It’s no longer business as usual for companies wanting to market to Canadians. Earlier this week, the government of Canada announced that it will be bringing Bill-28 into law on July 1, 2014, with full effect starting on Jan 1, 2015. Any company sending electronic communications will need to comply with Canada’s new Anti-Spam Law (CASL) or face stiff penalties — up to $10M.

Canada’s new Anti-Spam Law (CASL)

Click here for the official Government of Canada website:

CASL is part of an overall CRTC 2012-2015 plan to modernize Canada’s communication systems:  In addition to the new anti-spam legislation, it includes reviews of radio policy, public alert systems, mandatory telemarketing fees and more.

Personally, I think the anti-spam law is a step in the right direction towards balancing corporate needs for online marketing and individual privacy. But it won’t be without it’s growing pains.

The biggest difference between CASL and the U.S. CAN-Spam act is “express consent.”

And it’s sending shivers down every marketer’s spine in North America.

Express Consent

CASL Bad not opt in mailing list StephdokinExpress consent means that you cannot send an email to someone that hasn’t explicitly opted-in to your mailing list.

(and, if that includes your EXISTING prospect list, you won’t even be able to email them to ask them to opt-in, because emailing them to ask them will be illegal. Keep reading …)

For all you marketers out there (and there are MANY of us who transgressed) — we all create software download forms, white paper request forms, purchase forms etc…

At the bottom above the [Submit] button we add another little checkbox: “[X] Subscribe to our monthly newsletter.”  This is known as “Opt-Out” — because we want more sign-ups, we default it to checked.

Under CAN-Spam, this is ok.

Under CASL, this is NOT express consent. We now have to leave that little checkbox blank, and hope that our prospects / customers click it so we can send them emails.

It’s more than emails, too. It’s txt’s, faxes and potentially even our inmail’s we send on LinkedIn to people who haven’t given us permission. The term the government uses is “electronic communications.”

Mailing Lists and Prospect Databases

Is it just me, or does this really (and finally) kill the businesses who rely on selling mailing lists and prospect databases? First of all, they never work any more. The last one I ran two years ago was abysmal, with click through rates of less than 0.5% (vs. our own customer and prospect opt-in lists of around 10%) — and I swore off them.

Now, under CASL, I can’t imagine any list that has full opt-in permission, let alone double opt-in (as is recommended by cloud emailing services like MailChimp and Constant Contact).

Emphasis on content publishing and demand generation

I think the other obvious affect of CASL is that marketer’s are going to have to get way smarter about the way they think about lead generation.

With CASL putting the last nail in the coffin, it’s no longer about doing email campaign blasts to prospects with a sales offer, it’s about developing a relationship with the customer. And, supplying information to the customer at their time of need and in the channel of their choice.

Click here to see a balanced approach to marketing in the Stephdokin Web Sales Funnel on a Page.


Failure to comply with CASL comes with STIFF penalties. If you are a sender of non-consented emails, and are a corporation, you can be fined up to $10M. If you are an individual, you could be fined $1M. And the receivers of emails can sue you for $200 for each individual transgression  through a process I imagine will be easily available on the CASL website.

The piece of legislation has been carefully crafted and based on the success that Australia and the U.K. have had implementing similar law.


Click here for info on the global anti-spam privacy effort:


U.S. Companies Unprepared for CASL

Although the Canadian Marketing association already recommends the best practices in CASL, and have been embracing CAN-Spam for many years, my gut feeling is that many marketers have been so busy trying to generate leads that they’ve had their heads in the sand with Bill C-28. The problem is infinitely worse south of the 49th parallel.

Click here for some info on CAN-Spam in the U.S.:

U.S. companies don’t need to change their behaviour in the U.S. To email to Canada, they’ll need to do what Canadian companies have to do. Get express consent.

And that affects, oh, I dunno, almost EVERY large company in the U.S.?

What if they don’t know about it? Irrelevant.

According to a report by law firm Fasken Martineau DuMoulin LLP, despite the high cost of violation, 60 percent of American marketing executives had no knowledge of the forthcoming law, putting them squarely in the sights of the $10M fine.

Interestingly enough, Canadian companies have no such restriction opt-in with their U.S. mailing and customer lists — so, it’ll be business as usual for Canadian companies in the great U.S. of A.

 CASL vs. CAN-Spam

As a resource to my American friends … here’s a fantastic Slideshare powerpoint comparing CASL with CAN-SPAM: CASL vs CAN-SPAM – Canada’s Anti‐Spam Law

A Legal Framework

Ultimately, the focus of CASL is not necessarily to reduce the amount of spam that Canadians get, although that’s a nice benefit.

CASL is about ensuring businesses are following best practices by giving them a legal framework by which they are required to do so. And giving law enforcement the tools they require to take out spammers (whether they are sending from Canadian servers or from servers outside of Canada).

Things are going to get interesting!

10 Things To Do

  1. Panic. This is a tectonic shift for marketing in Canada (and North America) — and you’re running out of time. Make it a priority in your organization to become compliant BEFORE it becomes law. You have 6 months. Go.
  2. Review CASL and make a roadmap. You still have time so use the links you find in this post to discover more.
  3. Ensure all email collection is express consent with an opt-in. This includes email sign up forms on your website, lead sheets and eCommerce forms.
  4. Clean up your data. If you have prospect emails in your database that do not have express consent, make a plan to get rid of them prior to July 1, 2014. For existing customers, you are allowed to email them up to 18 months after the time of their last purchase.
  5. Make sure you put into place “expiry” processes to remove illegal emails from your database when you are unable to get express consent, or when the time limit runs out (18 months).
  6. Get opt-in’s from your prospect database. If you have a monthly newsletter strategy, the #1 call-to-action in the next six months should be “CASL is coming. We highly value your privacy. If you like our newsletter, click here to give us your express consent.”
  7. Get opt-in’s from your advertising subscribers. If you have an advertising list; i.e. you send information only when you want to sell or incent something (like a shoe company that sends an electronic catalogue every month), I’d expand my messaging in my communication to include some good content in addition to sales messages … then, you can use the tactic in #2 above. Otherwise, this will be your only hope: “CASL is coming. We highly value your privacy. But we want to continue sending you our ads. Click here to give us your express consent.” I can’t imagine you’ll see much clicking.
  8. Start a monthly newsletter. If you have a large prospect database and you don’t do any type of regular email marketing / newsletters, start NOW. Send a month or two without the “express consent” message so you buy a bit of trust (and hopefully you’ll have FANTASTIC content to make sure they love you) … then, by month three, when you’ve had some positive response, start asking for their express consent.
  9. Put an audit-able process into place that shows your adherence to the law in case CRTC comes a knockin’.
  10. Use up-to-date tools. If you don’t use a 3rd party email service like MailChimp, Vertical Response or Constant Contact to manage your email campaigns, consider it. They make a lot of the compliance pain go away when dealing with spam legislation.

Where does the term “SPAM” come from?

From this Monty Python sketch. All the people saying “spam” is what it’s like when you’re being bombarded with info. Ha!


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