Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation is in Effect…What Does That Mean for Marketing Communications Now?

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Marketeers, calling all marketeers…have you scoured your contact databases to be certain all the Canadian contacts you have listed have “opted in” and have given you permission to send them your company’s promotional mailer/marketing e-newsletter/advertisement/ press release?

As of July 1, 2014, Canada Day of all times, Canadian companies and individuals are subject to hefty fines of between $1 and $10 million CAD through Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL) organization if the people they solicit have not agreed to said solicitation. This new law requires companies and individuals to obtain this consent before sending Electronic Marketing Communications (CEM), and to provide an “opt-out” method, too.

Canadian companies have been sending emails and other notes via corporate databases and social channels, confirming that recipients in Canada actually want to receive them by “opting in”. But here’s the rub – if companies do not have proof or records showing a contact has agreed to receive their electronic marketing information, they then run the risk of a lawsuit, if called out. A well-organized database is now important to show proof that your Canadian contacts have agreed to receive CEMs from you or your business.

This is a big deal in Canada currently, as it was here in the US about seven to eight years ago. There were lots of lawsuits in the beginning, before things became pretty relaxed again. While I’m hoping this doesn’t blow up and too many companies aren’t subject to such massive fines, there are resources available that can help you navigate this new legislation. In a CTV news post on June 25, Marlene Leung cited one such resource for Canadian companies and individuals – “Internet Law Essentials: Canada’s Anti-Spam Law”, a guidebook by lawyer Andrew Aguilar for businesses trying to navigate the new law.

What about the companies, like publishers, who rely on a certain amount of revenue from list rental? Have they been checking, and triple-checking to be sure those on their lists want to stay there? What happens if you purchase a list and discover your list vendor hasn’t done the necessary drill to be sure all of the Canadian contacts have agreed to be listed? Could it put your business at risk?

I know I have lots of questions, but this new legislation really made me wonder – are we communicating responsibly? My role as a communication professional makes me stop and ask, how will this person I’m emailing benefit from the information I’m sharing with them? I research and make sure the content I’m sharing with journalists and analysts is relevant information for their practice area. If it’s unique, I ask if it’s of interest. But if I’m sending information about a vendor, technically I’m sending a CEM, so it’s important to have established relationships and the necessary permissions to send ideas and information. Another tactic to protect yourself would be to include a sentence giving the recipient the option to “opt-out” of receiving future messages.

In the US, some companies claimed that they were compliant, even if they hadn’t gotten opt-ins from everyone but could prove an “established business relationship”. This means you might’ve given the company your business card, in essence giving express consent to receive information from them. Or when your badge is swiped at a conference, that’s also stating that you’re opting-in. In short, if you provide your email address, the company assumes that since you’ve done so, you’ve opted-in to their communications. Therefore, it’s then okay to send information or to try and contact you.

I’m neither an expert on Canada’s anti-spam laws, nor am I providing legal advice. However, I did want you to be aware of this new law, since it’s now in effect. Do your homework and research what you need to do to protect your business and yourself, because this will change how we communicate with our neighbors to the north.