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CRTC rules robocalls can’t be used to reach customers on Do Not Call List

Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunication Commission chairman Jean-Pierre Blais.

GRAHAM HUGHES/THE CANADIAN PRESS

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Canadians who are on the national Do Not Call List will remain out of bounds for robocalls from companies – even if they are customers of those companies.

On Monday, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission reaffirmed its automatic calling rules, and denied a request from the industry group, Canadian Marketing Association (CMA), to change them.

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Under the current rules, companies such as banks and telecommunications providers are allowed to call customers with whom they have an existing relationship, even if they are one of the more than 12 million numbers registered on the blocked list for telemarketers. But they are not allowed to do so using automated calling devices – those pre-recorded messages most familiar to consumers for prospecting calls telling them they have won a prize such as a cruise.

Even if a person is a bank's current customer, for example, that bank will need to ask for permission from that customer before sending automated calls to their telephone number. Even then, they must provide a number where customers can get back to the company, and explain why they are calling right away so that the recipient can decide whether he or she wants to keep listening.

"The CRTC is not prepared to water down its rules on automated telemarketing," CRTC chairman Jean-Pierre Blais said in a statement.

The marketers' association asked for the changes because automated calling devices are a cheap and efficient way for companies to reach existing customers with important messages or marketing offers. It proposed that marketers be allowed to send one of these automated calls to an existing customer, provided it included an "unsubscribe" option – a statement such as "press 1 if you do not want to receive messages like this in the future."

"We believe it's a balanced approach," said Wally Hill, senior vice-president of government and consumer affairs with the CMA.

Because the Do Not Call List gives exemptions for calls from companies that people do business with, the CMA wanted a similar exemption for automated calls. The ban on automated calls is more sweeping – and the association recognizes that is partly because they have been so often misused.

"People are getting calls, often offshore calls, and they're used for all kinds of annoying purposes. So the technology has gotten a bad rap, for good reason, as a result of those activities," Mr. Hill said. "But more responsible use by organizations to deal with their established customer base, we've always felt was a reasonable request. As long as the safeguards are there for consumers to say, 'You've made this one call to me, I don't want any more.' "

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For the moment, companies who want to dial existing customers will need to continue to use a human touch.

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