As the Canada Day deadline for a new anti-spam law nears, you may have noticed your email inbox filling up with messages from companies requesting permission to continue sending you marketing messages. According to one legal expert, the new law marks a turning point on how Canadian companies can communicate with their clients.

Starting July 1, a major section of a Bill C-28 will come into effect, governing the ways businesses and organizations can communicate electronically with clients, and how clients' personal information can be used for marketing purposes.

Under the new law, companies must seek consent from their customers before they are allowed to send them electronic marketing communications. This includes messages sent via emails, text messages and even social media accounts.

Companies must also clearly identify themselves in each message and give clients the option to unsubscribe from all digital mailings.

Violating the law could result in massive fines for organizations, businesses and individuals.

Lawyer Andrew Aguilar helped create the guidebook "Internet Law Essentials: Canada's Anti-Spam Law" for businesses trying to navigate the new law.

He told CTV's Canada AM that the new legislation marks a turning point for Canadian businesses and consumers.

"We're now faced with a regulated environment for the sending of electronic messages, where there really wasn't much for (a) regulated environment before, and businesses are going to have to come to terms with that," he said.

Below is a general rundown outlining the basics of the law. For more detailed information visit the federal government's website dedicated to the new anti-spam law.

What does the law generally include?

The law is generally divided among three different sections: Section 6 which deals with the sending of commercial electronic messages, Section 8 which deals with the installation of computer programs, and separate sections that govern how individuals can launch a lawsuit against a firm or individual they believe has violated the law.

The law prohibits the following:

  • any commercial electronic messages sent without the recipient's permission. This includes any messages sent to email addresses, social network accounts and text messages sent to cellphones.
  • any changes of transmission data in a message which results in the Internet user being sent to a different destination without their consent
  • any installation of a computer program without the consent of the owner of the computer
  • any use of false or misleading representations to promote products or services
  • any collection of personal details and information obtained by accessing a computer system in violation of federal laws
  • any collection of email addresses obtained through the use of computer programs without consent (known as address harvesting)
  • Visit the federal government's Justice Laws website to read the full text of the new anti-spam law.

Who does the law apply to?

Despite people commonly referring to the bill as the "anti-spam" law, Aguilar says that the law affects far more people than just spammers.

"People think 'I'm not a spammer, this doesn't apply to me,' but the act in fact applies to anyone who sends an electronic message with a commercial purpose," he said. "So it applies to almost all businesses -- any business that has a computer and sends electronic messages -- this is going to apply to them."

Who will enforce the law?

Three government agencies will be responsible for enforcing the law: the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), the Competition Bureau, and the Office of the Privacy Commissioner.

Additionally, starting on July 1, 2017, individuals and organizations in Canada will be able to file a lawsuit against anyone they believe has violated the law.

When do the different parts of the law come into effect?

Section 6 of the law, concerning the sending of commercial electronic messages, comes into effect on July 1, 2014.

Section 8 of the law, concerning the installation of computer programs without consent, comes into effect on Jan. 15, 2015.

The sections of the law concerning how a lawsuit can be launched against violators come into effect on July 1, 2017.

How can I express my consent to continue receiving messages?

Consent can either be given through writing or orally. However, in both cases the onus is on the sender of the message to prove they have obtained the recipient's consent.

Is there a period of transition for businesses and organizations to adjust to the new law?

The law includes a transitional provision for businesses and organizations to adjust to the new consent requirement.

According to the law, when there is an "existing business or non-business relationship that includes the communication of commercial electronic messages," consent to continue sending messages is implied for three years starting on July 1, 2014.

However, this period of "implied consent" will end if the recipient makes it clear that they no longer want to receive the messages.

How stiff are the penalties for violators of the new law?

Under the new law, individuals can be fined up to $1 million and businesses can be fined up to $10 million per infraction if they are found to be violating the law.

Directors and officers of a corporation can also be found liable for the actions of their employees, if they directed, authorized or participated in the violation.

Will the new law be successful?

The new law won't be successful in completely stopping spam, because it's unlikely firms from outside of Canada will feel compelled to comply, according to Aguilar.

"It's not going to stop a lot of things that people might imagine as spam," he said. "It's not likely going to stop a lot of people who are sending these messages from other countries, where they either don't know or don't really care if it's illegal here."

However, because of the significant penalties for breaking the law, Aguilar said it will likely stop Canadian companies from sending unsolicited emails.

"It will affect Canadian businesses… you might be able to trust (that) you can click these unsubscribed links in the messages (and) you're going to be unsubscribed."

With files from The Canadian Press and The Government of Canada