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Drive for U.S. No-Call List Spurs Similar Push in Canada

As the telemarketing industry spars with regulators over the creation of a no-call list in the United States, the battle is being watched in Canada, where a government agency is considering the launch of a similar list.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission is expected to issue a decision by the end of the year, according to the Canadian Marketing Association. Canadian consumers are aware of the news being generated by the ongoing legal battle over the no-call list in the United States, said Philippe Tousignant, CRTC spokesman.

“The American experience in the media is currently getting a lot of attention,” Tousignant said. “You can see the impact of the media here. It's generating a lot of questions.”

The CRTC is like the U.S. Federal Communications Commission in that it regulates telephone carriers. Though it cannot directly control telemarketers, it can order telephone carriers to bar them access to the phone system should they break the rules.

A national no-call list in Canada likely would face less opposition and controversy than in the United States. One indicator is that the CMA, the nation's lead marketing industry organization, supports a no-call list.

The CRTC has asked the CMA whether it would consider running a Canadian no-call list, said John Gustavson, CMA president/CEO.

The CMA runs its own no-call list that currently has about 500,000 telephone numbers. There are about 32 million people in Canada. Like the Direct Marketing Association's Telephone Preference Service, use of the CMA's list is not required by law.

“Telemarketing companies have not comprehensively self-regulated,” Gustavson said. “The good guys use our list. Thousands of them do not.”

The CRTC first considered creating a no-call list in 2001, and that option remains on the table, Tousignant said. According to Gustavson, the CMA expects that the CRTC's next step will be to decide whether it has the legislative authority to create a no-call list or needs the Canadian parliament to pass new legislation.

That subject became an issue for the U.S. no-call list when a federal judge in Oklahoma City ruled that the Federal Trade Commission lacked the authority to create a no-call list. That problem was solved within days as Congress enacted a law granting the FTC the authority it needed.

However, another federal judge in Denver has declared that the U.S. no-call list violates free speech rights. Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects free speech but is less rigid than the U.S. Constitution, Gustavson said.

Unlike in the United States, commercial speech is considered on par with other forms of speech, including charity and political calls, Gustavson said. However, the charter allows for “justifiable limitations” on free speech, such as when the Canadian government limited tobacco advertising for health reasons.

Teleservices has been a growth industry in Canada for years. Providers have moved north to Canada to open call centers in order to take advantage of favorable currency exchange rates and labor markets in some provinces.

Much of the calling that originates in Canada goes to the United States. Beautyrock Inc., a teleservices provider with 200 seats in four facilities in the Canadian province of Ontario, does about 80 percent of its calling into the United States, said its president, Stan Body.

Beautyrock, Cornwall, Ontario, specializes in marketing continuity programs for book and music clubs and mostly calls to existing customers, which are exempt under the U.S. list, Body said. However, out of caution some Beautyrock clients have halted their calling efforts anyway.

Body acknowledged that some telemarketers in Canada have committed abuses, such as ignoring no-call requests and abandoning calls. But he said he thinks that the government has exaggerated the number of problems.

“We played into the hands of the politicians and bureaucrats,” Body said. “They say, 'We have a handful of complaints here, we need some regulations.'”

Most of the support for a Canadian no-call list comes from the CMA, Body said. However, Canada lacks any other trade organization that could support telemarketers, so Body said he hopes the American Teleservices Association, which is behind the free speech challenge to the U.S. list, would establish a presence in the nation.

In supporting a no-call list, the CMA aims to protect the telemarketing medium, Gustavson said. In particular, the CMA wants to ensure that marketers retain the right to call existing customers.

As a national association, the CMA consists of both marketers and suppliers, Gustavson said. Occasionally, it has to decide whose interests it is going to support.

“Usually those interests are aligned,” he said. “Not always. Sometimes you have to make a choice.”

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