Speeches | Fighting Internet and Wireless Spam Bill

09 December 2010

Honourable senators, I find myself having to support this bill. When that began to dawn on me, I thought, "What is going on?" I remember that as recently as a year ago I supported another government bill. I thought, "How often will that happen?" Then I realized that, thanks to prorogation, it was the same bill, so I was okay. I am maintaining my pure record, I think, of not supporting more than one government initiative a year.

An Hon. Senator: You have only made one mistake, then.

Senator Mitchell: That is right. It has been a pretty good year.

However, now I am in tremendous trepidation when I say that I support something, because surely it will be just days before Senator Tkachuk will read back my words in Hansard, trying to make some obscure point, saying, "My gosh, the senator supports something the government is doing; it must be right."

Senator Tkachuk: I must have touched a nerve. Sorry about that.

Senator Mitchell: However, I will say that Senator Tkachuk will have much more trouble finding what I say in this Hansard than in the Alberta Hansard, because the Alberta Hansard has a search function. If only we could get a search function here. However, that is not what I am talking about.

I have enjoyed working on this bill. I had a great briefing from the department. I was surrounded by intelligent public servants. I felt secure, because there was a political representative from the minister's office just to ensure that those public servants were not telling me anything that they should not. That was reassuring.

I will say that Senator Oliver has been excellent to work with. We discussed a few issues that we felt were worthy of discussion. In fact, I think some changes have been made to this iteration of the bill that were evident after our debate of the previous bill a year ago. This underlines the importance of the work the Senate does and the fact that the government would be wise to accept our amendments and comments on these bills perhaps a little more often than they do. They have been reluctant to do that, so it is nice to see that they have done it this time.

I will not go into a great deal of detail. Senator Oliver explained the bill exceptionally well.

This is a bill designed to protect electronic commerce by prohibiting the sending of electronic commercial messages without prior consent. It is an anti-spam bill. I used to think that spam was simply too many emails. Then I became a senator, and I get so many emails that I realized that could not possibly be it. However, I did limit my view of spam to emails, but of course it is much broader than that.

One of the key problems associated with spam is the downloading of unwanted and sometimes dangerous software. This bill is comprehensive in the way that it addresses what we have commonly called "spam."

It is not too strong a word to say that spam is dangerous to our economy and to business. Spam is unsettling and distracting to business. It can lead to or actually involve criminal activity, so it has profound implications in that regard. Of course, spam can be a real affront or offence to privacy.

Canada, unfortunately, is one of the last Western industrialized nations — I think the third-last OECD nation and the last G8 nation — to have this kind of legislation, so it is long past overdue. We have increasing problems in relation to our reputation abroad. In fact, these problems are compounding even as we speak, with Mr. Baird in Cancun unrelentingly criticizing China, with whom we would one day hope to have good, strong trade relations, which are being jeopardized by this kind of activity. We have increasingly had problems with our international reputation over the last five years. This is at least one problem we can fix. We have had the reputation of being a haven for spammers, but we will get over that, I hope.

This is a classic case of non-partisan — or bipartisan, to use an American expression — cooperation and collaboration. This arises out of a number of events.

First — and I want to take credit for this on behalf of the Liberal Party — it was the Liberal government that established the Task Force on Spam in 2004, which ultimately led to this legislation. The process was augmented, enhanced and improved by the work of Senator Oliver, who had worked on a number of private members' bills, and by the work of Senator Goldstein, who is no longer with us. This is the culmination of efforts from both sides, and I believe that all those involved are to be congratulated.

A number of prohibitions under Bill C-28 are worth emphasizing. This bill will prohibit the sending of unsolicited commercial electronic messages in, as I said, both emails and software. The legislation describes the meaning of "unsolicited." The word used is "consent." The legislation requires express consent on behalf of people to receive whatever the message is in order for it not to be defined as spam. Express consent is considered to exist only when an individual chooses to receive or opts into a process of receiving email electronic communication.

Implied consent is limited. Someone cannot assume that one has implied one's consent, except under very limited and restrictive parameters, which is a good thing. Implied consent is intended for existing business and non-business relationships.

False and misleading representations online, including websites and various other kinds of electronic addresses, are prohibited. The use of computer systems to collect electronic addresses without consent is ruled out by this legislation. The unauthorized altering of transmission data, the installation of computer programs without consent, and the unauthorized access to a computer system to collect personal information without consent are all absolutely prohibited as well.

There are some exemptions so that this legislation does not become overly onerous and inappropriately applied. The bill only covers unsolicited commercial intent; it does not include political, family or personal relationships. The bill also allows for the automatic downloading of upgrades of legitimate software.

