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Canadian SMS marketing regulations that businesses should follow

Updated: Feb 9

Texting laws in Canada

In the ever-evolving world of digital marketing, SMS marketing has emerged as a powerful tool for businesses to engage with their audience. However, before diving headfirst into this strategy, it's crucial for businesses to understand the legal implications surrounding SMS marketing, especially in a country like Canada.

In this article, we'll explore the legality of SMS marketing in Canada and what businesses need to know to stay compliant.

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The Canadian Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL)

SMS marketing in Canada is subject to various laws and regulations, primarily governed by the Canadian Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL). It is a law in Canada that addresses spam and other electronic threats. It came into effect on July 1, 2014, with the goal of reducing the amount of unwanted commercial electronic messages (CEMs), which include text messages, emails, and certain social media communications.

It's important for businesses and individuals conducting SMS marketing in Canada to be aware of and comply with CASL to avoid penalties and legal consequences. CASL is an example of legislation designed to protect individuals from the negative impacts of spam and to promote responsible and ethical electronic communication practices.

Other privacy laws in Canada that businesses should know

In addition to the Canadian Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL), there are other privacy laws and regulations in Canada that businesses should be aware of when engaging in SMS marketing campaigns. One of the key pieces of legislation is the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA). Here are some details about PIPEDA and other relevant privacy laws in Canada:

Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA)

PIPEDA is the primary federal privacy law in Canada that governs the collection, use, and disclosure of personal information by private sector organizations.

PIPEDA applies to commercial activities and organizations engaged in interprovincial or international transactions.

Businesses must obtain consent before collecting, using, or disclosing personal information, including phone numbers for SMS marketing purposes.

Provincial Privacy Laws

Some provinces in Canada have their own privacy legislation that may apply to the private sector. For example, in Alberta, the Personal Information Protection Act (PIPA) governs the private sector's collection, use, and disclosure of personal information.

Businesses should be aware of and comply with both federal and provincial privacy laws, depending on their operations and the location of their customers.

Consumer Protection Laws

Beyond privacy laws, businesses should also consider general consumer protection laws that may apply to marketing practices, including SMS marketing. These laws may vary by province and territory.

Understanding the legal framework in Canadian texting

Consent is Key

One of the fundamental requirements under CASL is obtaining consent before sending any CEMs, including SMS marketing messages. Businesses must have explicit consent from recipients to send them marketing messages. This consent can be express or implied, with the former requiring a clear and unambiguous agreement, while the latter is based on an existing business relationship.

Express Consent

Obtaining express consent involves explicitly asking individuals if they want to receive SMS marketing messages and providing clear information about the nature of the messages. Businesses must keep records of these consents, including how and when they were obtained, to demonstrate compliance in case of an audit.

Implied Consent

Implied consent is based on an existing business relationship, such as a recent purchase or inquiry. However, businesses should be aware that implied consent has a limited timeframe, and ongoing communication requires obtaining express consent within a specified period.

Content and Identification

Beyond obtaining consent, CASL also regulates the content of SMS messages. Every SMS marketing message must include identification information about the sender, allowing recipients to know who is contacting them. Additionally, businesses must provide an easy and accessible way for recipients to unsubscribe from further messages.

Penalties for Non-Compliance

CASL carries significant penalties for non-compliance with its regulations. Businesses found guilty of violating CASL may face fines of up to $10 million for corporations and $1 million for individuals. Moreover, individuals involved in the violation, such as company directors, may be held personally liable.

Best Practices for SMS Marketing in Canada

To ensure compliance with Canadian regulations, businesses engaging in SMS marketing should adhere to text marketing best practices. These include regular audits of consent records, keeping accurate documentation, providing clear identification in messages, and promptly honoring unsubscribe requests.

Text Message Content Regulations in Canada

In the dynamic landscape of SMS marketing in Canada, ensuring compliance with message content regulations is as crucial as obtaining consent. Senders must be cognizant of specific conditions set forth by Canadian regulations, especially when the content involves sensitive subjects such as:

  • Tobacco

  • Vape

  • illegal drugs

  • Cannabis

  • Alcohol

  • adult content

  • Pornography

Verifying Recipients' Eligibility

Senders dealing with the above-mentioned content categories must take extra precautions. It is imperative that they verify the eligibility of recipients to receive such messages. This involves confirming that recipients are of legal age and are permitted to receive SMS messages containing these specific content types.

Prohibition of Targeting Minors

A clear and non-negotiable regulation stipulates that targeting minors with content related to tobacco, vape, federally illegal drugs, cannabis, alcohol, adult content, or pornography is strictly prohibited. This restriction underscores the commitment to protecting vulnerable demographics from potentially harmful or inappropriate content.

Character Limit Constraints

In the realm of SMS marketing, brevity is not just a virtue but a regulatory requirement. Senders must adhere to a character limit of 160 per message. This constraint ensures that messages are concise, focused, and in line with the practical limitations of SMS communication.

Striking a Balance

Complying with message content regulations requires senders to strike a delicate balance between promoting their products or services and respecting the legal and ethical boundaries set by Canadian authorities. By being mindful of the nature of their content and its potential impact on recipients, businesses can uphold the integrity of their SMS marketing campaigns.


While SMS marketing can be a highly effective strategy for engaging with customers in Canada, it must be approached with a thorough understanding of the legal landscape. By prioritizing consent, adhering to content regulations, and implementing best practices, businesses can navigate the complexities of SMS marketing in Canada while building trust with their audience. Remember, compliance is not just a legal requirement but a foundation for a successful and sustainable marketing strategy.

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