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What the Meetings Industry Needs to Know about Canada's Anti-Spam Law

This article does not constitute legal advice. Readers are cautioned against making decisions based on this material alone. Please consult a legal professional for more information pertaining to YOUR situation.

In exactly two months, on July 1, 2014, Canada's Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL) will take effect.  This law was actually passed by Parliament in December 2010, and took over 3 1/2 years of industry consultation to bring it to fruition.

It's been so long that very little so far has appeared in the news about it. Thankfully for our industry, CSAE has done a solid job of informing association executives.  But the private sector appears to be completely in the dark about the CASL – meetings industry suppliers especially!

So here is a quick primer:

The CASL applies to any commercial electronic message (CEM, aka email, text, direct messages on social networking accounts) that promotes your organization, facility or service. Examples include soliciting a prospect to book your hotel or inviting recipients to sponsor, attend or exhibit at a conference or event.

Note that the "commercial" aspect applies regardless whether there is an expectation of financial reward.  A DMO or site selection company promoting its free service to source appropriate venues still would subject to this law, even though no money is exchanged.

The cornerstone of the law says that in order to send a CEM, the sender must have consent from the recipient.  

There are two types of consent:

Express consent is the communication agreement you have with an individual client, member, or exhibitor. These contacts have explicitly agreed to receive electronic communication from you. Express consent means they have completed a form, in hard copy or online, or told you verbally, “yes, I want to receive more information from you.” 

Verbal consent only applies if you can prove the conversation took place, with the date and time, supported with information that was shared for the specific purpose of validating the exchange, such as "what is the first letter of your city of birth?" 

With express consent you can continue communicating until you are told to stop.

Implied consent on the other hand is a tentative agreement between you and a prospective client, member or other stakeholder. This would include an online inquiry, an exchange of cards at an industry function, or an individual dropping their business card at a trade show. Such a person could be interested in becoming a client of your organization, but you are not sure. Since he/she has not specifically said “yes, communicate with me”, consent is only implied, and CASL says you can only communicate with them only for six months following their inquiry. 

Implied consent would also apply to anyone you have done business in the last two years, but where the recipient has not filled out a form or given you express verbal consent. 
Implied consent resets every time a new business transaction or inquiry is made.

There are a few "exceptions" where you can communicate electronically, without prior consent.  These are treated as implied-consent records and therefore should be OK to communicate with for a period of up to 6 months:  
  • When someone has published their email on a website or printed directory and not specifically said "I do not wish to receive unsolicited email":  These are considered "fair game".  But be careful to send only communication that could be seen as relevant to the recipient (e.g. if they are a trade show manager, it would be OK to send information about trade show displays, but highly questionable to email them about laser eye surgery, for instance).  
  • If you are referred by someone from within the targeted organization: if you contact an association where the planner has moved on, and you ask for their replacement's contact information, you have legitimate grounds to contact the new planner.  Make sure you mention the referring contact ("further to my conversation with your receptionist...");
  • If two companies have a relationship: An example could be a "master agreement" for special rates between a hotel company and a corporate account.  If you are the hotel sales manager you could send an email to their corporate meeting planner, pointing out the relationship, and asking about potential groups or meetings. 
The "must-have" elements of your message:

All email messages from your organization must contain the name of the sender and their contact information, including physical address and phone number, along with either an email address or website.  If your communication goes through a third party, such as a marketing agency, the sender must also identify who they are sending the message for.

Subject lines must be representative of the content of the email. Resist high-handed subject lines such as “Important News about your membership” or “Important News about the Upcoming Meeting” just for the sake of promoting open rates. Sensational or misleading subject lines are unacceptable.

All email messages must contain an easy, one-click unsubscribe option, which automatically ensures that the recipient no longer receives communication from you.

Other considerations:
  • Process all unsubscribes as quickly as possible. Immediately is best. Organizations that still send emails 10 days after consent has been revoked are more likely to be at risk with both the recipient and the law.
  • It is highly recommended that your email software be connected to your CRM. You may need to have an alternative way to send membership renewal notices, or upcoming meeting details, and other information as required.
  • In the event of a complaint, you will be required to prove that consent was obtained. This includes knowing the method or source of consent (as an example, if they filled out their preferences online), the date it was received, and what permission statement they consented to.
What it could cost you:

Penalties for non-compliance include $200 for each message (one unsolicited communication can count as a violation), and can reach up to $1,000,000 per day for individuals and $10,000,000 for businesses. This will be enforced by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC). As of July 1, 2017 consumers and businesses will have the right to take civil action against any violator.

For more information on CASL, contact me at 613-288-4512 (yes, I prefer a call... and if I'm not available my voice mail will give you my email address!).  Also consult