Overview of Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL)

Why this Act?

Canada Anti-Spam Legislation (C-28) is intended to improve the efficiency of electronic means of communication. By giving the recipient the choice of whether or not to receive messages, the legislation aims to encourage email marketing by eliminating practices considered irritants.

What does the Act say?

The Anti-Spam Legislation states that a sender must have a recipient's consent before sending an email. It defines the notion of consent and specifies limits regarding its duration. It also imposes rules regarding the content of messages.

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To whom does this Act apply?

Anyone who uses electronic communications to support a commercial activity must comply with the Anti-Spam Legislation, regardless of the number of emails or messages sent.

The Act applies to any message sent to Canada. Therefore, it applies to messages sent to Canada from abroad.

In a company, the individuals responsible for mailings are those who authorize their distribution, whether the mailings are sent by an employee or a representative. All staff, including administrators, must be diligent in complying with the Act. It would be wise to keep records of all communications, purchases, notices of consent or other important documents in the event of a complaint.

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What messages are targeted by the Act?

CASL applies to any commercial electronic message sent to an email, instant messaging, telephone or other similar account.

It does not, however, apply to the following communications:

  • Reply to a request
  • Confirmation
  • Juridical obligation
  • Survey and poll
  • Information newsletter
  • Messages to employees or beneficiaries of a pension plan
  • Closed messaging systems (banking websites)
  • Registered charities and political party

The Anti-Spam Legislation also provides exceptions for commercial mailings for people with whom you have a personal or family relationship (e.g., "Send to a friend"). A family relationship includes people who are connected by a blood relationship, marriage or adoption, while a personal relationship extends to anyone met in person and with whom a two-way communication has taken place within the previous two years.

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When do we need to comply?

Canada's Anti-Spam law was passed on December 15, 2010, and entered into force on July 1, 2014. It applies to mailings sent to any contacts made after that date. A three-year transition period has been granted for contacts established before that date.

What recourses exist?

Any individual or organization believing they have received an unsolicited commercial message may register a complaint with a regulatory agency or institute legal proceedings within three years of receiving the spam. The onus will then be on the sender to prove that the message(s) in question comply with the Act.

What are the penalties?

The Anti-Spam Legislation imposes significant penalties on offenders, ranging from $200 to $10 million for each offence.

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Who enforces the Act?

Three federal government agencies are responsible:

The Government of Canada also established a Spam Reporting Centre which examines complaints to analyze trends and identify threats, in addition to helping prosecute offenders.

Comparison with the U.S. CAN-SPAM Act:

Canada's Anti-Spaml Legislation (CASL) CAN-SPAM
Covers several aspects of the Internet Only covers spam
Applies to several types of electronic communication (email, SMS, instant messaging, etc.) Applies to emails only
Applies to commercial electronic messages in general Applies to commercial or transactional messages in particular
Based on an inclusive type consent Based on an exclusive type consent
The unsubscribe mechanism must function for 60 days The unsubscribe mechanism must function for 30 days
Administrators, executives and employers may be held liable for the acts of their employees. The liability  of administrators, executives and employers is not mentionned

Diagnostic tool + Checklist

Diagnostic Tool

Complete this short questionnaire to get a customized guide to expose the challenges your organization will face and the impact of the Anti-Spam Legislation on your electronic communications.

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Verify if you have implemented the most important requirements of the Act with this checklist.

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