Private Right of Action under Canada’s Anti-Spam Law

When Canada’s Anti-Spam Law (CASL) came into effect in 2014, certain sections relating to a “private cause of action” enforced through the Courts did not take effect until 1 July 2017.  With the date of 1 July2017 rapidly approaching, this article will review what this private cause of action may mean to individuals and businesses.  There must be an underlying commercial purpose to trigger the application of CASL and there must be an absence of express consent.  The prohibited activities CASL is intended to capture are the sending of unsolicited electronic messages (section 6), the diverting of electronic messages to another destination (section 7) and the installing of a computer program on another person’s computer system (section 8).
To this point,   the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) has been the only entity with the ability to enforce CASL.   As of 1 July, the “private right of action” comes into effect and organizations that are not CASL compliant, will be subject to lawsuits brought by affected individuals.  The legislation will allow affected individuals to sue organizations and their officers, directors and agents for alleged CASL violations.  If, after a hearing, the Court is satisfied that the Defendant/Respondent has engaged in prohibited activities, the Court has the power to order the Defendant/Respondent to pay to the Plaintiff/Applicant compensation for actual loss or damages suffered, along with monetary penalties.   The maximum monetary penalty for sending unsolicited electronic messages is $200 for each message, to a maximum of $1,000,000 per day.  The maximum monetary penalty for diverting electronic messages is $1,000,000 per day.  The maximum monetary penalty of installing computer programs on another person’s computer is $1,000,000 for each contravention.   Of course, the Court is not going to order the maximum in each case.  The Court will consider the nature and scope of the prohibited activities, the financial benefit obtained from the prohibited activities, any history of previous contraventions, the compensation awarded to the Plaintiff/Applicant, and  the Defendant/Respondent’s ability to pay.
It is apparent that there are financial incentives now in place to entice persons who are aggrieved to launch this new private right of action under CASL.  If you do business on the internet which involves the extensive use of email, care must be taken to ensure that you have mechanisms to secure express consent, so that your activities do not become prohibited activities.  If the business you do on the internet has been adversely affected by a third party who has engaged in prohibited activities, you may seriously consider launching an action under CASL to  obtain compensation for your losses, along with whatever monetary penalty you can convince the Court is warranted to curb such activities in future.