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Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL) will come into effect on July 1st, 2014. According to The Globe and Mail “experts have described CASL as the broadest legislation of its kind in the world”. This is excellent news for anyone who doesn’t want or need the Nigerian prince’s money (and whatever strings will come attached), but it isn’t so excellent for marketers.

Email marketing is particularly beneficial to businesses making it important to understand this legislation and everything you must do to comply with it.

What Does the Law Mean?

TL;DR: If you have a list of email addresses and your business is Canadian, then you must ask for consent before July 1st. Unless you’re sending emails about product updates to customers who have signed up for your product or service. Jump forward to find out how to comply now and in the future.

There are many parts to any piece of legislation. The full text of CASL is 53 pages long and written in “legalese”. Luckily, the Canadian government, among others, have been kind enough to break it down. Here are some of the most important points:

What does the law prohibit?

  • Sending electronic communications to devices in Canada, including text messages, emails and social networks, with the purpose of offering, advertising or promoting a business or individual.
  • Essential, any message with a commercial purpose – it’s pretty black and white here.
  • Also, the collection of electronic addresses without permission – including purchasing or trading lists of email addresses (address harvesting).

What are the repercussions?

  • Starting July 1st, 2014, three Canadian organizations, the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), the office of the privacy commissioner, and the Competition Bureau, will be monitoring and enforcing CASL.
  • The penalties are serious – an individual can be fined up to $1 million, and a business can be fined up to $10 million.
  • In 2 years, July 1st, 2017, individuals will be able to take legal action against anyone not abiding by CASL.

What can be done without repercussion?

  • Consent to electronic communication is implied in some situations, including messages sent to family and friends; as well as non-profits, charities or political organizations sending messages in order to raise funds and solicit contributions.
  • Responding to someone’s question or correspondence that was received in the previous 6 months is allowed.
  • Sending electronic messages that will be received by devices in the United States, or China, or one of the other 116 exempt countries.
  • Sending electronic messages about product updates or upgrades. For example, an app developer could send emails or push notifications about updates to the app that someone has signed up for.


## Step-by-Step Guide to Complying with CASL

1. Use an email marketing service!

  • They make it easy to comply with the content requirements of the CASL.
  • Be sure to update your company contact information to include the business’s current mailing address AND either a telephone number, the specific sender’s email address, or a link to the website.
  • An unsubscribe option on every piece of communication – including text messages. Mailchimp automatically adds an ‘unsubscribe’ link to the bottom of each email they send for you.
  • After July 1st, 2014 asking your email subscribers to confirm their consent for electronic messages by an electronic message will be itself illegal.
  • There are several situations where you can assume implied consent – including the purchasing of goods or services from your business within the last 2 years AND a communication has been sent AND consent has not been expressly withdrawn (i.e. email subscribers from the past 2 years that have not unsubscribed).
  • BUT, in all other cases you must request express consent before July 1st.
  • As mentioned above, if you are sending product update emails to your customers who signed up for your product or service, no additional consent is required. But, if you ever plan to send email communication to your customers with company updates, recent blog posts, or news mentions, then it’s best to get their express consent now.

Here’s how to do it in Mailchimp:

Option A “Playing it Safe”: Send an email to all your email subscribers explicitly asking that they opt-in to your emails going forward (with the continued option to unsubscribe at any time in the future).

I highly recommend sending that email now, and again on June 30th with an email subject like “Last Chance! Do You Still Want Awesome Emails?”

Option B “Reading Between the Lines”: Segment your email subscribers based on their last active date – anyone that was added more than 2 years ago AND has not opened your most recent email campaigns.

Screenshot - Segment 1

If you’re running a global campaign – you can also segment out any of the email subscribers located in the 116 other countries, including the US.

Screenshot - Segment 2

Send the Express Consent Opt-In email to just those subscribers, the “CASL Express Consent Required Segment.”

After July 1st, 2014 – you will want to make sure you do not send restricted email communication to the segment that did not give express consent – only product updates and responses.

  • A description of the types of communication you will be sending them moving forward (ie. an email newsletter of links).
  • Name, mailing address and either phone number, email address or website. This should be as specific as possible – even if the communication is being sent on behalf of a business. For example, the Buffer emails are sent from “Joel from Buffer”.
  • An opt-in box or button, which cannot be pre-selected, clearly stating the the box or button must be clicked in order to subscribe to emails moving forward. Doing nothing is the equivalent of unsubscribing.

Be sure to keep a record of the results of this email communication. You should be able to clearly show which subscribers opted-in, and which ones opted-out, and how you are making sure that your emails are sent in accordance.

Unfortunately, many of us are going to lose a few email subscribers. The good news is that these email recipients likely weren’t opening the emails anyway. There’s not much we can do about changing legislation, but it is a reminder to focus on providing interesting, valuable content above all else.

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