OTTAWA - The CRTC sent a blunt Do-Not-Mess-With-Us message Monday about the Do Not Call List, hitting Bell Canada with a $1.3-million penalty for violating telemarketing rules.
The telecommunications regulator found that independent telemarketers hired by Bell in Canada and overseas made unsolicited calls to Canadians to sell TV, telephone and Internet services.
They called consumers who had signed up for the national Do Not Call List, or had asked Bell Canada to be put on the company's internal, no-calls list.
It is by far the biggest penalty the CRTC has ever slapped on a company for breaking the Unsolicited Telecommunications Rules under the Telecom Act. Prior to last March, it had only imposed $73,000 in penalties after hearing 300,000 complaints.
But the commission suddenly upped the ante this month, the two-year anniversary of the Do Not Call List.
Last Friday, telemarketer Xentel paid $500,000 in fines for calling Canadians on behalf of unregistered charities.
After doing some initial digging on the practices of Bell's third-party telemarketers between January and October this year, the CRTC also came to a settlement with Bell Canada.
"I don't think $1.3 million is the cost of doing business for anybody," said Andrea Rosen, the commission's chief telecommunications enforcement officer.
"I think every company wants to be vigilant and conform with the law."
The regulator also found that Bell broke Do Not Call rules by using automated calling devices to contact prepaid mobile customers. Automated calling devices can only be used with a consumer's prior consent, or by police, fire departments, schools and hospitals with a public service message.
Bell Canada didn't admit it was at fault in the case, but voluntarily stopped the calls and made a $266,000 donation to the Institute for Information and Systems Engineering at Concordia University.
"I think after the 300,000 complaints that we've received over the last two years, it isn't surprising to see that companies are making mistakes," said Rosen.
"We do realize that's happening and that's why we do spend a lot of time trying to educate telemarketers to conform with the law. That's our objective in fact, is to foster compliance with the law."
Industry Minister Tony Clement applauded the CRTC action.
"Our government is committed to working with the CRTC on the enforcement of the rules of the program," he said in a press release.
"In imposing these penalties, the Harper government is proving that we are prepared to take serious and decisive steps to protect Canadians from the intrusiveness of unsolicited telemarketing calls. Canadians have enough to worry about at this time of the year."