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Canada’s Internet censorship law kicks in on Canada Day

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July 1st Canada Day, a day of joy for most Canadians, will also be a date of infamy as Canada joins the list of nations that censor or restrict Internet communications. Two Toronto lawyers conducted a webinar yesterday to explain how Bill C-28 will change the world for Canada’s travel industry, one of the thousands of Canadian businesses that will be hit hard by the general prohibition of business to business and business to consumer communication on the Internet.

Misrepresented as the Canadian Anti-Spam Legislation or CASL Bill C-28 has little to do with spam, which means the random emails we receive every day to sell a product. The Bill generally prohibits sending any commercial email where the sender isn’t already in a business relationship with the recipient “whether there is an expectation of profit or not.” This covers just about any message sent to consumers or businesses where there may be a commercial aspect, including business offers, proposals, any type of business information, and even work applications by job seekers, unless prior authorisation has been obtained from the addressee. Individuals violating the law will be subject to fines of up to $1 million dollars while businesses may be fined up to $10 million dollars. A well-known Vancouver instructor of Internet technology remarked: "The government has found another cash cow to make money: turn business people into criminals."

Lawyers Doug Crozier and Tim Law, specialists in travel law, outlined the grim details of the strait jacket Canada’s entrepreneurs and businesses will face in the age of digital technology. What about sending an email to obtain authorisation? “No, that will also be a violation.” “The safest way will be to obtain an express authorisation by telephone”. How do you prove that you’ve obtained authorisation? “The best proof will be, of course, to record the conversation.”

However, there are exceptions to the offence. For instance, you can send commercial messages to family members without risk of prosecution. Thank God, I'd hate to sue my mother for trying to sell me that old chair. Beware, however, of old dumped flames or partners. There's a general 6-month limitation on prior relationships.

One of the most disturbing aspects of the new law is its breach of Canada's fundamental legal principle of presumption of innocence. Under CASL you'll be presumed guilty unless you can prove otherwise, and the onus of proof will be on you. This is how the legal system operates in Third World countries, and some European countries based on Mussolini's laws.

Canada is not among the top spammers in the world, a list led by countries such as India, China, Russia and the United States. The law will have little or no effect on spam received by Canadians every day, most of which originate outside Canada. It’s expected to cripple business to business communications and cost millions in lost business and time, reducing Canada’s competitiveness in the world. Small businesses and entrepreneurs will be hit especially hard with the expense of seeking and paying for alternative means of business communication such as snail mail. Probably intended as black humour by the government, the preamble to CASL claims that the legislation is intended to increase Canada’s business productivity and competitiveness.

Few Canadians are aware of the law and its real implications, which was passed in 2010 without fanfare or opposition presumably due to the misnomer “Canadian Anti-Spam Legislation.” The public and the media have been pre-occupied with the government’s attempts at forcing disclosure of Internet user data to the police without a court order. After leading to the resignation of a cabinet minister in 2012 Bill C-30 was reintroduced as Bill C-13, “Protecting Canadians From Online Crime Act”. Under the new legislation police will have the authority to force disclosure of Internet user data without a court order if it only “suspects” that a crime may be committed.

On July 1, 2014 Canada will join the list of countries that censor or restrict content on the Internet such as North Korea, Iran, China, Saudi Arabia, Cuba and other Third World regimes.

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