Odd CRTC Order Questioned

Anti-spam regulators are threatening a Canadian company with a $1.1 million fine, the largest ever filed. In an unusual notice, the Canadian Radio Television & Telecommunications Commission failed to detail the extent of the breach of regulations, and suggested the company may not have to pay any fine at all.

“Why are they issuing this?” said communications lawyer Daniel Glover, partner with McCarthy Tetrault LLP of Toronto; “It is harder to tell, as you would be able to in a court or other tribunals.”

The CRTC did not explain. In a notice, it said that Compu-Finder Ltd. of  Québec will be fined $1.1 million for contravention of anti-spam rules on four occasions over a two month period in 2014. The commission said the company repeatedly sent unsolicited emails to prospective clients. Compu-Finder has 30 days to reply or petition the CRTC for a settlement. Compu-Finder describes itself as an executive training firm offering management courses with “access to new fields of knowledge”. The company did not reply to an interview request.

“Why is the CRTC issuing this fine? What has been done that’s wrong?” said Glover. “You need to get an appreciation of how this regulatory agency is acting under anti-spam legislation. It’s a huge penalty and I don’t see a decision associated with it.”

Anti-spam regulations follow passage of Bill C-28 An Act To Promote The Efficiency & Adaptability Of The Canadian Economy signed into law five years ago. Industry groups have complained that regulations appear so complex they may trap unwitting offenders.

“The issue for people who are trying their very best to comply with the anti-spam law is, what went wrong here and how is the regulator interpreting the law?” Glover said. “What can we do to avoid being in this position? Those questions are not answered in a press release.”

“Normally when you have a fine of that size you will see a public decision setting out all the background and considerations that led to a finding of a violation, and what precipitated a fine of that magnitude,” said Glover; “The government is framing this legislation in a way that is respectful of the value of freedom of expression. There are many people who believe it does not do that.”

The anti-spam law targets unsolicited appeals from companies but with numerous exemptions, including messages to existing clients; warranty, bank and legal notices; and responses to emailed enquires. New regulations detailed January 15 also restricted installation of software on computers, cellphones and tablets without owners’ consent, though attorneys said it was not clear if vendors like telecom companies using third-party download platforms such as BlackBerry World or Apple Store would be in violation of the law.

One law journal in 2014 cast the anti-spam law as unconstitutional: “It encroaches upon constitutionally-protected speech, and it does so in a non-minimally impairing way,” concluded an essay in the John Marshall Journal Of Information Technology & Privacy Law.

By Kaven Baker-Voakes

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