01/01/2013 06:23 EST | Updated 03/03/2013 05:12 EST

Check Your Junk Mail? Ottawa's Anti-Spam Rules Still Missing


If you're wondering what happened to the Conservative government's much-publicized anti-spam law, you're not alone.

Many consumers and opposition MPs want to know why the legislation, passed two years ago, still is not in force.

"I think that this demonstrates that the Conservative government doesn't take privacy issues seriously," said NDP MP Charmaine Borg, who notes that another piece of legislation, the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act that also governs the Privacy Commissioner's Office, is overdue for a review by Parliament.

"So we're seeing this constant lateness and meanwhile technology continues to evolve and there's new threats that are posed and citizens are more and more concerned about their privacy online."

The federal government has been studying how to fight unsolicited email since 2004.

Canada's Anti-Spam Act, passed in December 2010, aims to regulate all forms of commercial electronic communication including tweets and text messages.

Among other measures, it would prohibit businesses from sending messages to customers without their consent, require them to have an easy mechanism to allow people to unsubscribe and gives the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission the power to enforce the law and impose penalties of up to $1 million for individuals and $10 million for organizations.

"This law will allow the CRTC in particular to take action against unsolicited spam, malware and botnets," said the CRTC's chief compliance and enforcement officer Andrea Rosen. She adds the commission's powers would also extend beyond Canada's borders.

"If the spammer is offshore, we have the ability under the law to co-operate with foreign governments, to share information and to bring proceedings together against individuals that are offshore," Rosen said.

Rosen said the CRTC finalized its regulations in March 2012 and has set up a Spam Reporting Centre where consumers will be able to lodge complaints. She said the commission is ready to enforce the law, once it comes into force.

The holdup is with Industry Canada.

Consultation on regulations continues

No one at the department agreed to be interviewed, but in an emailed response to questions from CBC News, a spokesperson explained that Industry Canada received "significant input" to its first set of draft regulations in August 2011 and is "currently finalizing a new set of draft regulations for pre-publication, which will include a second round of public consultation."

Tricia Kuhl, a corporate, commercial and technology lawyer at Blakes in Montreal, says the legislation is shaping up to be the world's toughest anti-spam law.

"My clients are saying the government has gone too far because it's onerous, it's burdensome, it might actually end up crippling their business because they're unable now to reach certain clients they want to reach," she said.

Kuhl points to one of the proposed rules that would prevent organizations from sending email to clients after two years, unless there was new business. She says a five-year time frame would be more reasonable.

"Businesses are grappling with the difficulty of how they're going to actually get consent from people who actually want to receive their emails or prospective clients they need to reach."

At the rate things are going now, Kuhl says she doesn't expect the law to come into force until late 2013 at the earliest.

That doesn't sit well with Joanna Blink, a Toronto woman who says she gets a lot of unsolicited email. "Pass a law, make it so and get on with it. Do something about it."