Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation: Three Months Later

Posted in News & Events by Michelle Brownridge on October 24th, 2014

I still remember the first time I heard about Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation. It was in the subject line of an email, of a newsletter I had never subscribed to, from a company I had never heard of. “Are you ready for Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation?” the email asked, a little ironic considering that the email was itself spam.

Reading through the email, (The subject line sparked my interest, I clicked on it, and became yet another internet rube who proved that spam email works) I was told the story of a government dedicated to preventing Canadians from experiencing the apparently life-altering affects of spam email.

The approaching legislation, the email told me, would affect any organization who uses email to promote themselves to potential customers or those who may be interested in the organization. Beginning July 1, organizations and businesses would not be able to send email to anyone without first receiving their consent. If an individual received an email from an organization that they did not consent to receive, they would have the ability to file a complaint with the CRTC. If the CRTC deemed the email to be spam, the organization could face large fines of up to $10 million, depending on how many messages were sent. The legislation was passed in 2010, but for some reason nobody had made a big deal out of it until weeks before it was to come into effect. “This can’t be real,” I said, joking to my coworkers about how dumb I thought the whole thing was.

It turned out it was very real. Fightspam.gc.ca, the government website about the law, confirmed that a) the law had been passed, b) it was coming into effect on July 1, and c) The Museums Association of Saskatchewan was going to be affected by the law. I looked at my calendar. It was July 11. I had two weeks to make sure we were compliant with the new law.

Three months and an entirely new email list later I can say that, to the best of my knowledge, The Museums Association of Saskatchewan is now CASL compliant. In order to be compliant, we had to try and get everyone on our email list to “consent” to receiving messages. This meant, of course, spamming our email list with as many reminders to re-subsribe to our e-newsletter as possible until the law came into effect on July 1.

In the end, like many organizations, we lost several hundred email addresses as a result of the new law. People either didn’t take the time to re-subscribe or simply were not interested in receiving our (top-notch and high-quality) communications. At first the idea of losing hundreds of potential readers was a bit hard to swallow, but in the end I don’t think it has been a bad thing. Those who took the time to re-subscribe are more likely to read the information we send them, and our open rates have increased.

There has not been a lot of talk about the new law since it came into effect at the beginning of July, so I went out in search of answers to see how things are going. Here are a few things I learned:

People are actually complaining. And they are complaining a lot. The CRTC has received 125,000 complaints from people about unwanted email. Apparently spam makes people angry enough to complain.

The CRTC has investigated one claim, and it was right here in Saskatchewan, of all places.  According to a press release, a “computer reseller based in Saskatchewan was placed under investigation by the CRTC after large numbers of complaints were made through the Spam Reporting Centre.” It turns out the store’s computer was infected with malware, causing it to send out millions of spam messages without the owner’s knowledge. The error was corrected and no charges were laid. Still, the experience was probably a little unnerving for the store owner, knowing that they could have had to pay thousands of dollars in fines.

Organizations are still not complying with the law. I am still getting emails from businesses, non-profits and charities that I know I did not subscribe to. Either these organizations did not properly comply with the law or they chose to simply ignore it. Either way, they are at risk of being reported to the CRTC and facing an investigation and fines. I’m not going to take the time to file a report, but there is someone out there who will.

If your organization still isn’t complying, you probably should be.  If your organization decided to ignore the new laws, or this is the first time you are hearing about them, I highly recommend that you check out the government’s website www.fightspam.gc.ca to make sure you are in compliance with the CASL laws. Saskatchewan’s expert on the legislation, Troy Baril of Miller Thomson in Saskatoon, can help you (for a fee, of course). Contact him at 306-667-5630 or tbaril@millerthomson.com

Political Parties are Exempt. Is Stephen Harper still sending you email even though you didn’t consent? That’s because he can! Politicians and political parties are exempt from the legislation. All political parties use email to solicit donations, so it’s no surprise that the folks in the House of Commons made sure they were exempt before passing the law. Expect to receive unwanted emails from politicians for years to come.

Spam is still a thing. July 1 did not signal the end of Spam in Canada. The laws may have decreased spam slightly (solving the Saskatchewan computer store’s problem stopped millions of spam emails from being sent), but the legislation has no authority when it comes to people spamming you from outside of the country. So keep your spam filters on high alert, and expect those Nigerian scam emails to be popping up in your inbox for a very long time.

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