Several other provisions in the bill are worthy of note. Surprisingly, the bill uses a regulatory approach instead of a criminal approach. I expect the government will feel uneasy that its work is not quite complete and that there will be legislation in the future to provide for mandatory minimum sentences for whatever it is that people should not do under this bill. However, at this time, common sense prevailed to say that this should be done quickly, that it had to be done quickly, and this was facilitated. That is not to say that the bill is unreasonable in its rigour in relation to fines. An individual who transgresses the bill, or what will be the act, can be fined $1 million; and a company that transgresses the act can be fined $10 million.

The regulatory approach will be coordinated through the CRTC, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner and the Competition Bureau. The bill also creates a Spam Reporting Centre where harmful Internet messages can be sent and investigated by relevant authorities. It will store and analyze spam, and ensure access to the spam database by all three enforcement agencies.

The bill also includes a private right of action so that, as a consumer, a business person, a business, or an Internet service provider, one can take action against violators; and the bill provides for coordination among the three enforcement agencies and international partners.

One of the weaknesses in the bill a year ago was brought to our attention by companies like RIM. RIM met with me — the meeting is probably registered under the act as lobbying — and it was very informative. RIM pointed out that the way the act read previously, they could easily be accused of and held liable in civil courts for accessing information on what would generally be considered public websites that are used by spammers. However, the spammers could have made those websites off limits to that by simply registering them or indicating on the website that they were unauthorized if people did not have prior permission to use them. That would make it almost impossible for companies like RIM to pursue spammers who might literally be destroying their system, and to pursue them quickly.

The government listened to that input and made the point of changing "unauthorized" to language that said that it would exclude only those activities that were in contravention of an act of Parliament.

That is a happy change for companies like RIM, Research In Motion, and demonstrates a legitimate, useful and welcome response by government to that kind of input and to input from this Senate chamber.

For those who would be concerned, because there was concern that this could mean that companies could pursue private information, get past a certain wall or barrier to people's personal computers, et cetera, that is not the case. This remains limited, and I have been convinced, in the study that I have done, that in fact privacy will be upheld and certainly not jeopardized by the way in which this bill is structured.

Honourable senators, I have a couple of questions or concerns. First, if these three bodies or agencies are to make it work, they will need some money, so we will need to ensure they have adequate resources. I am concerned they may not. The government is exceptionally good at making announcements, passing bills, confusing the fact that just because it is in the press it does not mean it will actually happen.

Of course, the legislation also provides for a national coordinating body that "will coordinate public education and awareness efforts, track and analyze statistics in trends and lead policy oversight and coordination." It sounds like a great thing we could also set up for climate change — track trends, public education, do analysis. I just had to get that in.

What sort of resources will be dedicated to this national coordinating body? Again, we want to ensure, that as important as this initiative is, this bill is supported by sufficient resources to make it work or it is nothing more than a public relations exercise and will not get us off the list of those concerned with Canada around the world and our state of review and management, if you will, of this important electronic data communication issue.

Honourable senators, if this bill gets through committee without any particular problems and we squeak through third reading without anything else coming up, I will actually vote for this bill

Give us your feedback about this speech.

We would love hearing your comments about this speech. Please submit them using the form below.

Your contact information

First Name:
Last Name:
Email:
Province:
Postal Code:
Comment:

Selected Speeches

Boyle Street Community Services

Oct 5, 2016

Bill S-229: An Act Respecting Underground Infrastructure Safety

Oct 4, 2016

Telus World of Science

Jun 16, 2016

Second reading of Bill C-14, Medical Assistance in Dying

Jun 3, 2016

Wildfires in Fort McMurray—Emergency Appeal

May 5, 2016

Digging Safely

Apr 21, 2016

In Pursuit of Common Ground

Mar 18, 2016

Speech from the Throne—Motion for Address in Reply

Dec 10, 2015

Second Reading of my Underground Infrastructure Safety Enhancement Bill

Jun 22, 2015

Second Reading of my Enhancement of Civilian Review and Oversight in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Bill

Jun 19, 2015

Third reading of Bill C-51, Anti-terrorism Bill, 2015

Jun 2, 2015

Second reading of Bill C-51, Anti-terrorism Bill, 2015

May 13, 2015

Tribute to The Late Honourable Pierre Claude Nolin, Speaker of the Senate

Apr 29, 2015

Third reading of Bill C-44, An Act to amend the Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act and other Acts

Apr 1, 2015

Bill 10 in Alberta

Mar 11, 2015

Speech at Report Stage for Bill C-279

Mar 10, 2015

Second reading of Bill C-44, An Act to amend the Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act and other Acts

Feb 25, 2015

Senate energy report makes recommendations to protect underground infrastructure

Dec 16, 2014

HeForShe Campaign

Oct 1, 2014

Dandelion Renewables

Sep 25, 2014

Alberta Emerald Foundation

Sep 18, 2014

Global Wind Day

Jun 13, 2014

Safe Digging Month

Apr 29, 2014

Northwest Territories Devolution Bill

Feb 27, 2014

Speech at second reading of Bill C-279, An Act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code (gender identity)

