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Special Interest Group Complaint Procedure

Preface

The Special Interest Group Complaint Procedure provides a mechanism under which complaints by Special Interest Groups can be handled in a confidential forum.

The Canadian Code of Advertising Standards ("Code"), governs and applies equally to the Special Interest Group Complaint Procedure except that the section of the Code captioned "How Consumer Complaints are Received and Handled by ASC and Council" is replaced in its entirety by the procedure described below under: "How Complaints by Special Interest Groups are Received and Handled".

Definition

"Special Interest Group" is defined as an identifiable group, representing more than one individual and/or organization, expressing a unified viewpoint that is critical of the content of an advertisement, and/or the production method or technique, and/or the medium, used to carry the advertisement and convey its perceived message.

How Complaints by Special Interest Groups 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 complaints received by them from Special Interest Groups about advertising that allegedly does not comply with the Code. If, upon review, it appears to ASC or Council that (i) a complaint is not a disguised complaint between advertisers; and that (ii) based on the provisions of the Code, reasonable grounds for the complaint appear to exist; and that (iii) the complaint is not excluded under the Exclusions sections of this Procedure found below, then the 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 and not a special interest group complaint, the process will be discontinued and the complainant(s) notified accordingly. In these cases, the complainant(s) will be reminded that alternative approaches should be considered by the complainant(s) for registering an advertising-related complaint, such as under ASC’s Advertising Dispute Procedure.

Until further notice, no fees will be charged by ASC for processing and hearing complaints under the Special Interest Group Complaint Procedure.

Exclusions

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

  1. the specific advertisement(s) about which the complainant alleges a Code violation has/have not been identified;
  2. based on the provisions of the Code, reasonable grounds for the complaint do not appear to exist;
  3. 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 has been, specifically, approved by an agency (or some other comparable entity) of the Canadian Government; or that
  4. 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
  5. this Procedure has been compromised because the confidentiality of the proceedings or the outcome of a hearing (including a hearing by an Appeal Panel) has been, or has been represented to be, breached; or that
  6. the Special Interest Group is a legal entity that is engaged in the use of "Advertising" as defined in the Code.

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.

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.

If, after a complaint is received, there is a preliminary determination that there may be a Code infraction by the advertisement, the advertiser will be notified in writing of the nature of the complaint and the identity of the complainant.

When a complaint, which has been accepted in this preliminary review, relates to the provisions of Clause 10 (Safety) or Clause 14 (Unacceptable Depictions and Portrayals), the advertiser will be asked to quickly respond directly to the complainant, within a stated time frame, copying ASC. 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.

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.

At the initial deliberation by Council, 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 a 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.