It seems to go without saying that if there is a way to contact you, there is a way to bombard you with messages you don’t want. Sometimes, these are in the form of ads, while other times it’s via email, text message, or whatever social networks you use. A particularly sinister way of getting to you is via your cell phone or landline. The phone rings and you make the mistake of picking up only to hear an obnoxiously cheerful prerecorded message or telemarketer trying to push products you don’t want, or promising you a free trip if you answer a billion questions about dish soap. Whatever the source of the message, the goal is the same: to take up your precious time and money, and whatever the form of the message, it all falls under the broader term we call SPAM.

The main law governing SPAM electronic messages in Canada is called “An Act to Promote the Efficiency and Adaptability of the Canadian Economy by Regulating Certain Activities that Discourage Reliance on Electronic Means of Carrying out Commercial Activities, and to Amend the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission Act, the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act and the Telecommunications Act.” The law’s title is such a mouthful – let’s refer to it by its accepted abbreviation: the CASL. The purpose of the law is to discourage companies from using electronic messages to carry out their commercial activities. The law applies not just to emails but text messages and messages sent via social network accounts like Facebook and LinkedIn. It sets strict rules about how individuals and companies can send such messages.


Here are the main rules businesses must obey under the CASL:

  • An electronic commercial message can’t be sent without your consent. It also has to indicate that your consent can be withdrawn at any time.
  • The message has to include information that identifies the person who sent it and if applicable the person on whose behalf it was sent.
  • The message also has to contain the contact information of either the sender or the person on whose behalf the message was sent. The contact information of either has to be valid for at least sixty days after transmission.
  • The message must also contain an unsubscribe mechanism which would allow you to communicate your wish to no longer receive such messages. Use of the mechanism can’t cost you anything and has to be available via the same means that the commercial message was sent i.e. if the message was received via email, you should be able to unsubscribe via email. If it’s not practical to unsubscribe that way, the law requires that you be able to unsubscribe by any other electronic means of communication. Furthermore, the unsubscribe mechanism has to specify an electronic address or link to a webpage where you can convey your desire to unsubscribe. Once you inform a business that you don’t want to receive their commercial messages, they have to comply within ten business days.

Failure to comply with the law can result in penalties of up to a million dollars for individuals and $10 million for companies, but there are exceptions to the aforementioned rules.

The CASL doesn’t apply to family members or people in a personal relationship with one another. It doesn’t apply to requests for quotes or estimates if you asked for them, or confirmations of commercial transactions that you had previously agreed to.

Electronic messages providing warranty, product recall, or safety or security information about goods or services you buy or use are also exempt, as are messages that provide facts about the ongoing use or purchase of stuff you bought, borrowed, or subscribed to. It should also be noted that SPAM phone calls, particularly electronic prerecorded commercial messages don’t fall under the jurisdiction of the CASL.


SPAM phone calls are regulated by a different set of rules called the “Unsolicited Telecommunications Rules” established by the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) in their ruling in 2007. The rules set up a framework for the establishment of Canada’s National Do Not Call List.

The National Do Not Call List was set up in accordance with the Telecommunications Act. It allegedly gives consumers a choice about whether or not to receive telemarketing calls. The way it works is: you go to the List’s website and register your phone number. Once it’s on that list, telemarketers aren’t allowed to contact you, but sadly, there are exceptions. Political parties, charities registered under the Income Tax Act, market research and polling firms, businesses you already work with, and newspapers trying to sell subscriptions are among those still allowed to SPAM phone you.

If you’re on the Do Not Call list and you still get telemarketing calls that don’t fall under that list of exceptions, you can file a complaint on the List’s website. Provide the name of the company the telemarketer claims to represent and ideally, their phone number when you file the complaint. The CRTC will in turn investigate, and if they feel the complaint is justified, can issue a fine of up fifteen hundred dollars to an individual, and a fine of up to fifteen thousand dollars to corporations.

Sadly Canada’s anti-spam laws can only do so much. They don’t regulate junk snail mail, and you can still find yourself bombarded with emails and phone calls from charities you don’t care about during their fundraising drives. Because market research firms are exempt, you can’t report nagging phone calls asking you to answer surveys. Though anti-spam laws are criticized for hurting small businesses, at the end of the day they’re the best defense available for those of us who just want to be left alone.

The other day I got an email from Chrystia Freeland. At first, I thought that it must be part of a new strategy by the Liberal Party to reach bloggers and other online media.

“Fair play,” I thought. I get quite a bit of unsolicited emails from various groups, promoters and artists – all part of the game when you have a publicly listed email. This was the first one from a political party.  So, the Liberals added me before the others, good job! At least that’s what I thought at first.

Then I opened the email. It wasn’t sent to my Forget the Box account, but rather to my personal email. Also, it wasn’t a press release, but rather a fundraising plea. I’ve received similar emails from the NDP, quite a few in fact. But that makes sense, because I was, at one time, a member of the party. That has since lapsed, but I never told them to stop sending me stuff.

I have never been a member of the Liberal Party or even voted for them – well, once, but I was young and didn’t know any better. I live nowhere near Freeland’s riding, either. There’s no other word for this email but… SPAM!

I took to Facebook almost immediately, asking how such a thing may even be possible. The response I got was that I had probably signed a petition that was CCed to Justin Trudeau. That’s got to be it!

