Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL) has been around for a few years now — since 2014 to be exact — and it has been confusing business owners large and small ever since. Last week, the federal government tossed another confusing wrench into the pile by suspending the final provision that was due to take effect this July 1.

This doesn’t mean that CASL is completely disappearing, only the final clause is — the provision that deals with grandfathered mailing lists.

CASL dictates that in order to send commercial electronic marketing messages, the recipient must give consent. There are four different types of consent:


  1. Explicit consent. This means that a person ticked a box and agreed to receive your marketing messages forever. Explicit consent also includes current clients because consent is assumed.
  2. Opt out. Someone may give explicit consent or be a current client, but as soon as the link to unsubscribe is clicked, you can never market to them again. (Well, until they choose to re-subscribe.)
  3. Implied consent (part 1). When a potential client makes an inquiry, you can legally send electronic marketing messages to them for six months and six months only. This person does not need to agree to your terms and conditions, but you need to convert their consent to explicit before running out of time. (This is also a gold mine of opportunity for small businesses.)
  4. Implied consent (part 2). A former client gives implied consent for two years after ceasing being a client. Again, this person doesn’t need to tick a box to accept, but you must convert them to explicit consent within those two years or lose them.


In 2014, many business owners had hundreds (and in many cases thousands) of people on mailing lists who had never consented under CASL. As such, businesses were given a three-year grace period (until July 1, 2017) to convert these lists into one of the four states of consent. In other words, if someone had been on your mailing list for the last 10 years, the rules didn’t yet apply to them and you could keep emailing them.

The penalty for not properly converting grandfathered lists would have permitted individuals to start civil claims, including class actions, against an offending business — a prospect that caused a lot of anxiety for business owners, especially small business owners.

That three-year grace period has now been extended indefinitely. But that’s the key point to take away; the end of the grace period has been extended, not cancelled, so it’s important to remain diligent and continue trying to convert that list to one with explicit consent. Reconnect with long-lost contacts by making a personal phone call, or send out that last ditch email that asks people to sign up or risk never receiving another email from your company.

Because the penalty for breaking the rules is steep — fines up to $1 million for individuals and $10 million for businesses — and grandfathered clause or not, you don’t want to get caught breaking CASL law.

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