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Another Voice: Anti-spam law changes how business is done in Canada

By Tim Palisano

July 1 will mark the one-year anniversary of the implementation of Canada’s tough anti-spam legislation. In a bi-national regional economy like ours, many companies that do business on both sides of the CanAm border have been watching this law closely.

As a quick review: the regulations that went into effect a year ago bar anyone from sending commercial email without at least implied consent, which the Canadian Radio and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) has allowed 36 months (from last year) to obtain. Legitimate complaints can be turned over to the CRTC, and while there is a wide range of penalties, by statute the fines can be up to $10 million for corporate offenders.

How the law will be enforced for American companies is still in question, but for a company like our Lackawanna-based Western New York Foreign Trade Zone, which does a significant amount of Canadian business and markets heavily in southern Ontario and the Greater Toronto Area, the new regulations have had a definitive impact on how we reach prospective clients in Canada. Better safe than sorry.

Not that anyone encourages unsolicited additions to email newsletter lists and “Click here to win” promos – who doesn’t hate having business or private email boxes filled with 150 messages a day that are completely irrelevant? But as any business development person knows, email “cold-calling” to a specific contact within an organization to make an introduction can be a viable first step in the sales process. Now, that kind of outreach leaves the sender open to be reported on and penalized.

How have we adjusted? Since it’s difficult to get at least implied consent from someone you’ve never met, networking has become the critical component of our Canadian business development strategy. WNYFTZ’s personnel in the southern Ontario and Toronto markets now spend the bulk of their time working the circuits and making face-to-face introductions.

The fallout and/or followup from last year’s regulations still are not clear, though it was reported that more than 1,000 anti-spam complaints were filed by Canadians in the first three days alone after the law kicked into effect. To date, only two fines have been issued – one to Compu-Finder at $1.1 million for, as CRTC described, “flagrantly violating the basic principles of the law,” and the other to a dating website, Plenty of Fish, for $48,000.

Interestingly, in a report issued by email marketing company Constant Contact earlier this month, 68 percent of Canadians surveyed said that email is their preferred method for communication. Regardless of the law, it’s clear email is still an incredibly effective tool for cross-border business. Just make sure you’re getting permission first.

Tim Palisano is president of the Western New York Foreign Trade Zone.