Is Your Email Marketing CASL-compliant? Avoid Paying Millions in Penalties

Email spam

On March 5th, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) issued a $1.1-million penalty to a Canadian company for violating Canada’s anti-spam law (CASL). The reason for the penalty: the company had been sending commercial emails without receiving consent as well as emails in which the unsubscribe mechanisms did not function properly.

This represents the largest CASL-related penalty to date. It also serves as a reminder that all of us need to understand CASL to ensure our email marketing campaigns meet the standards.

What is CASL?

[Disclaimer: I am not a legal expert. Please seek legal advice for more information on CASL.]

For those of us who are unfamiliar, CASL saves people like you and I from receiving needless commercial electronic messages (such as emails, SMS text messages and instant messaging) that we do not wish to receive. CASL empowers consumers and promotes confidence in the market. Let’s face it: unless you’re breaking the law, CASL does much more good than harm.

And $1.1 million may seem like a large fine, but it’s nowhere close to the maximum. In fact, the maximum penalty per CASL violation for organizations is $10 million and $1 million for an individual.

How can I make my emails CASL-compliant?

To start, make sure your email recipients “opt-in” to receive emails from you and/or your organization. This opt-in can’t be an automatic opt-in; your recipients must manually agree to receive your emails.

Email opt-in

To be compliant with CASL, you must allow users to manually opt-in to receive your commercial emails

In addition to the opt-in requirements, you also need to include the following in your emails:

  • The sender (i.e. you and/or your organization) must be identified
  • The email must include the sender’s email address
  • Your emails must include an unsubscribe mechanism

Fortunately, many companies that offer mass email delivery services (like Mailchimp) are aware of CASL and have added how-to articles to help their clients avoid a costly CASL violation.

Does CASL apply to all emails?

No, CASL doesn’t apply to all emails. For example, it’s okay to send emails to family or to people whom you have a “personal” relationship.

(What constitutes a “personal” relationship is somewhat a grey area, in my opinion. However, consent isn’t required for most inter-company emails as well as most requests, inquiries and complaint submissions. P.S. social media relationships, including Facebook friends and Twitter followers, are not considered personal relationships.)

I recommend you err on the side of caution if you are unsure of something. For more information about CASL and what constitutes a personal relationship, click here.


John Gilson is a Toronto-based communications and marketing professional who enjoys helping people and organizations connect with their audience to improve community engagement. He has many years of experience working in the non-profit, education and healthcare sectors.



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