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Canada's anti-spam legislation had its second anniversary on July 1 but a surprising number of Canadian businesses still haven't taken the time to update their e-mail practices and customer databases to ensure they are compliant with the law. If yours is one of them, it's time to stop putting off the task.

Fines for violating CASL rules can be significant – as high as $1-million for individuals and $10-million for businesses. The amount of the fines levied is at the sole discretion of the government, and so far, the government has signalled it is serious about penalizing violators. Several prominent companies have been fined for CASL violations including Rogers, Porter Airlines and Compu-finder, but smaller businesses should also take heed, as they are not exempt from the rules.

On top of this, when CASL's transitional period ends on July 1, 2017, there will also be the threat of civil actions for CASL violations. If you think Canadians would not sue over spam, think again. A Google poll last year found 54 per cent of Canadians said they would consider joining class-action lawsuits against companies for CASL violations.

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The good news is it isn't too difficult to comply with the legislation if you are diligent and organized. The following tips will help ensure your business's e-mails and customer contact lists are CASL compliant.

Identify yourself

At the bare minimum, every e-mail communication should include your name, the name of your business, and the physical mailing address of your business. You also need to include a phone number, e-mail address or Web address where you can be contacted.

Offer an unsubscribe option

Every e-mail you send must include a clear unsubscribe option that is functional for a minimum of 60 days after the e-mail is sent. If a customer chooses to unsubscribe, you have 10 days to remove that person's name and e-mail address from your contact lists.

Be truthful

CASL requires businesses to be honest and transparent in all of their e-mail communications. Misleading subject lines, false information in the message, or misleading sender information will land you on the wrong side of the law.

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These rules don't have to get in the way of effective digital marketing. Instead, use these requirements to nurture trust and build your brand. The goal of Canada's anti-spam legislation is to encourage business growth in a trustworthy online landscape. As long as your content is CASL compliant, relevant and engaging, you have nothing to fear.

Get express consent

The entire point of CASL is to protect Canadians from receiving unsolicited electronic communications, whether they are e-mails, instant messages or texts. Your first priority should be getting express consent from all of your contacts, old and new.

For new subscribers, ensure that your sign-up form includes an unchecked e-mail permission checkbox, a clear statement indicating your purpose for sending e-communications and the subscriber's right to unsubscribe at any time, and of course, your company's contact information.

Your express consent checkbox must be independent of other opt-in boxes for permission or content preferences – you cannot bundle consents for different purposes.

When CASL became law on July 1, 2014, the government allowed businesses a three-year grace period during which they could assign a three-year implied consent to their previously collected e-mail contacts. That transitional period ends next July. Since building a customer contact list usually is expensive and time-consuming, it is prudent to spend time and effort planning, testing and building programs to acquire express consent from your existing lists.

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Once your database is up to date, keep that way

Under CASL requirements, information such as different types of consent, expiration dates, names, e-mail addresses as well as source collection details all need to be actively tracked and managed.

The goal here is to ensure that e-mails have been captured properly and there are no expired consent e-mails in your commercial electronic messages.

In addition, managing a comprehensive and up-to-date database will make it easier to produce an audit trail in case the government requires proof of your compliance status.

Steve Vermeiren is VP of customer success and marketing at itracMarketer.

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