Jean Pierre Blais to the Canadian Marketing Association


Toronto, Ontario
March 22, 2016

Jean-Pierre Blais, Chairman and CEO
Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission

Check against delivery

As I start my remarks, I’d like to acknowledge on behalf of all of us gathered here this morning that we meet on the traditional territory of First Nations peoples. I thank them and pay respect to their elders.

Good morning, fellow marketers.

I smile when I say that, but I’m only half joking when I place myself in your company. I’ve done my fair share of marketing during my tenure as CRTC chairman—promoting hearings, sharing findings, defending opinions and upholding rules. So I appreciate the sharp and sometimes contradictory views and emotions you’re exposed to. By the way, a French version of my remarks is now available on our website.

One part of the general public celebrates you. Another part scorns you. Perhaps still another part treats you with indifference—the unkindest cut of all.

Even those within the highest reaches of business often don’t quite know what to make of you.

David Hewlett, the eponymous co-founder of one of the most successful and transformative companies of the twentieth century, believed marketing to be something too important to be left to those in his marketing department. A backhanded compliment if I ever heard one.

At the opposite end of the spectrum is Edwin Land, co-founder of Polaroid, another of last century’s breakthrough enterprises in science and business. He believed marketing to be the things you do only when you have a product that’s no good. I guess his portrait isn’t hanging on the wall back at CMA headquarters.

I can assure you my admiration for legitimate marketing pros is unambiguous. Yours is tough work. It requires keen intelligence and deep humility. Not an easy combination to pull off: Intelligence to satisfy the Hewletts of the business world, humility to cope with the Lands.

There seems to be not much middle ground of opinion. My colleagues and I at the CRTC can relate. We’re praised for our efforts in helping Canadians regain control of their communications system. We’re spurned as meddling functionaries who should be dispatched to the unemployment line.

I suspect some of those who see us as bureaucratic busybodies likely had no idea who I was, and had little interest in the work of the CRTC, until the laws and regulations to reduce spam email and unsolicited telecommunications came along.

Yet those who feel I’m your enemy are mistaken. I’m not even your adversary. And you’re not mine.

Sure, we’ve had our disagreements—especially when unsolicited telecommunications rules and Canada’s anti-spam legislation were being discussed and put into effect. Your attitude as an organization has changed since then, and the attitudes of many in this room I’m sure have also changed.

I thank you for that change of heart. I thank you for your work—individually and as an organization—to make sure marketers comply with the law. And I thank you for your willingness to work in partnership with the CRTC to make compliance so widespread among marketers.

We must continue working—together and on our own—to give Canadians what they have asked for. They’ve asked you legitimate marketers to comply with the terms of the unsolicited telecommunications rules and Canada’s anti-spam legislation. And through their elected representatives, they’ve asked the CRTC to enforce those rules and that law.

In the spirit of working toward the same goal, thank you for inviting me to join you this morning and share with you the CRTC’s activities to enforce unsolicited telecommunications rules and Canada’s anti-spam legislation. I’ll call the law CASL, as so many people do.

Legitimate marketers should welcome this law and these rules

Why should we both be doing everything in our power to give Canadians what they have asked for? Because not only are CASL and the Unsolicited Telecommunications Rules here to stay, legitimate marketers also recognize the equally legitimate need for them.

I respect the practices and appreciate the work of legitimate marketers—emphasis on legitimate. Responsible, creative marketers help consumers find the goods and services they need and desire—an essential service in the marketplace. The very best marketers persuade by using their smarts and wits to entertain and amuse, by appealing with seductive words and images, by convincing people to identify themselves through brands, and by taking creative and lawful advantage of the latest hi-tech tools and tactics.

I have no beef with legitimate marketers. Just as I’m sure you, members of the Canadian Marketing Association, don’t condone those marketers who break our country’s laws—either wilfully or through ignorance.

And let’s make no mistake: CASL is an act of Parliament. Our elected representatives put in place this law at the behest of Canadians themselves.

I didn’t create this law. It’s not some edict issued by me with the flash of my pen. My colleagues and I at the CRTC were given responsibility—through Parliament—to enforce these rules, this law of the land.

And from what I can see, I can tell you: They’re not going anywhere. They’re very likely here to stay. If anything, laws and rules of this kind will get tougher, not more lenient.

