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The Consumer Complaints Procedure

How to Submit Consumer Complaints to ASC

The procedure for consumers wishing to complain to ASC that an "advertisement" (as defined in the Code) contravenes the Code is as follows:

ASC accepts complaints submitted by email, mail, or fax.

To submit a complaint by e-mail:
• Complete the Online Complaint Submission Form available on ASC’s website.

To submit a complaint by letter or fax:
• Include your full name, telephone number, complete mailing address and (if available) fax number and email address.
• Identify the product or service being advertised, and the medium in which the advertisement appears:

  • For Print Advertisements: identify the name and date of the publication(s) in which you saw the advertisement(s) and include a copy of the advertisement(s).
  • For Out-of-home Advertisements, such as outdoor, transit or similar advertisements: identify the date on and exact location at which you saw the advertisement.
  • For Broadcast Advertisements: identify the station, time and date on/at which you saw/heard the commercial and provide a brief description of the commercial.
  • For Cinema Advertisements: identify the title of the movie, the date of viewing, and the name and location of the movie theatre at which you saw the advertisement and provide a brief description of the advertisement.
  • For Internet Advertisements: identify the date of viewing, website, and include a print-out of the advertisement and other applicable web pages (if any).

• Explain the reason or basis for the complaint and, if known, the provision(s) of the Code that may apply.
• Submit the complaint to ASC at the address, or fax number listed at the bottom of this page.

How Consumer Complaints are Received and Handled by ASC and Council

In keeping with their mandate within today’s self-regulatory environment, ASC and Council carefully consider and respond to all written consumer complaints received by them about advertising that allegedly does not comply with the Code.

The critical factor in determining whether an advertisement should be reviewed by Council is not the number of complaints received. The fundamental issue is only whether an advertisement, if the subject of any number of complaints, appears to contravene the Code. Ultimately, that question can only be answered by Council in response to one or more bona fide complaints that originate from the public.

Non-Reviewable Complaints

If, upon review, it appears to ASC or Council that a complaint is not a disguised dispute between advertisers or special interest group complaint, and that based on the provisions of the Code reasonable grounds for the complaint appear to exist, then the consumer complaint will be accepted for processing. If at any time thereafter during the complaint review process, but prior to the release of Council’s decision on the complaint, either ASC or Council concludes that, in reality, the complaint is a complaint between advertisers or a special interest group complaint, but not a consumer complaint, the process will be discontinued and the complainant notified accordingly. In these cases, the complainant will be reminded that alternative approaches should be considered by the complainant for registering an advertising-related complaint, such as under ASC’s Advertising Dispute Procedure or Special Interest Group Complaint Procedure.

Council shall decline to accept, or to proceed further with, a complaint, or any part thereof, where it is of the opinion that:

  • the specific advertisement(s) about which the complainant alleges a Code violation has/have not been identified;
  • based on the provisions of the Code, reasonable grounds for the complaint do not appear to exist;
  • the advertising, or such part of the advertising to which the complaint refers is, substantially, also the subject of litigation or other legal action then actively undertaken and pursued in Canada; or is under review, or subject to an order, by a Canadian court, or an agent or agency (or some other comparable entity) of the Canadian Government; or has been, specifically, approved by an agency (or some other comparable entity) of the Canadian Government; or that
  • such advertising is not within the purview of the Code or, if in ASC’s opinion, the complaint is beyond the resources or ability of ASC to resolve effectively, reasonably or conclusively under this Procedure; or that
  • the complainant is abusing this Consumer Complaint Procedure by having as one of the complainant’s primary intentions to generate publicity for a cause or issue.

Complaint Review Process

If, after a complaint is received, there is a preliminary determination that there may be a Code infraction by the advertisement (i.e. an accepted complaint), the advertiser will be notified in writing of the nature of the complaint and, if informed consent is freely granted by the complainant to ASC, the identity of the complainant.

Complaints Involving Clauses 10 or 14

When an accepted complaint relates to the provisions of Clause 10 (Safety) or Clause 14 (Unacceptable Depictions and Portrayals), the advertiser will be asked to promptly respond (copying ASC), within a stated timeframe, directly to the complainant if the complainant has agreed to be identified. If the complainant does not wish to be identified, the advertiser will respond directly to ASC, who will redirect the response to the complainant. Complaints about alleged offences under Clauses 10 or 14 that are handled in this way will go forward for Council deliberation if the complainant notifies ASC that the complainant remains dissatisfied after receiving the advertiser’s response, and if, after reviewing the advertiser’s response, ASC believes the advertising still raises an issue under the Code. Otherwise, the matter will not be forwarded to Council and will not proceed further.

Complaints Involving All Other Code clauses

Where a preliminary determination has been made that there may be an infraction of one or more of the other clauses of the Code (i.e. other than Clauses 10 or 14), the advertiser will be asked to respond directly to ASC by providing, in writing and without unreasonable delay, information requested by Council in order that Council may deliberate and reach a fully-informed decision about whether the Code has, in fact, been violated.

Council Hearing and Decision

All complaints directed to ASC will be initially evaluated by ASC staff. If a complaint raises a potential Code issue and concerns an English-language advertisement, other than one that appears only in Quebec, it will be directed to the Standards Council. If a complaint raises a potential Code issue and concerns advertising in the French-language, or advertising that appears only in Quebec, the complaint will be evaluated and decided by le Conseil des normes.

