The Toronto Sun
Wednesday, April 20, 1999

E-mail hoax is truly taxing

by Gary Dunford

HEY GOOD LOOKIN: "Presidents always look so darn presidential during a war", CNBC news anchor Diane Diamond remarks to a guest during serious Balkan doodoo chat. Not a joke. Without irony. She wasn't smiling. The guest nods. Now go back to sleep.

OH WOE, JOE: How many past supporters of the federal Tories cut off contributions after the party self-destructed, then reinstalled Joe Clark as leader? Enough that PC Canada fund-raisers are mailing thousands of Certificates of Appreciation to people who haven't contributed to the party in years, a special guilt trip from Ottawa HQ. Each mock-parchment certificate carries Clark's pre-printed signature, and an urging to display it prominently. Yo. You're a Certified Great Canadian.

"I am fully aware that you have not contributed to the party recently", goes Clark's cover letter. "It's been some time since we have heard from you. I would appreciate anything you can send along to help ..." Two massive PC solicitations in the last year managed to flush out only 4,500 contributions nationwide. A "difficult" situation, Clark admits. At the least. But then only the ruling party has the Senate and a stash of Order-of-Canada ribbons to use as prizes.

THE E-MAIL TAX: It's a total hoax. But like any good prank, it's just close enough to reality to spook the troops.

"Under proposed legislation, Canada Post will attempt to bilk e-mail users out of alternate postage fees", begins an alarming note distributed to thousands by fax and e-mail in the last week. "Bill 602P will permit the federal government to charge a 5 cents surcharge on every e-mail delivered, billing Internet Service providers at source. Consumers would then be billed in turn by their ISP."

Why would Canada Post get a nickel for every piece of e-mail it doesn't deliver?

"Lost revenue due to the proliferation of e-mail is costing Canada Post nearly $23,000,000 in revenue per year", goes the explanation. "You may have noticed their recent ad campaign, 'There is nothing like a letter.' Since the average citizen received about 10 pieces of e-mail per day in 1998, the cost to the typical individual would be an additional 50 cents per day, or over $180 dollars per year, beyond regular Internet costs. If Canada Post Corporation is allowed to tinker with e-mail, it will mark the end of the free Internet in Canada."

Such paranoia works best in a nation of always-nervous sheep. Is an e-mail tax any less believable than using Mounties to make Canadians stop watching "foreign" TV? Less believable than ruling ads in split-run magazines a culture crime, fine $25,000? Less believable than scooping 7% GST for every purchase in the country -- whether the buyer makes $10,000 or $100,000 or $1 million a year?

"Most of the major newspapers have ignored this story", warns the alert, which names a Toronto lawyer who "is working without pay to prevent this legislation from becoming law." And merciful heavens, there's more:

"One back-bencher, Liberal Tony Schnell (NB), has even suggested a $20 to $40 per month surcharge on all Internet service above and beyond the government's proposed e-mail charges ... The Toronto Star has called the idea of e-mail surcharge "a useful concept whose time has come" ... Don't watch your freedoms erode away! Send this e-mail to all Canadians on your list and tell your friends and relatives to write to their MP and say No! to Bill 602P."

Don't rush to the keyboards and phones. The lawyer does not exist. The law firm whose name appears on the alert does not exist. There is no MP named Schnell. Forget Bill 602P; that's not even the way bills are numbered. Even the loopy Star hasn't endorsed an e-mail tax -- at least, not yet. And if this missive really came from a Bay Street law firm, why would they call our Ottawa masters "beaurocratic"? Isn't it "bureaucratic?"

"If true, this e-mail surcharge would represent a tax grab of monumental proportions!" howls a Page Sixer, one of dozens spooked by the hoax. "The Internet is one of the few mediums that Sheila Copps and the rest of the federal Liberals can't control. The entire idea is outrageous!"

But sadly -- evidenced by how many believe it -- not that outrageous.

THE OPEN EAR: Every man has a plan. Like the writer who figured he'd dodge TTC strike snarls and work from home. Got up late. Made pancakes, since he didn't have to race to the office. Fired up the computer. Retrieved notes for an interview. Picked up the phone. No dial tone. Yes, his exchange was out yesterday morning. Solidarity. They're all in this together. Set a world record for putting on shoes. Said words in his resulting 28-block scurry downtown you don't even hear in X-rated movies.

Copyright © 1999 by The Toronto Sun. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with permission.