CASL Compliance: How badly informed are Canadian and QC firms?

Seven years after its approval by Parliament and three years after it came into force, a Canada-wide survey shows that businesses, small and large, are still confused about CASL compliance, the types of messages it regulates, and the means to protect oneself from fines and lawsuits.

Canadian companies

The study, which was conducted recently by the Direct Marketing Association of Canada (DMAC) and law firm Fasken Martineau DuMoulin LLP, surveyed over 200 individuals directly responsible for CASL compliance of their organisation. Here are some of the highlights from the study:

  • 64% didn’t understand how to make their message CASL compliant beyond consent and an unsubscribe link
  • 46% were unaware that an organisation could be ordered to pay damages
  • 40% of them didn’t know that they can be held personally liable
  • 64% stated that their organisation did not (or didn’t know if their organisation had) a formal compliance policy
  • 63% believed that employees and staff don’t require CASL compliance training
  • 60% indicated that their company never performed a compliance audit

This is quite disconcerting, especially considering that the last 3 points are items required by the CRTC, to be able to defend oneself, should you face an investigation or prosecution.

No better for Quebec SMBs

Although this study was conducted amongst medium to large business in English Canada, a similar study was just recently published surveying Quebec SMBs.

  • Less than 5% of Quebec SMBs comply with CASL
  • More than 75% were unaware that companies could be fined, even if they have explicit consent
  • Only 35% knew that from July 1st, 2017 onwards, companies will be subject to civil or collective redress
  • 40% were surprised to learn that SMBs, as well as individuals, can face the same charges as large companies
  • 38% didn’t know that many QC companies have already been investigated and received fines
  • 1 out of 4 were unaware that CASL regulates individual emails, as well as text and social media messages

The CRTC’s shortcomings

Although the CRTC enforces CASL, informing and educating businesses is their greatest shortcoming. An article exists to help companies defend themselves, but it must meet the CRTC’s eight required categories. However, finding these requirements on an official website is very difficult.

The regulatory body does give presentations, but for the moment, it is almost exclusively to large law firms in Toronto. Unfortunately, 97% of Canadian companies are small businesses that can’t afford to do business with these big firms.

What can you do for yourself?

Canadian law states that “no one is supposed to ignore the law“.

A compliance program is also the only way to protect you and your business, and your employees, from tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines and legal fees.

So what do you do? You don’t want to stop your email marketing activities because it’s the top digital performer when it comes to ROI. We’ve done the calculations and penny for penny, all things considered, even a small investment in a compliance program is better than no investment at all.



CASL’s First Fine: QC SMB Compu-Finder $1,1M!

According to a press release issued by the CRTC, it’s Morin-Heights’ SMB 3510395 Canada Inc. a.k.a Compu-Finder who received CASL’s very first notice of violation. And appropriately, this notice came with a fine of no less than $ 1,100,000!

For those covering and concerned with Canada’s Anti-Spam Law, many weren’t expecting this first penalty to be issued so soon. Many also suspected that the CRTC would choose a large, robust business as its first target. So when the CRTC announced that its first fine was to be issued to a Quebec SMB, for $1,1 million, everyone was caught by surprise.

Compu-Finder, operating under several business names including Academie de Gestion and ACF Management, is a company of about fifteen employees offering training courses for businesses and individuals. Their methods to recruit clients has always been controversial, so this first fine sets an excellent example.

Never-ending harassment

Compu-Finder’s never-ending harassment to executives across the country used methods similar to that of the most sophisticated Russian spammers. Even Certimail’s CEO suffered their endless flurry of emails and tried unsuccessfully several times to unsubscribe himself from their lists. He:

  • Used their unsubscribe form,
  • Sent emails asking for the removal of his address from their lists,
  • Even called on their 800 line.

The promises that his address would be removed from their list were only lies as he continued to receive their spam, like the tens of thousands of other SMB executives.

The CRTC mentioned that Compu-Finder was the subject of 26% of the 245,000 complaints they received from across Canada since CASL came into effect.

The fact that a Quebec SMB was able to generate more than 63,000 complaints in only a few months is indicative of the level of harassment they inflicted on the community.

Compu-Finder’s bad practices were common knowledge

For years now, the media has denounced Compu-Finder’s malicious practices. In 2008, Nelson Dumais, columnist of La Presse wrote an article on their underhanded methods, then in 2010 interviewed a former employee confirming the company’s culture of unethical practices.

In 2011, in their monthly magazine, consumer protection organisation Protégez-vous used Compu-Finder as an example to illustrate the relevancy of CASL.

The company was also known in the late 1990s for bad marketing practices, by saturating corporate fax machines with spam.

A lesson for all

When going through PIPEDA Report of Findings of the Investigation into the personal information handling practices of “Compu-Finder”, it’s quite clear that company owners, Sylvie Pagé and Alain Guyot were reckless in their marketing practices.

As a matter of fact, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada used the Compu-Finder case as an example of “how not to collect and use e-mail addresses”.

Let this be a good lesson and an example for all.