Enforcement of the national do-not-call list is ineffective, even though more than 300,000 complaints have been filed against unwanted telemarketers, newly released figures suggest.
Responding to a query by Liberal Senator Percy Downe, the federal government said it has imposed $73,000 in fines in less than two years — but collected only $250 as of March 1.
"It is clear that the do-not-call list is a great idea but under this government it has been totally useless for many Canadians," said Downe.
"It is time to start enforcing the rules, collect the fines and put a stop once and for all to these unwanted telephone calls."
The national do-not-call list is a free service that is supposed to restrict the number of unwanted telemarketing calls and faxes people receive.
Telemarketers are barred from dialling a number once it is on the list, and are supposed to face stiff fines if they do — up to $1,500 for individual telemarketers and $15,000 for companies, if a registered household files a complaint.
There have been 11 fines imposed since the list was launched in September 2008, said the response from the office of Industry Minister Tony Clement.
"As of March 1, no company has officially refused to pay the imposed administrative monetary penalty," said the response.
Do-not-call list: Is it effective?
"Collection action continues to be pursued on all files where the CRTC has imposed a (fine) in relation to a violation of the national do-not-call list rules. The CRTC is utilizing all means of collection available for outstanding accounts."
Those means include withholding income-tax refunds, it said.
The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, which administers the program, projected in 2008 that 60 per cent of the 27 million residential telephone numbers in Canada would be registered on the list within two years.
More than seven million numbers were registered by last August.
Numbers can be registered at dncl.gc.ca or by telephone at 1-866-580-3625.
University of Ottawa professor Michael Geist said the do-not-call list feels more like a "do-not-hesitate-to-call list" and needs to be revamped.
"With exceptions for charities, political parties, newspapers, and businesses with a prior business relationship, virtually all calls can continue even when a number is on the do-not-call list," said Geist, who holds the university's Canada research chair in internet and e-commerce law.
"Millions of numbers have been registered … demonstrating that Canadians want to regain control over their privacy at home.
"It has become clear that the law needs significant retooling to provide a genuine, effective system against unwanted calls along with an enforcement system with tough consequences for violations."
'It has become clear that the law needs significant retooling.' —Michael Geist, University of Ottawa
The minister's office said the CRTC first seeks voluntary compliance from violators. Failing that, it issues a "notice of violation" setting out penalties. Violators can contest the fines in writing.
The commission publishes status reports on its website monthly.
Violators' names are not published if they comply with the terms of a notice of violation. But they are published along with details of their violation and fine if they contest a notice and lose.