What Does Canada’s Anti-Spam Law (CASL) Mean for Professional (Not-for-Profit) Associations?

If you send commercial email messages, text messages, leave voicemail messages or use social media for the purposes of your not-for-profit organization (and frankly, who doesn’t?), then you must pay attention to Canada’s incoming Anti-Spam Law (CASL).

In 2010, the Canadian Government passed its Anti-Spam Act, which was initially welcomed as a safeguard against the deluge of spam we all receive and to combat unwelcome spyware. Roma Ihnatowycz, a frequent contributor to CSAE’s bimonthly magazine, Associations, notes that Canada was in fact “one of the last of the world’s developed economies to embrace such a law,” after sibling Western nations, such as the U.S. and the U.K.

Dave Cybak, executive vice president of the Canadian Society of Association Executives (CSAE) has expressed the concerns of many organizers within the Canadian not-for-profit sector that the new legislation, due to take effect in 2013 or early 2014, is too stringent to be feasible. They say that the CASL threatens to undermine association growth, particularly by severely restraining the ways in which associations can contact their past, current and prospective members.

For instance, an association (or, alternatively, a service provider, such as a freelance, contract-worker) would have virtually no way (except perhaps surface mail) to secure permission to send any electronic messages to a client, prospect, or sibling association.  Roma Ihnatowycz  reports that the “biggest bone of contention has been the legislation’s stringent opt-in clause, which requires businesses to get explicit consent from consumers, before sending them electronic messages.”

Critics protest that this opt-in clause would require a great deal more time, work and money, that would cause rampant inefficiency.

Ihnatowycz says that the “onus would be on prospective member to indicate if they wish to receive electronic messages from an organization, and this relationship would then need to be confirmed with a follow-up message, yielding a high volume of redundant electronic messaging that is “ironically . . . at odds with the intent of the law.” CSAE VP Cybak says that the “pre-existing relations” that would enable electronic communication are “still a little fuzzy and that’s one of the problems – it’s still unclear exactly what we can or can’t do.”

And if you think the repercussions aren’t great, consider that the potential fines would be up to $1 Million per individual and up to $10 Million per association. To not-for-profit association, members and service providers, such sums are frighteningly prohibitive.

Since 2010 and increasingly, not-for-profit organizations have been raising concerns that this new law will have a huge impact and undemocratic implications. Electronic charity drives would end, and associations would no longer grant permission to members to use their email lists. Low-budget marketing strategies would be outlawed. Even cold-calling (with its concomitant voicemails) could be taken off the map.

Concerned organizations expressing worry to the government include the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, the Canadian Bar Association, Imagine Canada and CSAE.  These groups argue for a need to find the middle ground, between reducing unsolicited messages and impeding business communications altogether.

Currently, the legislation has not taken effect and those writing the law (including the Federal Government) are working on the third set of accompanying regulations, which could well continue into 2014. (The third set of regulations went public in January, 2013.)

CSAE Executive VP Cybak says that CASL will “ha[ve] a huge impact, [so] we have some concerns, and we think that this needs further consideration and further review.” Sounds like diplomatic restraint for a set of policies that will severely restrict communications among not-for-profits and their service providers.

Some contributors say that with ongoing simultaneous debate  over the privatization and scaling back of Canada Post, even substituting electronic communication with surface mail letters and promotions (already inefficient and ineffective) would become imperilled.

Individual seminars hosted by CSAE that explain how to deal with the new Anti-Spam Law began last April (in Vancouver) and will repeat (in the West) in Winnipeg, on September 17, 2013, the day prior to CSAE’s annual conference. If you are one of the fortunate ones who can attend, more information and registration are available online:


Clearly, more universal training will be needed, at the grass-roots’ level, if the law, as far as it can currently be ascertained, takes effect.

What does Canada’s new Anti-Spam Law mean for your association or company? Would you protest the ratification of the bill, as it currently stands?

To be continued . . . .

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