Feb 4, 2014

Forestry Industry

Dec 10, 2013

Geothermal Energy

Nov 28, 2013

Trans Day of Remembrance

Nov 20, 2013

Discours au congrès de la Canadian Common Ground Alliance

Nov 18, 2013

Speech to the Canadian Common Ground Alliance convention

Nov 14, 2013

Child, Family and Adolescent Mental Health

Jun 25, 2013

Speech at Third Reading of Bill C-42 (Enhancing Royal Canadian Mounted Police Accountability Act)

May 23, 2013

Speech at Second Reading of Bill C-42 (Enhancing Royal Canadian Mounted Police Accountability Act)

Apr 16, 2013

Speech at second reading of Bill C-279, An Act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code (gender identity)

Apr 16, 2013

Allotment of Time on Budget 2012

Dec 13, 2012

Speech at Second Reading of Budget 2012, Bill C-45

Dec 10, 2012

Speech on Korean War Veterans Day Bill

Dec 6, 2012

Two speeches on the third reading of Budget 2012, Bill C-45

Dec 6, 2012

iSisters Technology Mentoring

Nov 2, 2011

Canadian Wheat Board

Oct 18, 2011

"Because I Am a Girl" Campaign

Oct 18, 2011

La campagne « Parce que je suis une fille »

Oct 18, 2011

La Commission canadienne du blé

Oct 18, 2011

Canadian Foundation for Women's Health

Sep 29, 2011

Thinking of Jack Layton

Aug 23, 2011

Le Budget des dépenses de 2011-2012

Jun 26, 2011

L'école secondaire Queen Elizabeth

Jun 23, 2011

Queen Elizabeth High School - Congratulations on Fiftieth Anniversary

Jun 23, 2011

Le budget de 2011

Jun 16, 2011

Budget 2011 - Inquiry

Jun 16, 2011

DeforestAction

Jun 9, 2011

DeforestAction

Jun 9, 2011

La Loi sur les mesures de réinsertion et d'indemnisation des militaires et vétérans des Forces canadiennes La Loi sur les pensions

Mar 24, 2011

Canadian Forces Members and Veterans Re-establishment and Compensation Act Pension Act

Mar 24, 2011

Support Program for Aboriginal Nursing Students at the University of Lethbridge

Mar 9, 2011

Sur le Programme de soutien des étudiants autochtones en nursing de l’Université de Lethbridge

Mar 9, 2011

Corporate and Income Taxes

Feb 3, 2011

Climate Change Policy

Feb 2, 2011

Women in Prisons in Canada

Dec 15, 2010

Les femmes incarcérées au Canada

Dec 15, 2010

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Bill

Dec 14, 2010

Economic mismanagement

Dec 13, 2010

La gestion de l'économie.

Dec 13, 2010

Sustainable Development Technology

Dec 9, 2010

Fighting Internet and Wireless Spam Bill

Dec 9, 2010

Edmonton's Bid for Expo 2017

Dec 9, 2010

Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act and Companies' Creditor Arrangment Act

Nov 30, 2010

Women's Equality in Canada — Inquiry

Nov 23, 2010

National Day of Service Bill

Nov 3, 2010

Senatorial Selection Bill

Nov 2, 2010

Second reading of Bill S-221, An Act to amend the Income Tax Act (carbon offset tax credit)

Oct 7, 2010

Jobs and Economic Growth Bill – Sixth Report of National Finance Committee Negatived

Jul 21, 2010

Study on the Current State and Future of Energy Sector

Jun 15, 2010

Bill C-311, Climate Change Accountability

Jun 1, 2010

The State of the Senate's Online Presence

Jun 1, 2010

Bilingual Supreme Court Judges

May 12, 2010

Environment and Human Rights

May 4, 2010

Erosion of Freedom of Speech

Apr 27, 2010

What is Realistic and Effective Parliamentary Reform?

Mar 17, 2010

It's Time To Shelve Bottled Water

May 5, 2009

The Danger of Unintended Consequences - Senate Reform

Apr 28, 2009

Bill S-3, Energy Efficiency Act

Feb 12, 2009

Bill S-213, An Act to amend the Income Tax Act (carbon offset tax credit)

Feb 10, 2009

Bill C-474, Federal Sustainable Development Act

Jun 18, 2008

Bill C-33, An Act to Amend the Canadian Environmental Protection Act

Jun 12, 2008

Bill S-228, An Act to amend the Canadian Wheat Board Act

Feb 26, 2008

Speech from the Throne: A Government Without Leadership

Oct 30, 2007

Temporary Foreign Workers Program

Jun 18, 2007

Kyoto: Response to the Third Reading

May 31, 2007

Statements on the second reading of the Budget Implementation Bill

Jun 13, 2006