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Making a false advertising complaint under the Canadian Code of Advertising Standards

Though we have the Canadian Competition Act, which forbids false advertising and under which complaints can be filed, complaints can also be filed under the Canadian Code of Advertising Standards as an alternative.

The Canadian Code of Advertising Standards is run by Advertising Standards Canada.

What is Advertising Standards Canada?

It is the advertising industry self-regulating body. They are a non-for-profit organization, which is run by the volunteer board of directors. The board of directors is made up of people that are employed in a variety of media, from advertising agencies to media organizations, and even the public.

What is the Canadian Code of Advertising Standards?

The code is the instrument the ASC uses for self-regulation. It has 14 clauses that inform advertisers what is acceptable practice in their advertising practices.

The code was created to keep advertising honest, truthful, accurate, and fair, and is widely supported within the advertising industry.

The standards the code sets are in 14 clauses. They maintain advertising standards and talk about what advertisers must and must not do, which includes:

  • Accuracy and clarity;
  • Disguised advertising techniques;
  • Bait and switch;
  • Testimonials; and
  • Unacceptable Depictions and Portrayals.

False advertising can apply to many areas of the code, but the main one seems to be the accuracy and clarity section, which is found under section one of the code.

For example, part of section one sets out: “Advertisements must not contain inaccurate, deceptive or otherwise misleading claims, statements, illustrations or representations, either direct or implied, with regard to any identified or identifiable product(s) or service(s).”

To whom does the code apply?

The code is in effect for advertising by or for:

  • Corporations, organizations or institutions seeking to improve their public image or advance a point of view;
  • Advertisers promoting the use of goods and services; and
  • Governments, government departments and crown corporations.

How do you make a complaint?

If you wanted to file a complaint against a business or person under the code, you would have to fill out the complaint form on their website.

How does the ASC determine whether you have a valid claim?

 Consumer complaints are handled by either of one of these councils: the Standards council or le Conseil des Normes for Quebec.

The main determination in evaluating whether a person has a claim against an advertiser whether there was a violation of the code by the advertiser. If it’s found that there may have been a violation by the advertiser, then the complaint will be forwarded to the advertiser. The complainant has the choice to be anonymous or give consent to reveal his or her identity to the advertiser.

What is the difference between the Competition Act complaint procedure and the code complaint procedure?

The biggest difference is that the act is a federal law, and the code is a self-regulatory mechanism of the advertising industry.

Another big difference between the Competition Act and the code is that the code has less punitive punishments. If the council finds that the business has violated the code, then they will ask the business to amend the ad or withdraw it completely, whereas under the Competition Act businesses and people could face criminal and/or civil charges.

Next to these federal laws and regulations, consumer complaints can also be filed in provincial consumer affairs offices.

Read more:

Advertising Standards Canada

The Canadian Code of Advertising Standards