What Canada’s New Anti-Spam Laws Mean for You and Your MicroBusiness

As of July 1, 2014, Canada has enacted new “anti-spam” legislation, which is widely regarded as the strongest anti-spam laws in the world. The Canadian Anti-Spam Law (or CASL) is great for consumers. But it might have some ramifications for how you market your business. If you are emailing businesses or people in Canada, listen up.

What You’re Already Doing Right

You know how mailing list software makes people “opt-in” to make double sure that they want to hear from you? That’s what’s needed here to contact anyone in Canada. “If you’re sending marketing emails to your customers or subscribers, that’s permitted by CASL provided that your email has three requirements:

  1. that you’ve obtained implied or expressed consent, either written or verbal;
  2. that you provide identification information in your email, meaning that the message must come from a person rather than a no-reply address, and includes contact information like a physical mailing address or phone number; and
  3. that your email has an unsubscribe mechanism allowing people to opt out from your communications.”


This is exactly what MailChimp and AWeber do for you– in every email. In some cases, your email marketing provider will have stricter requirements. Keep doing the best practices of your AWeber and MailChimp, and you’re golden. As long as you’re not just harvesting email addresses from your contact list or Facebook followers, you’re fine.

What You Could Be Doing Wrong (and the Consequences)

Many people use “cold emails” as a part of their marketing strategy. I do that for my SEO writing business, as do many other types of freelancers. This is no longer kosher if you’re sending these emails to Canadians. Moreover, the fine involved is up to $1M per email. Yeah. That’s why it’s considered the toughest anti-spam law in the world. And it’s not just emails. ANY electronic message — SMS, or directed social media messages like direct messages and private messages, are covered as well.

Marketing to Warm Contacts under CASL

This means you will have to be creative when dealing with consent. For instance, if someone hands you a business card and says “maybe we can work together sometime,” that’s implied consent (but you still will need to make sure they know who you are and why you’re contacting them.) The “unsubscribe” requirement is even more awkward to handle, because presumably your first contact is from your personal email — at least I hope you don’t just randomly add people to your mailing list. But because the law applies to “any electronic communication that sends a message encouraging the recipient to take part in a commercial activity” perhaps the safest thing to do would be to craft a message that encourages people to join your mailing list and perhaps a personalized incentive to do so. Hey John, Great meeting you at WDS. I know you were planning a project, but it was a few months out for you.  If you’re not ready to move forward yet, let me give you my report “Preparing for Work” so that you have a checklist to work from. Go to this link to download it. You’ll get put on my marketing list, but don’t worry; I’m not too annoying and you can unsubscribe at any time. Yours, etc There. That wasn’t so bad. You took a warmish contact, got him on your list, and you’re totally on the right side of the law. Under CASL, it also provides a loophole to market to referrals. Here’s the loophole: You can email someone who might be in need of your services, BUT you have to provide the full name of the person who recommended them. You can only email them ONCE. No response? Too bad. Once people either become your customers (implied consent) or join your mailing list (express consent) you can market to them freely, as long as you still give them the option to opt-out at any time. Clear as mud? Now let’s move on to perfect strangers, otherwise known as ‘cold contacts.’

Marketing to Cold Contacts

For truly cold contacts, this is a lot harder. It basically kills them altogether. The only loophole I see is that if someone posted a listing for a job they needed filled, and YOU answered that listing saying “I’m a freelancer, so if you need anything in the meantime, let me know.” There is an exemption for “conspicuously published” email addresses, but honestly, I feel that this is a grey area. Most people have an email address up somewhere, and if it only takes three clicks to find it, does that count as “conspicuously published?” In the event you ever got sued, I think it’s highly unlikely the courts would see it that way. Most of the current legislation around the Internet and online privacy and safety seems to indicate that both legislators and the courts are dangerously out of touch. So what should you do instead? Well, you’ll have to put real effort into warming up cold contacts. That means rubbing elbows on social media, commenting on posts, sending emails that are COMPLETELY non-commercial, until such a time as they raise the issue themselves. There’s a name for that. What’s it called? Oh yeah.  RELATIONSHIP MARKETING. It’s slower to create, but more powerful when it picks up steam.

What If I’m a Canadian? Does All This Go Double For Me?

If you’ve been researching CASL on your own, it’s easy to get the impression that Canadians will have a lot of difficulty marketing themselves. Certainly most of the articles on the legislation talks about how onerous this law will be. But actually, if you’re a Canadian, but you market to non-Canadians, it turns out that the law doesn’t apply to emails sent to non-Canadians. The MailChimp article on the law states: “Messages that will be opened or accessed in a foreign country, including the U.S., China, and most of Europe,” are exempt from CASL. So spam the pants off of non-Canadians! Just kidding. But, you might not want to get too comfy with these laxer laws concerning foreigners. The next point will explain why.

What If I Don’t Market To Canadians?

Then you are missing out. 😀 Seriously, even if you have nothing to do with Canadians (or cold-emailing) be assured that other countries will be watching the results of this law carefully, and provided that nothing too shocking results, we’re likely to see a lot more of these laws pop up. Which means we are all on notice yet again to pay attention to building relationships and getting customers and potential customers to WANT to interact with us. A business’s ability to reach a lot of people shrinks more every year unless they are really working the relationship marketing. Facebook is throttling pageviews, blogs are losing traction, and SEO is a rich man’s game. Relationship marketing is our last, best defense.

Further Reading about CASL

Need more online microbusiness advice? For all kinds of resources to promote sane, sustainable growth, sign up for the CataLyst.


4 thoughts on “What Canada’s New Anti-Spam Laws Mean for You and Your MicroBusiness”

  1. Wow. So many takeaways from a single article. Let me see if I can keep track:Relationship marketing is awesome and will save your butt when it comes time to do email, social media, or other digital marketing. Personally, I’m relieved since relationship marketing is my preferred medium.
    It rocks when someone can curate a “further reading” section at the end of their own article and give you the context around each link without you having to click it.You’re Canadian (which you forgot to mention), which is why we should really take you seriously this time.
    I’m already following the best practices of my email marketing platform (AWeber) and I have a loooong sales funnel before anyone even gets a soft pitch from me. So I hope I’m good here. The only thing I don’t understand is this: what’s “WDS?” 😉

  2. Wow, thanks for laying all this information out and filtering it through the microbusiness lens! It’s the kind of thing I see floating around online and studiously ignore because it’s so confusing and potentially scary. (Ostrich approach, anyone?) Way nicer to have you explain it to me!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *