May 23, 2013 6:59 pm
Updated: May 24, 2013 6:17 am

Alberta's Wildrose party fined by CRTC for robocalls

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EDMONTON – Alberta’s Wildrose Party was fined $90,000 by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) after an investigation involving phone calls to Albertans during the provincial election campaign.

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“We were advised that such calls are supposed to contain the name of the caller, or the person calling, or the party on behalf the call is being made, the address and telephone number, in the preamble, and we didn’t do that. And that put us offside with the CRTC regulation, and we were fined,” explains David Yager, President of the Wildrose Party Executive Committee.

“We were made aware of a CRTC investigation into our use of electronic solicitations – information solicitations, polling – a few months ago, and we complied completely.”

Yager says the party was notified in April, and cooperated with the investigation completely; supplying the CRTC with information, including scripts of the calls in question.

The CRTC has the authority to fine any telemarketer that violates the Unsolicited Telecommunications Rules.

The CRTC’s rules state that any telemarketer must identify who they are and, upon request, provide a fax or phone number where the person being called can speak to someone about the call.

The maximum penalty for a violation is $15,000 for corporations.

A violation that continues for more than one day constitutes a separate violation for each day it continues.

Once the CRTC’s investigation report and notice of violation has been given to the offending party, they can respond in writing or pay the fine set out in the notice of violation.

The only other fine or administrative penality Global News could find that the CRTC levied against a political party or association was last August when the Federal Liberal Association in Guelph was fined $4,900.

The Wildrose party paid its $90,000 fine Wednesday.

“It’s a highly regrettable situation for the party, but we felt the appropriate thing to do was cooperate because we didn’t realize we were in violation of the regulations. We complied,” explains Yager.

“We hired a vendor that has done this for other political parties and had experience in this area. And we felt that we were doing it in the right way.”

Global News has learned the company contracted to do the polling for the party was RackNine, the same company that was named – and cleared – in the national robocall scandal.

Global contacted RackNine’s owner and his lawyer for comment on this story but did not receive a response.

Yager says the party is not trying to shirk blame, but stresses they thought the calls being made were compliant with CRTC rules.

“The fact that the vendor may think it’s acceptable did not absolve us of our obligations… the way it’s been explained to us – it’s really up to the organization behind the call, not the vendor, so we’re going to just have to make sure we play by the rules going forward, and I assure you we will.”

Yager says the Wildrose will work with the CRTC to prepare internal compliance protocol. He adds the party is going to have to make sure the vendor complies as well.

“We should have internal protocols for this – compliance protocols and a compliance officer – to make sure that any work we do in this area is compliant. And we shall do that. So our intention, now that we understand the regulations down to the letter, our intention going forward is to comply completely.”

While the Wildrose did not fight the $90,000 fine, Yager doesn’t believe the party was the only one making calls in this way.

“I have never received a call that complies with the CRTC regulations now that I understand them.”

“I believe virtually all political parties that use this tool – I believe that pretty well everybody is offside.”

The Wildrose has asked the CRTC to pursue other organizations that use this solicitation system and to apply the law even-handedly.

“CRTC made us aware that they have a broader investigation going on, but they were in no position to disclose who else.”

“I just want to express our regret,” adds Yager. “We’re contrite, we’re embarrassed. We’re not going to do it again. We wish this hasn’t happened, but it did.”

Elections Alberta received between 700 and 800 complaints about robocalls during and after the last provincial election.

The most common complaints were from Albertans who said they’d asked the caller to stop calling them, but the calls continued to come or that calls were coming in without a caller ID to identify who was calling.

At that time, provincial legislation didn’t address the issue, so Elections Alberta put the complainant in contact with the party responsible for the calls and made recommendations to the government that the legislation be amended.

Alberta’s new Elections Act dictates that – during an ad transmitted to a telephone, whether live or automated – the telephone number of the sponsor must be capable of being displayed and must not be blocked from being displayed. It also says the name of the sponsor and the party affiliation must be stated at the beginning of the call.

However, legislation only comes into effect once it has passed, and cannot be implemented retroactively.

Drew Westwater, spokesperson for Elections Alberta, says it also contacted the CRTC since it has jurisdiction over telecommunications to find out how they could work together to best solve the issue.

With files from Vassy Kapelos

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