Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Main message on anti-spam law: Don't panic

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Canada's Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL) comes into effect on Tuesday, and if you're getting an eerie sense of Y2K déjà vu, you're not alone.

And just as was the case on Jan. 1, 2000, the world won't change on July 2.

But all the same, the lead-up to July 1 has organizations across the country scrambling to figure out how to comply with CASL.

Law firms are detailing measures to take and lawyers caution that serious effort must be made to comply. At the same time, there is another message they are trying to convey -- don't panic.

Brandi Field, a lawyer from Thompson Dorfman Sweatman, spoke to a large group of members of WinnipegRealtors on Thursday.

It would not be correct to say there was a senes of panic in the room, but there was definitely uncertainty.

"There has been a very clear message from the CRTC and Industry Canada that there is no need to panic," Field said. "Information is being put online to get businesses compliant. But the aim is not to punish. The first priority is egregious spammers. We don't want people to think they are going to get a $1-million fine because they sent one bad email. That is not going to happen."

When the new law is in force, it will generally prohibit the sending of commercial electronic messages (CEM) without the recipient's consent.

But every message is not a CEM and there are plenty of exemptions such as registered charities, friends and family and political parties and candidates.

Robert Gabor, a lawyer with Aikins Law gave a CASL presentation to a group of charities this week.

"I tell people to just calm down," he said. "There are lots of people now panicking and sending out requests for consent and it's driving everyone nuts. Many don't need to do it. But people are so afraid they are doing something wrong and they see others in a similar situation doing it (soliciting consent) and then out of an abundance of caution they are doing it as well."

In addition to charities, there are many businesses and organizations that share information on electronic messages that are not CEMs.

Industry Canada's definition of a CEM is phrased this way: Is one of the purposes (of the electronic message) to encourage the recipient to participate in commercial activity?

But it's not so straightforward. For instance, a tag line in a message that promotes a product or service that encourages the recipient to purchase that product or service would make the message a CEM.

As well, the law will look at the content of the message, any hyperlinks in the message to website content or a database and contact information in the message when determining whether commercial activity is being encouraged.

The abundance of caution being exhibited is not without cause, because there are mixed messages out there.

Gabor said he has seen correspondence from Imagine Canada, an umbrella charitable organization, that received one message from Industry Canada in early June confirming that charities are exempt and then another from the CRTC earlier this week saying there are inconsistencies between their interpretation and Industry Canada's regarding exemptions for CEMs sent by registered charities whose primary purpose is raising funds.

"Clearly the government has not come to a position on all these issues," Gabor said. "It's complicated for them as well."

Elliot Sims from the Manitoba office of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, says all that uncertainty creates plenty of apprehension among business people across the country who generally want to comply.

"But it's hard when the government regulations are not in plain language and are being overseen by a number of departments," Sims said. "They say they are going after the worst offenders but there is nothing to say at some point they won't go after other businesses."

In the meantime, however, everyone should take a deep breath unless of course you're a shameless spammer.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 27, 2014 B6

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