The Battle Up North: Canada Fights for a Spam Law

Posted by Tom Bartel on

No, Canada is not being invaded by Russia, or even Greenland, although that might be an easier battle than this. Like many in the email and privacy space I am keeping tabs on our colleagues to the north as they work to pass Canada’s first national spam law. Canada is the only G8 nation that has not already enacted such a law.

The process began many years ago, but it only really got rolling this past April. The draft law was introduced, read, reviewed and referred to committee in June, where experts and others testified publically in support of the law. The process was well underway and seemingly on track.

But over the past few weeks things have taken a turn that could lead to the law being weakened or scuttled altogether. In particular, the Canadian Marketing Association, having already stated their broad support for the law, recanted on some points and began lobbying on a number of issues, including subscriber consent.

As I watch this unfold I can’t help but think that this process of vigorous debate is ultimately what will ensure Canada gets a solid, useful spam law that actually matters.

Recently here in the US, the state of Maine passed a law — the Act To Prevent Predatory Marketing Practices against Minors. It follows a long line of efforts to protect children online that, while clearly well-intentioned, are not constructed in a way that makes them viable against the business realities for those who would have to comply. Beyond that though, what I note is the lack of real debate in Maine. The authors of the bill, certainly impassioned about the issue, put great effort into the Act – and then, for whatever reason, it was met with little critical review or resistance. In other words, it passed through the state legislature and went into effect before anyone noticed. The lack of debate or engagement meant that a well intentioned but systemically flawed bill became law. Now, the industry and the state are left collaborating on a retrospective cleanup effort which is likely to mean repealing the law and starting over. Remember that old saying, about just do it right the first time?

I’m glad the Canadians are arguing over their draft law now, rather than later.

In the US our CAN-SPAM Act has been in force for nearly six years, but is generally subject to criticism that it lacks any real teeth. What it has ultimately done for us here is to drive business and industry, in particular email marketing, to self regulate and set tougher standards well above and beyond the baselines set in the Act.

Every good marketer ought to know by now that healthy and successful business on the internet relies on the trust of internet users. That trust comes with how you treat your customers. With communications and email, that starts with permission. If you are employing weak permission standards that just barely meet the base standards of the law then chances are you don’t have any actual engagement with your subscribers. This means you probably have a poor sender reputation and aren’t getting much email delivered anywhere – certainly anywhere that matters.

Canada: Here’s to you for laboring through the process and hammering out a law that will be tempered by input from all stakeholders and which will set a strong example for business and marketers to better match the high standards of other national spam laws and industry best practices around the world, and here’s to you getting your law. Onward!

If you would like to voice your support for Canada’s Bill C-27 – please sign your name and add comments to the CAUCE (The Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial Email) petition. And, you can keep tabs on the latest debates happening now, on the CAUCE North America blog. CAUCE is also Tweeting issue-by-issue – just follow @cauce.


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About Tom Bartel

Tom Bartel is Return Path’s Senior Vice President of ThreatWave Data. Tom has more than 20 years of email delivery, email data and privacy experience. He most recently joined Return Path through its acquisition of ThreatWave, where he served as CEO/Co-founder. Prior to that, he has held roles at Return Path, MessageMedia (acquired by DoubleClick), and founded several other startups. Tom is actively involved in key industry organizations, such as OTA and M3AAWG, and advises start-ups and non-profits. Tom has a Bachelor in Speech Communication from Colorado State University.

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