And legitimate marketers should welcome them. They give you guidelines by which to ply your difficult trade; and they help expose the scammers whose practices diminish your profession in the eyes of Canadians—the very consumers you’re trying to appeal to.

Smartphones are the new private spaces

Why else should we both be doing everything in our power to give Canadians what they’ve asked for? Because we need to appreciate today’s consumers are different from those of a decade ago, let alone a generation past.

Adoption of smartphones is widespread in Canada. These devices have changed our behaviours radically. We use them to plan our lives, perform our jobs, connect with fellow citizens, communicate with our friends and members of our families, and explore a vast and growing world of people and experiences that was unknown to us a decade ago.

And we do all these things continually through our waking hours—even when we should be getting some sleep. Most of us would be lost without our smartphones. Or we would at least have to go through some sort of recovery program to get over the shock and distress of the loss.

These devices have also changed our expectations. We Canadians consider our smartphones to be private spaces—like our homes, like our very selves. And just as we don’t like it when strangers intrude on our personal spaces or show up on our doorsteps, we don’t like it when unwanted messages and annoying calls enter the private spaces of our smartphones.

Imagine how you’d feel if a strange person walked through your front door, tracked dirt across your kitchen floor, went to your fridge, grabbed a drink and then plopped themselves down in front of your TV?

That’s pretty much how Canadians today feel about uninvited marketers who invade the private spaces of their smartphones. That’s pretty much how Canadians feel about spam and unsolicited telecommunications. And that’s why they demanded—and Parliament responded with—CASL and the National Do Not Call List. Cause and effect: It’s not complicated.

Compliance is better than enforcement

Why else should we both be doing everything in our power to give Canadians what they’ve asked for? Because compliance is better than enforcement.

At the CRTC, our goal is to promote compliance with the law and prevent recidivism. It’s not ultimately enforcement. We don’t go out looking for dragons to slay. We much prefer helping marketers comply with the law than enforcing it after they’ve broken it.

And we back up that desire with action. CRTC staff criss-cross the country, meeting with business owners, company executives and managers, and marketing professionals to share with them the information and insight they need to be compliant with the law.

Businesspeople attend these sessions in great numbers to learn about recent enforcement updates, and more so to ask questions to make sure their activities comply with the law.

That’s where CMA as an organization comes in: Keep taking action to empower your members with information and insight that helps them comply with the laws and rules.

If you need help, get in touch with the CRTC. We want to help. We prefer to be your ally in ensuring compliance among your members, not your adversary when it comes time to enforce the law.

I know you do not want to be that guy

Can we create a bright-line test that separates right from wrong? No, we can’t. The laws and rules are not prescriptive. We have discretion. If the dos and don’ts were cut and dried, a computer could enforce the law.

That said, we have been building our capacity to gather and analyze information from complaints, the private sector and honeypots. This intelligence helps us make decisions on which cases merit investigation. As the months and years pass, our country is building case law around the application of CASL and the Unsolicited Telecommunications Rules.

In a 2014 speech to an audience at the Economic Club of Canada in Toronto, I explained how the new law and rules would work. I also looked ahead to outline exactly how the CRTC would uphold them; and I assured you that we would focus on the most egregious instances of non-compliance. I’m happy to report that the CRTC is following through on what I promised. Here are a few examples.

First let’s look at Canada’s anti-spam law and the Dorkbot botnet case. Yes, you heard me right—Dorkbot.

In December, we served the first-ever warrant under CASL to take down a command-and-control server located in Toronto. This warrant enabled us to enter a place of business that housed this server. The server was part of a network that controlled malware that had infected more than one million personal computers in some 190 countries.

This malware was spread through USB flash drives, instant-messaging programs and social networks. Once a computer was compromised, it was instructed to steal passwords used for online banking and payments, download and install dangerous malware, and join other infected computers in sending multiple requests to a specific server in the hopes of overwhelming its capacity to respond—known as a distributed denial of service attack.

Our effort to bring down this Toronto-based server was part of a coordinated international effort that involved allies from Canada and around the globe—the RCMP, the FBI, Europol, Interpol, Public Safety Canada and the Canadian Cyber Incident Response Centre—as well as Microsoft.

