Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation and Parishes

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By Canon Stuart Mann
Anglican Diocese of Toronto

The purpose of this document is to help you understand Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation and how it will affect your parish. It is important to understand at the outset that the vast majority of emails sent by parishes are not affected by the legislation, and the probability of non-compliance with the legislation is very low for most parishes. However, it is helpful to know about this legislation.

The following information is divided into three parts. In the first, we’ll look at some of the specifics of the legislation and examples from church life. In the second, we’ll look at what you need to do if you send “commercial electronic messages.” In the third, we’ll suggest some simple steps that your church can take, if necessary, to be in compliance with the legislation.

The anti-spam legislation
Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL) will be coming into force on July 1, 2014. The CASL is a federal law designed to “encourage the growth of electronic commerce by ensuring confidence and trust in the online marketplace.” To do so, it prohibits, among other things, spam, spyware, malicious code and other related “network threats.”

Specifically, the legislation prohibits the sending of unsolicited “commercial electronic messages” (CEMs). A CEM is a message sent by any means of telecommunication, including text, sound, voice or image that encourages participation in any transaction, act or conduct of a commercial character, regardless of whether there is an expectation of profit. These include electronic messages that:

a)  Offer to purchase, sell, barter or lease a product, goods, a service, land or an interest or right    in land;

b)  Offer to provide a business, investment or gaming opportunity;

c)  Advertise or promote anything referred to in (a) or (b); or

d) Promote a person, including the public image of a person, as being a person who does   anything referred to in any of paragraphs (a) to (c) or who intends to do so.

It is probably helpful at this point to give some examples of CEMs that a church might send. If your church sends an email (such as an e-newsletter or email blast) publicizing a conference or a course for which a fee is charged, that is a CEM. If your church sends out a message offering to sell some pews and other furniture or offering the rental of your parish hall, that is a CEM.

However, there is an important exemption in sending CEMs. If your email is primarily about fundraising, it is exempt from the legislation. In other words, if the primary purpose of the event which you are advertising in your email is to raise funds for your church or church program, it is exempt from the legislation.

There are some other important conditions in which the legislation allows the sending of CEMs:

  • Where implied or express consent has been obtained by the sender, and the message includes clear opt-out provisions (we’ll discuss this in the next part of this document).
  • Where the message has been sent in order to complete a transaction or satisfy a legal obligation.
  • Where the message is sent by a charity for the primary purpose of raising funds (see above).

Other exemptions to the legislation include:

  • Internal messages between employees of an organization concerning its affairs.
  • Messages sent between organizations (for example, dioceses, churches, etc.) if they have a relationship and the message concerns the activities of the organization to which the message is sent.
  • Messages sent in response to a request, inquiry or complaint.
  • Messages to someone with whom the sender has a personal or family relationship.

If you send Commercial Electronic Messages
If your church sends CEMs (and their primary purpose is not for fundraising), you will need to obtain “express” or “implied” consent from the recipients. For our purposes, let’s look first at implied consent, since this is most relevant to parishes.

Implied consent exists where the sender and the recipient have an “existing non-business relationship,” which includes making a donation to, volunteering for, or membership in a charitable organization such as a church. Implied consent exists as long as the recipient is a member or volunteer of the church or two years after they have stopped being a member or volunteer of the church.

In other words, if you are sending CEMs to your current parishioners or those who left the church within two years, you have their implied consent. (Under the legislation, within the next three years you should either a) confirm the existing implied consent relationship; b) gain express consent; or c) remove the receivers from your email list.)

Express consent is actual written or verbal authorization and remains effective until withdrawn by the recipient.

Even if your church has the recipient’s implied or express consent, each CEM must contain the following content:

  • the identity of the sender;
  • the sender’s mailing address;
  • either a telephone number, email address or web address of the sender;
  • an unsubscribe mechanism which can be used by the recipient to withdraw consent for any further electronic communication.

Next steps and resources
It is important to remember that the legislation only applies to electronic communications. Therefore, traditional forms of communications such as mailings are not affected. In addition, interactive telephone communication is explicitly excluded from the law, so a phone campaign involving a live person (rather than a robocall) would be permissible.

As stated at the beginning of this document, the probability of non-compliance with the legislation is very low for most parishes. However, the burden of proof of consent to receive a CEM rests with the sender. Therefore, it would be prudent to take the following steps with respect to electronic newsletters or other forms of group emails sent to parishioners:

1)  Ensure that each communication includes a clear opt-out mechanism such as an unsubscribe     button or an email address to request removal from the list.

2)  Maintain a database of recipients, including their name, contact information (e.g. email            address) the date added, and whether consent was implied or express.

3)  Where express consent is obtained to receive communications, maintain a log of these requests.

Here are some helpful online resources to help you learn more about Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation:

For more information on Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation, contact Mark Hauser, the Diocese’s Communications Officer, at mhauser@ontario.anglican.ca or (613) 544-4774, ext. 125 or 1-(866) 524-4774, ext. 125.