An opinion on Canada’s new email / spam law

I thought I would let the noise and chatter die down a bit before offering my take on the new anti-spam law passed by the current Conservative government of Canada.

As an arts and culture marketer, I did not participate in sending out emails asking for consent to keep on sending on emails. Nor did I answer these emails requesting permission to keep sending me emails I had already given permission for because it is, frankly, none of the government’s business who is communicating with me or with whom I am communicating with.

There is no difference between a hand written letter, a postcard, a messenger pigeon or a telephone call and an email. Though it may be the law, it is not moral to comply with this intrusive oversight of my relationship with other people. Period.

Most Canadians seem to interpret this law as curbing the annoying, unsolicited, commercial based emails that come to mind when you hear the word “spam”. Fair enough but what has that got to do with me as an artist, writer or with a gallery or charity sending me press releases? Most unsolicted email is not from reputable organizations, or even Canadian ones. They are, by nature, beyond accountability for their practices. So what that leaves are a handful of legitimate, Canadian based businesses that have real addresses and real people who are the only ones who will be left to be punished by this new law.

So what is really going on here? This law was apparently 10 years in the making and it certainly seems that much out of date. Anyone who knows anything about using email and the internet knows how to deal with real spam without any real effort or time so obviously there is not a technical limit which our government is attempting to address on our behalf. This law seems like it written by and for cranky senior citizens who are still using dial-up and are worried about the time it takes to read everything everyone sends them. From what I’ve heard and read, the majority of supporters are just such people who are frustrated with spam and think this will address their problem. It won’t. But that won’t stop people from trying to change the democratic world around them to adjust one minor irritation that could be fixed easily in many other ways.

This law is so ridiculous and limited in its purported purpose that I don’t think spam is the real purpose behind it. What I can tell you is that email is, bar none, the single best channel for communicating effectively with someone else. Better than social media, better that direct mail and oodles more affordable and manageable than traditional mass media such as radio or TV. This is a powerful tool for charities, activists and non-profits who want to deliver a message and spread information and our socially conservative government is infamous and well-documented in labelling opposition to their agenda as “radicals” or worse.

This new law will give the government real teeth in shutting down organizations they don’t like. All this complaint based process needs is one political patsy on an email list, along with the usual conservative base of well-meaning but angry and mis-informed citizens, to start the ball of punishment rolling over everyone else.

No more fundraising – it’s spam. No environmental news – it’s spam. No critical gathering of minds or art – it’s spam. No more dignity in the privacy of your communications – it’s spam. This reminds me of when I heard about a former dictator in a former east block communist regime who had only one photocopier in the country, in a government building, in order to stop the spread of information and stifle dissent.

Unfortunately in Canada there is a culture of uncritical complicity and this law will probably work well because we won’t be able to hear about how it is not working well. But the empty simulacrum of the government dealing with someone that annoyed you is now out there. Now go shopping and sign up for great deals by email at your local big box store. I promise you this law was never intended to interfere with that relationship.

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