Our takedown of this botnet is a perfect example of Canada’s anti-spam legislation in action.

The warrant we needed to break up this botnet is specifically outlined in the law. We couldn’t have achieved the takedown as quickly and as completely as we did without it.

And the international effort we were a part of was a direct result of enacting anti-spam legislation. The law made us part of a global alliance of nations and organizations not only committed to thwarting spammers and scammers, but also equipped to stop them.

Now I know you don’t want your computer system to be infected by a botnet let alone part of a botnet scam.

I know you don’t want us to show up at your home or place of business with a warrant.

I know you don’t really want to be that guy.

So I urge all marketers to comply with our country’s anti-spam law.

Now let’s look at enforcement of Canada’s rules against unsolicited telecommunications.

Earlier this month—national anti-fraud month by the way—we issued notices of violations to three Canadian companies and two call centres based in India. Our notices state these five telemarketing firms failed to respect the unsolicited telecommunications rules; and we have levied penalties against them totalling nearly $650,000.

What did these companies do to warrant such a stiff reprimand? Our investigation—spurred by complaints filed by Canadians—found that these telemarketers made calls to Canadians whose phone numbers are registered on the National Do Not Call List. These telemarketers also made unsolicited calls without being registered with the National DNCL operator, and without having bought a subscription to the list.

What makes the actions of these telemarketers even more brazen is who they were claiming to be and what they were trying to sell. They identified themselves as representatives of Microsoft, or the Government of Canada, or even US Homeland Security. And they were using the fraudulent authority of these disguises to peddle anti-virus software. During some calls, these scam artists even asked to be given remote access to the home owner’s computer on the pretext of removing viruses and malicious software.

As we did in the Dorkbot investigation, we used a warrant to enter and inspect a property used by one of the companies as its base of operations.

We also relied on the support of partners—in this case: the RCMP, Peel Regional Police, the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, the Forensic Accounting Management Group of Public Service and Procurement Canada, and national and local law enforcement officials in India.

We couldn’t have disrupted these operations as quickly and as effectively as we did without the rules, and without the partnerships that the rules have made possible.

I know you don’t want us to show up at your home or place of business with a warrant.

I know you don’t want to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in penalties.

I know you don’t want your company’s name splashed all over the news in such a context.

I know you don’t really want to be that guy.

So again, I urge all marketers to comply with our country’s unsolicited telecommunications rules.

I also urge you to look ahead.

Look ahead to the day when all your fellow marketers comply with the law.

Look ahead to the day when all your fellow marketers are using the law to guide their actions.

Don’t be the ones left behind.

Invest your time and attention to get your activities in compliance as soon as possible.

I know you don’t want your company’s name in our next media release.

I know you don’t want to be subject to a private right of action from a group of citizens that have or businesses that have been subject to spam.

I know you don’t want to find yourself in court. The courts won’t provide you with guidance to comply. But we will.

Let’s give Canadians what they have asked for

And that’s my message to legitimate marketers, to the pros in this room, the ones who not only know the law is here to stay, but also know it separates their efforts from the scammers and charlatans: Let’s keep working together to make sure all marketers in Canada comply with the law.

Let’s continue to educate and inform members of your association.

Let’s expose the scam artists whose practices diminish your profession in the eyes of Canadians.

Let’s give Canadians what they’ve asked for—a marketing environment in this country that is free of unwanted intrusions.

What’s my message to the holdouts—to those who think the law and rules are a passing fad; to those who are still moaning and complaining about reasonable requirements developed at the instruction of Canadians?

My message is: It’s time for them to get on side, to comply with the law. It’s time to embrace what Canadians have demanded and change the ways in which they behave.

As I know those in this room have done already.

I know because you don’t want to be that guy who pleads ignorance of the law rather than the one who takes action to abide by it.

I know because you want to make sure your marketing activities comply with the law before you carry them out, rather than risk being forced into compliance after the fact.

I know because you want to respect Canadians’ private spaces, whether in their homes or on their mobile devices.

I know because you are mindful of our friends Mr. Hewlett and Mr. Land: you will use intelligence and display humility as you continue to follow CASL and the unsolicited telemarketing rules.

Thank you.

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