At the initial Council deliberation, the materials available for Council’s review include, at a minimum, the complaint letter, the advertiser’s written response, if any, and a copy of the advertising in question.

Council’s decisions are by majority vote. Any member of Council may abstain from voting on any matter.

If Council concludes an advertisement violates the Code, the advertiser, with a copy to the complainant, will be notified of the decision in writing and requested to appropriately amend the advertising in question or withdraw it, in either case without unreasonable delay.

If, at the initial deliberation by Council, the complaint is not upheld, both the complainant and the advertiser will be notified in writing with an explanation for Council’s decision.

Appealing a Council Decision

Both the complainant and the advertiser are entitled to request an appeal from a decision of Council by filing a Request for Appeal addressed to ASC. The Request for Appeal must be in writing and received at ASC within seven working days after the decision is sent to the parties. It must provide the appellant’s reasons for believing the decision was in error. A request by an advertiser for an appeal will be considered if that advertiser undertakes in writing to withdraw the advertising in question within 11 working days after the Request for Appeal is received at ASC. The withdrawn advertising may be reinstated, however, if at the appeal hearing the Appeal Panel decides not to uphold the complaint. Advertisers will be granted a reasonable extension of time in which to withdraw the advertising if Council is satisfied that the advertising medium used to convey the advertising is unable to facilitate the withdrawal in the designated time.

A five-person Appeal Panel will be selected from among a roster of persons who did not serve at the original Council deliberation. The Appeal Panel will comprise two public representatives with the balance coming from the advertiser, advertising agency and media sectors. Each party will be given at least five working days advance written notice of the date of the appeal hearing.

Both the advertiser and the complainant will be requested to make their submissions in writing to the Appeal Panel. The submissions must be brief, confined strictly to the matters under appeal and received by ASC at least two full working days in advance of the appeal hearing.

Decisions of Appeal Panels will be by majority vote and will be sent to both parties within five working days of the appeal hearing. At the appeal hearing, the complaint will be treated as a new complaint and the matter reconsidered in its entirety.

Decisions by Appeal Panels will be binding and final.

Advertising Complaints Reports

Each year, ASC will publish one or more reports on consumers’ complaints to ASC about advertising. The principal purpose of these reports is to serve, for the benefit of the advertising industry and the interested public, as a guide to the interpretation of the Code as applied to advertising issues that concerned the public.

The advertising complaints reports will be divided into two sections. One section will provide details, including advertiser and advertisement identification, of those consumer complaints upheld under the Code. In this section, advertisers will be entitled to state their position on their advertisements about which Council has upheld one or more complaints. The other section will summarize, without naming the advertiser, consumer complaints upheld by Council about advertisements dealt with appropriately by the advertiser. Appropriate action by the advertiser means action voluntarily undertaken by the advertiser, without delay, to amend the advertisement to correct the alleged infraction, after being advised by ASC that a complaint had been received and before the matter was brought forward to Council for review and decision. Alternatively, the advertiser, without delay, may withdraw the advertisement from any further exposure, distribution or circulation and, in the case of retail advertising, provide a correction advertisement that appears in consumer-oriented media addressed to the same consumers to whom the misleading or offending advertising was originally directed.

Re-Opening a Case

ASC will have the discretionary right to reactivate the Consumer Complaint Procedure, in whole or part, including the imposition of sanctions provided in the Code, if an advertiser fails to fulfil its undertaking to withdraw or amend an advertisement; or if the matter underlying the complaint is of a continuing or repetitive nature, suggesting an avoidance of the provision(s) of the Code.

Advertiser’s Failure to Respond or Participate

If an advertiser fails to respond in a timely manner to ASC’s request for a copy of the advertisement that is the subject of a consumer complaint, ASC may ask the carrying media to assist ASC by providing it with a copy of the advertisement in question. If an advertiser fails to respond to a complaint or participate in the Consumer Complaint Procedure the complaint may be decided in the advertiser’s absence based on the information already in the possession of Council and on any further pertinent information submitted by the complainant for Council’s review.

Failure to Follow Procedure or Comply with Decision

The Code is a reflection of advertising standards by which industry wishes to be held accountable. Because self-regulation is more than self-restraint on the part of individual companies or entities, the Code would be incomplete without effective sanctions to enforce compliance.

If an advertiser fails to voluntarily comply with the decision of Council, ASC:

  • will advise exhibiting media of the advertiser’s failure to co-operate and request media’s support in no longer exhibiting the advertising in question; and
  • may publicly declare, in such manner as Council deems appropriate, that the advertising in question, and the advertiser who will be identified, have been found to violate the Code.

For more information

Questions regarding the interpretation and application of the Code should be addressed to ASC:

Advertising Standards Canada
175 Bloor Street East
South Tower, Suite 1801
Toronto, ON M4W 3R8
Telephone: 416 961-6311
Fax: 416 961-7904
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Les normes canadiennes de la publicité
2015 Peel Street
Suite 915
Montreal, Quebec H3A 1T8
Telephone: 514 931-8060
Fax: 877 956-8646
Email Us