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Since Canada's do-not-call list was launched in September 2008, Canadians have registered more than 10.6 million phone and fax numbers. ((iStock))

It's the most intrusive kind of selling practice and ranks right up there among the things that most annoy Canadians.

We're referring to telemarketing and its practitioners — those pesky, relentless salesmen and women who phone you, often as you're sitting down to dinner, determined to sell you something.

For years, there was little that Canadians could do to stop these intrusions beyond subscribing to a call display service and refusing to answer calls from numbers they didn't recognize.

After thousands of complaints, the federal government finally launched a national do-not-call list in September 2008. 

How to register

Canadians can add their land line and cellphone numbers to the do-not-call list by registering them online or by phoning 1-866-580-3625 (you must phone or fax from the number you wish to register.) Registration is free.

You can also register a fax number by faxing a request to 1-888-362-5329. Registered numbers stay on the do-not-call list for five years. After that, you must re-register.

As of April 2012, Canadians had registered about 10.6 million phone and fax numbers.

The industry pays the cost of administering the Do Not Call List. Bell Canada was given a contract to maintain and operate the list. Bell forwards the list to the telemarketers, who then have a month to update their own lists with the new do-not-call requests. Telemarketers, for their part, are required to subscribe to the list.

In April 2012 the federal government said it will transfer the costs of probes and enforcement of Canada's Do Not Call List to the industry itself.

Exemptions to the registry

The national do-not-call list did not mean an end to all unwanted telemarketing calls, because there are exemptions to the list. They include:

  • Registered charities.
  • Political parties and candidates.
  • Opinion polling firms.
  • Market research firms conducting surveys when the call does not involve the sale of a product or service.
  • General circulation newspapers (but not magazines).
  • Calls based on an existing business relationship with a consumer.
  • Calls from businesses where you have purchased goods or services within the past 18 months, or where have made an inquiry about a product or service within the past six months.
  • Business-to-business (only personal numbers can be added to the do-not call list).

Organizations that obtain "express consent" from consumers can also make telemarketing calls.

For example, a consumer would be considered to have given consent if she fills out a ballot at a trade show and indicates that she is willing to receive calls for telemarketing purposes and provides a phone number. Businesses can obtain consent orally, in written form or electronically.

However, consent can be withdrawn at any time by contacting the company directly or telling the representative when he or she calls.

As well, organizations that are exempt from the national do-not-call list are required to keep their own lists, based on people telling them directly that they don't want to be contacted.

How to complain 

If you have registered your number and, after 31 days or more have elapsed, receive a call from someone who is not exempt from complying with the do-not-call list, you can file a complaint. You need to provide the date and nature of the call, along with the name and number of the telemarketer, and the phone number where the call was received.

To file a complaint, visit https://www.lnnte-dncl.gc.ca/plt-cmp-eng or call 1-866-580-3625 (or from a TTY device, 1-888-362-5889).

If a telemarketer is found to have broken the rules, the CRTC has the power to fine individuals up to $1,500 per violation and corporations up to $15,000 per violation. In April 2012, it said it had received more than half a million complaints since the registry opened and imposed more than $2.1 million in fines.

According to the CRTC, the number of complaints about telemarketing has been rising in recent months. According to the commission's latest available numbers, there were about 8,500 complaints in December 2011, just over 10,000 in January 2012, and nearly 14,000 in February.

On April 2, 2012, the CRTC announced it had concluded a five-month investigation and taken enforcement action against 85 companies for breaking the telemarketing rules. It issued citations to 74 telemarketers who had failed to register with the National Do Not Call List operator or subscribe to the National Do Not Call List. Notices of violation were issued to an additional 11 companies for more significant breaches, and the CRTC imposed penalties totalling $41,000.

The U.S. experience

National do-not-call lists have also been set up in a number of other countries, including the United States, Australia, the United Kingdom and India.

In the U.S., the national do-not-call registry established in 2003 by the Federal Trade Commission is considered a major success. A Dec. 2011 annual report said it has more than 209 million active registrations, and more than 8 million new numbers were registered in 2011.

The U.S. registry received 2,272,662 complaints in fiscal 2011, for a total of 11,179,628 complaints since the registry opened.

In April 2012, a U.S. federal judge imposed $30 million US in civil penalties and another $1.1 million in penalties to offset illigitimate profit  in a case against deceptive robocallers. The group was found guilty of making more than eight million robocalls to consumers, including more than 2.7 million calls to phone numbers on the National Do Not Call Registry. It was the largest penalty ever imposed for unlawful calls to consumers listed on the country's do-not-call registry.