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Stupid CRTC Watch: What are they Investigating?

By Ken Magill
The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission completed and closed 30 investigations involving possible violations of Canada’s anti-spam law in 2015, according to a quote from Manon Bombardier, chief compliance and enforcement officer, in Toronto’s Globe and Mail.
Given the trivial nature of three of the four investigations that resulted in fines, it makes one wonder what trivial nonsense the CRTC focused on in 2015 that didn’t warrant fines.
Of the four fines, the largest was levied against training firm Compu-Finder for $1.1 million for alleged spamming.
The other three fines were levied against Rogers Communications Inc., Porter Airlines Inc. and dating website Plentyoffish Media Inc. for a combined $398,000 for alleged faulty unsubscribe functions.
According to the Globe and Mail, Bombardier said all three of the companies fined for unsubscribe issues cooperated with the CRTC.
Yet, they still were fined over unsubscribe issues that consumers could have easily remedied with one click by hitting their report-spam buttons. The issues could also just as easily have been resolved with a phone call from the CRTC.
But that would require government bureaucrats to exercise commonsensical restraint.
So if a faulty unsubscribe mechanism warrants an investigation and then a fine, what could possibly warrant an investigation and no fine?
The best scenario we can hope for is that many of the 26 unannounced investigations have been closed but are still being settled. Or that they have been settled with conditions of nondisclosure.
If neither of the above scenarios is the case, then the CRTC is using the powers CASL has conferred on it to engage in a lot of pointless, commerce-chilling mischief.
“Enforcement is now in the CRTC’s DNA,” Jean-Pierre Blais, chairman of the commission, told a Toronto audience in June, 2014, according the Globe and Mail.
He said the commission would target “the most egregious violators: the high-volume spammers, the malicious URLs and the ‘botnets’ located in Canada,” the Globe and Mail reported.
To be fair, the CRTC did issue a warrant in December to take down a Toronto-based malware server.
But four of the five CASL-related actions the CRTC announced in 2015 indicate the commission is focused on little that couldn’t be easily have been handled by consumers and their inbox providers before CASL went into effect.
Imagine the possibilities:
CRTC Official: Knock! Knock! Knock! Knock!
Business Executive: Yes?
CRTC Official: Open up! It’s the CRTC!
Business Executive: What can I do for you?
CRTC Official: Open up! We’ve got you surrounded! Fifty of us! Plus we’ve got new shiny CASL badges! Enforcement is in our DNA! Open up, I tell you!
Business Executive: Um, okay. [opens door] Is anything wrong?
CRTC Official: You’re darned tootin’ [Canadians are so polite] something’s wrong! We have reason to believe your email program’s unsubscribe function isn’t working properly!
Business Executive: Really, officer? I thought we just tested that. Here, come on in and let’s make sure I’m right. See? Look. All they have to do is click that link and they’re automatically unsubscribed.
CRTC Official: Right, then! I declare this investigation completed and closed! That’s No. 24 for the year! Well done!
[Later in an official CRTC email-unsubscribe-lightning-strike-task-force-command-centre vehicle]
CRTC official to partner: Phew! That was tense. Did you see that business executives eyes? I wasn’t sure what he was going to do.
Partner: Yeah, but we had your back. There was no way we were going to let him get the drop on you.
CRTC Official: Thanks, partner. I know you’ve always got my back. It’s what gives me the courage to storm these buildings full of unarmed people who have absolutely no recourse against any capricious decisions I might make. I’ve gotta tell you, though, partner: Lately I’ve been bringing the job home.
Partner: Really? How?
CRTC Official: Well, a couple nights ago I opened my Gmail account to find a message from my wife asking if we should sell our lawnmower with no unsubscribe link. I completely forgot about the personal-relationship exemption in CASL and blacked out. Before I knew what was going on, I had Lorraine on the floor in handcuffs and my daughter was holding on to my leg screaming: “Don’t hurt mommy, daddy! It was just an email!”
I looked down at my daughter and said: “Just an email? Just an email? One day when you’re old enough to understand I’ll tell you what daddy does all day. And then you’ll understand it is never just an email.
Partner: Civilians just can’t understand what we do.
CRTC Official: And that’s why we do it. So we can protect them from ever having to experience the trauma of clicking “unsubscribe” and getting another email. Yes, this job gives me nightmares, but the good we do outweighs them.
Partner: Wait! There’s another call coming in! There’s a business on Islington Avenue sending emails that has failed to honor at least seven unsubscribes!
CRTC Official: Okay! Let’s roll! Man, this job is just one adrenalin rush after another, eh!? Woo! Hoo! Lock! And! Load!

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