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Liberal consumer affairs critic Dan McTeague says he supports the Conservative anti-spam bill "warts and all." ((CBC))

The Canadian Marketing Association is lobbying MPs to change an anti-spam bill so that consumers have to opt out of receiving commercial email messages, rather than opting in to get them.

In a message sent to its 800 corporate members — which include Costco, the Liquor Control Board of Ontario, Home Depot and Rogers — on Thursday, the CMA urged companies to get in touch with their local MPs to demand changes to the proposed legislation, which is expected to enter a critical phase on Monday.

The current draft of Bill C-27 will require a marketer to obtain a consumer's consent, whether implied or explicit, before sending them an email. The CMA says this clause will limit companies' ability to prospect for new customers or grow their businesses.

"CMA is urging MPs to clarify the legislation to ensure that marketers can continue to rent the lists of customers who have consented to have their contact information transferred to other organizations for marketing purposes," the message said.

The group said the bill needs to be changed so that it is consistent with the existing Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act, which "clearly describes how organizations must obtain consent before they can share customer contact information with others, and it establishes that they are accountable to ensure that personal information will be properly used and protected even after it has been transferred."

The proposed bill, which is properly known as the Electronic Commerce Protection Act, is expected to enter a clause-by-clause reading before a Parliamentary committee on Monday. During this phase, committee members propose, accept and reject amendments to the draft bill. Once the process is finished, the bill goes back to the House of Commons for its third reading, where legislation is rarely rejected.

The lobbying effort has drawn criticism from Michael Geist, an internet law professor at the University of Ottawa. Changing the clause from opt-in to opt-out will water down the anti-spam bill, similar to how the do-not-call telemarketing rules were neutered last year by allowing too many exceptions, he said

"To put [the opt-out clause] into an anti-spam bill is going to render it useless. It's a massive loophole."

The clause is only one of many that business interests have lobbied to alter, Geist added. The proposed bill also contains clauses that would make it illegal for companies to install spyware or digital rights management software on users' computers without consent. Entertainment and copyright lobbyists are also urging MPs to change these clauses.

Targeting Liberals, Bloc

Lobbyists have mainly focused on Liberal and Bloc MPs, he said, perhaps because it is a government bill, and the Conservatives may be determined to see it through.

Michael Chong, the Conservative MP and chairman of the bill's committee, could not be reached for comment on Friday. In an opinion piece in this week's Hill Times, Chong wrote about the need for a strong anti-spam bill — something that Canada lags most developed nations in adopting.

Spam costs money to combat, it defrauds Canadian individuals and businesses, and is used to spread destructive viruses — all of which are symptoms that Bill C-27 seeks to remedy, he wrote.

"Canada ranks as one of the top originating countries for spam," wrote Chong. "This undermines confidence in the internet as a platform for personal and business use."

Liberal consumer affairs critic Dan McTeague told CBCNews he doesn't know what the position of his party is, but that he personally supports the Conservative bill, "warts and all."

"The intention is to really send a message that Canada can no longer be a haven for spam. It is extremely debilitating to business," he said. "It's legislation that is long overdue."

McTeague, who introduced his own anti-spam bill in 2002 but did not get it passed, said he had not seen the latest proposed amendments but added that the opt-in clause was vital.

"It's a critical clause because without it, what's the point of having the legislation?"