As you probably know, Canada’s anti-spam legislation came into effect on July 1, 2014. Since then, businesses in Canada have a duty to understand and comply with laws regarding sending electronic messages to Canadians, including emails and texts.
Many dentists in Ontario use emails and texts to remind their patients of their upcoming appointments; my dentist sends me a confirmation email and a text 2 weeks before my appointment, and a reminder email and text two hours before my appointment.
Consent and Record Keeping
The Anti-Spam Law makes it very clear that your company must have the recipient’s express consent to send them an email or text.
Passive or implied consent is not good enough. So for example, if you have someone’s email address and you tell them “by walking into our dental practice, you give us consent to keep you informed by adding you to our email list,” that would go against Canada’s Anti-Spam law. You need to have proof to show that the recipient actively said “yes, please contact me.”
Also, you need to clearly identify your name, business, current mailing address, phone number, and email address that will be valid for the next 60 days. The recipient must also know the purpose for which their email will be collected and used.
Lastly, you need to have a clear unsubscribe feature on each message and process that request within 10 days with no cost to the recipient.
If your practice sends out any emails or texts to your patients, you need to make sure you are following the rules set out in the law.
In the past few years, companies in Canada have been punished for breaking these rules:
- Porter Airlines agreed to pay a fine of $150,000 because its emails did not contain a clear unsubscribe mechanism, and when people tried to unsubscribe, it took more than 10 days.
- Compu-Finder was fined $1,100,000 (yes, $1.1 million) for sending out emails without a clear unsubscribe mechanism (they told their customers it would take 60 days to complete the request). The company also obtained email addresses improperly As well, the company was un-cooperative during the ensuing investigation.
- The dating website PlentyOfFish paid a smaller penalty of $48,000, because they sent out emails to registered users with an unsubscribe mechanism that was not clearly set out, and could not be readily performed. The reason the penalty was smaller was because POF decided to immediately update their emails when notified of the complaints.
- More recently, in this past September, Kellogg Canada Inc. paid a penalty of $60,000 because of its third-party emails that were sent out and broke anti-spam laws.
The CRTC starts their penalties at $10,000 per violation, so Dentists should be careful about the emails they send out, how they obtained their email addresses, and whether they have specific proof of consent to send out emails.
Updates to the law
On July 1, 2017, Canada’s Anti-Spam laws will change to allow any person to privately sue a company for breaking anti-spam laws. That means you not only can be fined by the government, but any person can sue you in Superior Court for damages related to your sending of unsolicited emails.
This would be considered a novel or new area of law, and so keep your eyes on your blog and we’ll inform you of when the law changes.