What You Need to Know About Canada’s Crazy New Anti-Spam Law

Spam Vintage

Did you know that yesterday was Canada Day? Did you also know that, while everyone from Google to PR Newswire has been cracking down on spam recently, no one has gone quite as far as that country?

Some details of the world’s most restrictive anti-spam law: if the sender of any message related to “commercial activity” fails to officially verify the consent of the individual recipient, he or she could face “fines of up to 1 million Canadian dollars (about $940,000) for individuals, and up to 10 million Canadian dollars for companies.” Also: this isn’t just email; it applies to “any commercial electronic message”, which may well mean social media posts and DMs as well.

Wow. We dislike spam as much as the next trade blog, but that feels a bit steep.

Yesterday a Slate analysis called the law “both horrifying and stupid”–and agencies need to pay attention whether they happen to operate north of the border or not.

Why? Well, if you have small-to-mid-sized business clients who rely on emails for sales and serve customers in Canada, it could seriously disrupt their model: “only about 20 percent of people are likely to agree to continue receiving emails.”

So what do we need to know?

That New York Times quote above came from Antoine Aylwin, partner and chief privacy officer at Canadian business law firm Fasken Martineau. Today we asked him for more information. Here’s a general description of the law:

“Canadian anti-spam legislation provides that any promotional electronic messages (email, SMS or else) are prohibited unless the recipient has consented previously. The law provides for some exceptions to that general principle.”

vintage spam3

Do US-based PR firms need to pay attention to this law? How concerned should they be?

They must pay attention as soon as they reach out to Canadian recipients to promote their services. If it is the case, they must comply by design with this legislation and make sure they have a good CRM system and a clear analysis on how the law applies to them.

How could it affect their daily practices?

They must obtain and keep track on consent records for all Canadian customers — and it will limit the ability to communicate electronically with certain recipients.

How different should the response be for Canadian agencies or those with Canadian clients?

Canadian agencies are definitely more concerned because all of their “commercial electronic messages” are covered under the legislation and compliance must be in place for most of their electronic messages to promote their services.

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What are the most important steps for firms to take in order to stay in compliance?

Make an inventory of their commercial communications, identify the relationships with existing contact, but in place a strategy to either obtain express consents from recipients or comply with one of the applicable restrictions.

What is the purpose of this law, really?

It is definitely designed to “Discourage Reliance on Electronic Means of Carrying out Commercial Activities” as the title of the law mentions it.

Do you see a comparable law passing in the US anytime soon?

A similar legislation has existed for 10 years, but it is less restrictive than the Canadian one.

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He’s right: the American law contains no $10 million provision and basically lets companies do what they want as long as they include an opt-out option.

The Times piece describes businesses racing to make sure they comply with the law while others like IKEA, whose software systems document every purchase and whose legal language includes relevant statements of consent, are breathing a sigh of relief.

So is anyone scared of scoring a massive fine on behalf of Canadian clients or those who serve Canadian consumers?

(Also: thanks be to Google for all the vintage Spam pics.)