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Travel Industry petitions against Canada's Internet censorship law

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A former airline executive petitioned Industry Minister James Moore yesterday to change the Canadian Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL) or Bill C-28, which many see as a form of Internet censorship of the worst kind. Scheduled to take effect July 1st, Bill C-28 will be a general prohibition of Internet business communications punishable by cruel monetary penalties of up to $10 million dollars. Although there will be exceptions to the law’s application, it’s feared that the legislation will make offenders out of honest business operators while doing little to stop the spam Canadians receive. CASL will hold company directors, officers and employees personally liable for violations.

The petition was started by former KLM Royal Dutch Airlines executive Suzanne Christie of Ontario who runs Open Jaw, an informational web site for travel agents. Christie was among the travel executives who was stunned to find out about Bill C-28’s grim implications for Canada’s travel industry. Germinated about 10 years ago, CASL was passed quietly in 2010 receiving Royal Assent. There hasn’t been much opposition to the Bill presumably because of the misnomer title anti-spam and the long lead time before the effective date. Montreal Internet lawyer Allen Mendelsohn, however, thinks CASL is a joke. He says it will do nothing to stop spam, most of which originates overseas.

If it’s a joke, it’s a bad joke that may cost billions of dollars to Canadian businesses in lost time, productivity and revenues navigating through a complex quasi-criminal code based on presumption of guilt and reverse onus of proof. CASL will prohibit all electronic messages related to a business across the board unless a prior, provable consent has been obtained from the recipient. It contrasts sharply with CAN-AM, the opt-out anti-spam legislation in the United States. Christie’s petition calls on the government to have the “misguided law” do what it was intended to do, stop spam instead of hurting legitimate Canadian businesses.

By coincidence, the Turkish Canadian Chamber of Commerce in Vancouver led by another former Canadian travel industry executive also appealed yesterday to Prime Minister Harper to stop Bill C-28. Ironically, Turkey is a country that has often been criticised in Canada for restricting freedom of expression. The Turkish Government was condemned by the European Union and the United States when it banned Twitter and YouTube in March. The bans were lifted after a few weeks by the Turkish Constitutional Court upon application by 3 concerned citizens. Unlike Turkey and some European countries, however, Canada doesn’t have a constitutional court or easy citizen access to justice for constitutional review of legislation.

If it takes effect July 1st as scheduled, CASL and regulations under the statute will be adjudicated by the Canadian Radio Television Commission (CRTC), the Competition Bureau, and the Office of the Privacy Commissioner. CRTC and the Competition Bureau are Crown agencies under Industry Canada, while the Privacy Commissioner reports to the Parliament.

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