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Understanding the Canadian Anti-Spam Legislation’s New Rules for Email Marketing

Brent Purves - Friday, August 01, 2014
Do you market your business to Canadians through email-lists for newsletter and promotions? 

As of July 1, 2014 a new Canadian legislation took effect to govern digital marketing. 

On Canada Day 2014 the bulk of the Canadian Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL) came into force. It included the legislation related to the sending of commercial electronic messages (CEMs). There are other sections that took effect later (notably the section governing installation of computer programs on January 15, 2015 and the sections related to private right of action on July 1, 2017). 

So what precautionary steps should businesses and marketing companies take to ensure compliance with the CASL?

Be proactive and re-qualify your email distribution list. 

The sooner you ensure your email lists comply with the CASL requirement that all email list members have actively opted-in to give consent to receive commercial communication, the better. The onus is on the sender to prove there was consent from the recipient. This is easy to get by sending an email to list members before July 1, 2014 and asking them to check a box to verify they give consent to receive electronic communications - but if you do this July 1st or later you’ll be committing an offence. Timing is everything!

Ensure that your existing processes meet the Canadian CASL. 

If you are using an American marketing strategy or newsletter template be cautious. The American CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 was signed into law by former President Bush but it is different from the new Canadian legislation in that it accepts an opt-out mechanism. The CASL requires more active opt-in consent.

Understand how CASL defines consent. 

You need to prove you have express or implied consent before contacting your existing or potential customers electronically. If you have written consent, verbal consent (that you have a record of receiving), or a manual sign-up that will suffice. Implied consent that would be acceptable under the CASL would include an existing business relationship - for example, if  you use a customer relationship management (CRM) system, then records should be proof and consent is valid for two years after the business deal ends.

Meet the checklist for sending CEMs. 

There are three requirements when you send a CEM to an existing or potential client’s electronic address: You need consent to communicate electronically, you need to clearly identify who you are as the sender (no tricky links that imply one thing and take consumers elsewhere!), and you need to offer an unsubscribe mechanism that is easy to identify, prominent, and “readily performed.” In addition to emails and newsletters, messages sent through LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter would qualify as CEMs under CASL.

Risk for non-compliance could be significant. 


Whether you are a small business or large corporation, non-profit, or charity (there are some limited exceptions for non-profits and charities), failing to comply with the CASL could hurt. According to this article in The Globe and Mail, penalties could be up to $1-million per violation for an individual and up to $10-million for companies. There are three government agencies that will enforce the law and starting July 1, 2017 a private right of action will allow for people to take legal action.

We know that many businesses, especially small businesses, are uneasy about the implications of CASL for electronic marketing. Take heart!

If you’re reading this article, at least you know what is expected and can ensure you don’t break the CASL. The government site overviewing the CASL is here.

The next consideration is that if you have high quality content that is valuable to clients and potential clients, they will be motivated to opt-in. Your challenge, as you work with your new database of users who have given express consent to receive electronic communication from you, will be to engage them with information and offers that interest them.

Finally, you will want to ensure that your website and social media opt-in forms are prominently displayed, easy to use, and highlight the benefits of interacting with your business so that you continue to add new potential clients to your marketing database in a way that meets with the CASL. 

Need some help with CASL-compliant marketing? Contact Stir Marketing today for expert assistance with email marketing, online PR and content writing that will make people want to hear from your business.




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