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CASL Isn't Targeting the True Spammers

07/09/2014 05:50 EDT | Updated 09/08/2014 05:59 EDT

I don't know about you, but the new "anti-spam" law that came into effect on July 1 has so far caused me a lot more headaches than the "spam" it's supposed to be preventing. As President of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB), I can tell you that our organization has been working for more than a year, changing our email templates, going through our extensive mailing lists, and changing our technology and processes in preparation for Canada's Anti-Spam Law (CASL). All this just to make sure that we can continue legally communicating with our 109,000 small business members and prospective members.

We've paid for legal advice and have had over a dozen staff working on this just to prepare our non-profit association to deal with the new legislation. I'm not asking anyone to cry any tears for CFIB, but to put themselves in the position of the average small business owner.

Remember, 75 per cent of Canada's 1.1 million businesses have fewer than five employees. Think of the firm with three employees struggling to make heads or tails of CASL.

Small businesses would never think of themselves as spammers. This may explain why 62 per cent of small firms have done nothing to meet the new requirements -- they are not aware that almost all their regular electronic interactions with customers and potential customers are now being considered spam -- unless, of course, businesses pay to make the technical and process changes called for by CASL. One small business owner told us it would cost them between $30,000 to $50,000 to comply. While that might be chump change for a larger firm, it is the cost of a full-time staff person for the average small business.

According to a recent survey, just 15 per cent of our members are fully aware of CASL's requirements, while another 15 per cent haven't heard of the new law at all. What we've heard from a number of business owners is that full compliance with the letter of the law, in the short term, is simply unrealistic and unaffordable.

We also continue to receive dozens of calls from concerned business owners who are struggling to figure out how to make their businesses viable in the new CASL world. It is pretty hard to comply with a new law when your questions fall on deaf ears. Many who have tried calling the CRTC for guidance have been met with an automated message that "no one is available at this time".

And while there is no-one lobbying in favour of spam (certainly not me), is this really a problem for which we need a new government agency armed with the power to levy $10 million fines? Spam filters take care of the vast majority of today's spam, and my computer has this handy "delete" button for the odd one that gets missed. Perhaps yours does too. Is the burden of an unwanted email any greater than the flyer in my mailbox from a real estate agent when I'm not in the market for one? I can think of a few other items my tax dollars can be used for if the federal government is short of ideas.

Finally, does anyone believe that all of this is really going to work anyway? Many Canadians were very excited about the do-not-call registry when it was first introduced. I signed up too, dreaming of an interruption free dinner, allowing me to focus on avoiding the flying spaghetti from my young son's plate. But somehow I still seem to win an inordinate number of "free" cruises and receive calls with great concern for my home's duct work.

I really don't think the Nigerian prince is reading up on Canada's new anti-spam laws. Offshore erectile dysfunction pill providers are likewise not going to stop pumping out the spam. But the local real estate agent trying to reach a few dozen strong referrals a year will now have a low cost form of marketing scaled back by government in the process. And hundreds of thousands of hard working small business owners will now face a mountain of new regulations courtesy of a government that says it is focused on improving productivity and reducing red tape.

Ultimately, there needs to be more education -- and better communication -- on CASL, before any kind of enforcement is seriously contemplated. We need, from government, practical guidance that puts compliance within reach for smaller firms.

And when the day comes that the first million-dollar fine is levied under CASL, let's make sure we target the true spammers, and not the neighbourhood deli trying to earn a living, create a jobs, pay its taxes and support our local communities.

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