But why am I not getting the same crap from the Conservatives? After all, if the petition was CCed to Trudeau, it was probably sent to Harper. Well, let’s say it was the petition demanding an inquiry into Missing and Murdered Native Women. The Conservatives clearly know, that my signing that petition clearly means I’m not a potential supporter or a source of cash.

The Liberals, on the other hand, do support such an inquiry – though not as strongly as the NDP, but that’s besides the point. So, someone like me, who signs that petition, may be someone who could end up supporting them. I can think of a good way they could have followed up: By sending a message to all those who signed, thanking them, stressing that they, as a party, agreed with them, and providing them with a link to sign up for LPC emails. They could even have kept my email address in a database for future releases on the topic.

Instead, with no warning, I get put on a list of potential donors where all the language assumes that I’m already a party member or supporter. I get email mentioning something about Freeland being a journalist, followed by a money ask with no mention that the Liberals support something that they now know I do too. Instead of thinking “Hmm, Trudeau agrees with me on a particular subject, I wonder what else he agrees with me on?” I’m left wondering how the LPC got my email and what to do about their spam.

Liberal fundraising email

Honestly, I’ll probably do nothing. I could, as another commenter on my Facebook thread suggested, click unsubscribe, but that may only lead to their confirming that my address is legit. Even if it doesn’t, I really couldn’t be bothered. As I said before, I get so many emails already, many that I ignore, what’s a few more?

Sure, for a while I may be intrigued by and open to them, just to get a sense of the party messaging, only to get bored with them and start ignoring them at a later date. I know NDP fundraiser emails generally include a bit of why I should want to give them money, but the ones I received from the Liberals don’t have anything about why I should even vote for them. The one from “Trudeau himself” did have a bit, but only at the bottom, after the ask.

The email I got from them just a few hours ago had as a subject: “This is bad.” What was bad? The way Harper was ruining Canada’s reputation yet again? Something else shady the Cons were doing? No, the horrible thing that needs to be rectified by midnight tonight is the fundraising gap with the Conservatives.

Well, maybe if you had first established whether or not I was interested in your succeeding or at least tried to give me a reason to be interested, I might have found this situation dire as well. Unfortunately, you didn’t, so I really don’t care.

For every person like me, who has the time to figure out how this happened, write a post about it, and move on, there are probably five or maybe ten people who does not feel that the LPC sees something the way they do and instead feels like the Libs are a bunch of spammers. It’s just not a good tactic.

To be fair, I don’t think the Liberals are the only ones who do this. I get NDP money asks legitimately (and they were also pushing the fundraising deadline of midnight tonight, though less frantically) so there’s no real way for me to tell if they do the same thing, and I don’t think I’ve ever supported anything by Harper & co., so no reason to get anything from them, either.

No matter who’s doing it, though, political spam is just unproductive. I understand the need to raise money, but potential donors need to be wooed, or, at the very least, you have to make sure they show some interest in the ideas you’re selling. Then, and only then, can you justifiably bug them for money.

Oh, and by the way, press releases can be sent to

If you go on any type of social media, and in particular Facebook, on a semi-regular, regular or frighteningly frequent basis, this has probably happened to you:

You see that one of your friends, probably someone you haven’t heard from electronically for a while, has posted something on your wall. You go to check it out and take a step back. “Wait a minute, why is my anti-corporate activist friend posting a link to skin cream?” Then it dawns on you, their profile has been hacked by some spammer.

As you race to delete the post from your wall, pausing only to read the joke comments followed by the obligatory, “dude, you’ve been spammed” you wonder if something like this could happen to you. Later, when you read the “uh, yeah, don’t click on that link” status update from your now embarrassed friend, you sigh and think, “oh, so the spammers have finally come here in force.”

The important thing we should all be asking our selves is, just who are these spammers? This isn’t the same “Nigerian prince” who emailed you and everyone else five years ago.

People on sites like Facebook aren’t generally the web-illiterate suckers who fall for just about anything that sounds good, and even if the scam is particularly clever in that it looks like a link that your friend may actually post, the chances of you then entering your cellphone number and paying for a text message to take a stupid quiz is, uhm, very small.

Essentially, these hucksters are hawking products to a market that won’t buy, or at least not in the numbers that would make it anywhere near a profitable venture. This begs the question, why?

Are they stupid? Well, if they possess the programming skills necessary to make an app do something you’re not expecting it to, then probably not. Is there some other motive besides instant financial gain at play? Sadly, I think so.

The real gain in annoying this many people, I feel, is the annoyance itself.

The net in general and social networking sites in particular are really changing the paradigm of power on our media landscape and in our culture in general. If person-to-person communication continues to dominate our global communication apparatus, then some people, namely those who run our huge corporate media, stand to lose quite a bit.

I wouldn’t put it past them to use spammers to discredit the validity of social media, even if only a bit at a time. Every little bit helps make people turn away from a media where they may be vulnerable to spammers to one they know all too well and every time they don’t check their Facebook or Twitter, it’s one more missed opportunity for a fledgling, unknown or underfunded media source to promote their content.

It’s a scam so simple that I’d be impressed if it wasn’t so damn evil. Honestly, if this is what’s happening, I’d rather spend my time with a Nigerian prince.