In 2014 Canada implemented a new consumer protection law known as Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation. CASL is designed to strike a balance between protecting consumers from unwanted messages and ensuring that businesses can still reach out to customers through email marketing.
While CASL places restrictions on several marketing activities that were previously legal, your business can build new client relationships through email marketing while staying in compliance with the law. Learn about the most important provisions of CASL and how to keep your email marketing within CASL’s parameters while still delivering excellent results.
What Does CASL Require from Businesses?
To put it simply, CASL requires all business who are sending emails to obtain and documents express consent to send their emails to Canadians.
This rule applies to all Canadian businesses as well any international businesses who do business in Canada or have any Canadian email address in their email marketing database.
Form and Content Requirements
For all marketing conducted via email, your business must clearly identify itself as the sender and provide a link for the recipient to unsubscribe from your email list.
Before CASL, businesses could mask their identities in email messages. Some took advantage by sending emails pretending to be someone else, such as a government body. These tactics are illegal now, and it is doubtful they were ever effective in the first place. Clearly identify yourself with the name your company is doing business as at the top of each email.
Your emails also need to feature an unsubscribe link. Don’t be sneaky and hide this link in the body of the email in tiny font. You have to make it easy for your subscribers to be able to unsubscribe at any time. They probably won’t be buying from you even if they remain on your list, and it isn’t worth a CASL violation.
While CASL prevents you from sending repeated emails to people who have no interest in receiving them, it does let you send an initial email asking for express consent to deliver future messages. Consequently, your first email to prospective customers should be enticing, and it should compel them to give you consent to send future emails.
You can offer an incentive for signing up for your email list. For example, if your business sells nutritional supplements, you could offer a one-time discount of 20% to anyone who signs up to receive emails. Alternatively, prepare a free report about the hottest new supplements, and make it available for new subscribers to download.
CASL does not require your business to obtain consent to send emails when it is otherwise implied. For example, if another business owner gives you their business card, which features the company’s email address, then you can send emails as long as they pertain to the business’s line of work.
The same is true for businesses that conspicuously publish their email addresses. If you run a search engine marketing company, and you pass a plumbing van on the highway with the company email address emblazoned on the side, this counts as implied consent, and you can send emails to the plumbing company offering your services. Similarly, a company that features its email address prominently on its website or in a trade magazine gives its implied consent to receive marketing emails.
The implied consent exemption also protects you when sending emails to those with whom you maintain business relationships. An individual or business that has purchased from your company in the past has given its implied consent. Even something as simple as making an inquiry about your products or services or filling out an application or contract to do business qualifies as implied consent.
Non-business relationships fall under the implied consent umbrella, too. If someone has been a part of your organization or has volunteered their time or money, for example, your company can send them marketing emails under the implied consent provision of CASL. The same is true for family and friends of executives in your company.
Express consent is when you explicit ask potential contacts for permission to send them an email and they agree. This can be used in a website sign-up form, asking for emails at the point of sale, or using a third-party sign-up form.
Penalties for Non-Compliance
The penalties for violating CASL can be stiff, which makes it important to understand the different provisions of the law and how to remain in compliance while maintaining a robust email marketing strategy.
The law provides several methods by which consumers and businesses can report potential violations. They can submit complaints to the Spam Reporting Centre, which will be investigated by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission.
CASL grants the CRTC a wide berth to investigate spam complaints and mete out punishment. No defined list of penalties exists for violating CASL, and the severity of the punishment depends on factors that may include how much financial gain was received from violating the law and whether the business is a repeat offender. According to the CRTC website, these are the following actions Commission staff may take when responding to non-compliance:
- Warning Letter: Sent when the Commission staff has concerns about possible CASL violations.
- Undertaking: An agreement defining compliance obligations between the CRTC and the company that has violated CASL, which may include a provision to pay a specific amount.
- Notice of Violation (NOV): Sent when the Commission staff has reasonable grounds that the company has committed a violation, which may include an administrative monetary penalty.
- Administrative Monetary Penalty (AMP): Any company that commits a violation for which they are liable to pay an administrative monetary penalty as well as up to $1 million for an individual and up to $10 million for a corporations.
The potential fines your business could receive for a violation are a strong incentive to avoid running afoul of CASL. If the CRTC decides to hand down the maximum punishment, you could be looking at a fine of $10 million.