging in these testimonies and discourses, intended to represent the interests of businesses, is that the real issues and problems are ignored.

CASL and its enforcement by the CRTC pose real problems for SMBs, but at the same time, it’s an opportunity for businesses to improve their digital communications. Among these problems are:

  • The restrictive interpretation of rules by the CRTC
  • The numerous frequent situations still missing guidance from CRTC
  • The lack of clarity in the definition of commercial electronic messages
  • The challenge of documenting verbal consents
  • The lack of data on the volume of spam and its evolution
  • The lack of collaboration with Internet service providers
  • Etc.

We need a marketer in the room!

Having listened to the testimonies and debates of this session many times over, I’ve come to two conclusions:

1) Speakers, unfortunately, spent most of their time showing bad faith by demonizing CASL instead of using it to expose the real issues that affect businesses, so that members of Parliament can put in place solutions.

2) Entrusting the defense of digital and email marketing to lobbyists and lawyers who have no expertise in the field of email marketing is not the best way to improve CASL’s areas of contention, nor does it benefit companies, in particular, SMEs.

It’s time to start thinking about this law in terms of clear rules that make sense from a variety of angles and perspectives.

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