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Procedure for Consumer Complaints about Children's Broadcast Advertising

How to Submit Consumer Complaints about Children's Broadcast Advertising to ASC1

If an advertisement appears in a broadcast medium (television or radio) a consumer’s complaint will be evaluated under the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ The Broadcast Code for Advertising to Children (the "Children’s Code").

The procedure for submitting a complaint to ASC about a "children’s advertisement" (as defined in the Children’s Code) appearing in a broadcast medium that contravenes the Children’s Code, is as follows:

ASC accepts complaints submitted by mail, online, or fax. Telephoned complaints cannot be accepted.

To submit a complaint online, click below and complete the online submission form:

submit a complaint icon

To submit a complaint by letter:

  • 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 station, time and date on/at which you saw/heard the commercial and provide a brief description of the commercial.
  • Explain the reason or basis for the complaint and, if known, the provision(s) of the Children’s Code that may apply.
  • Submit the letter by mail or by fax to: 175 Bloor Street East, South Tower, Suite 1801, Toronto, ON M4W 3R8; by fax to: 416-961-7904

How Consumer Complaints are Received and Handled by ASC and Council

ASC carefully considers and responds to all written consumer complaints received by it about advertising that allegedly does not comply with the Children's Code.

Such complaints are reviewed and adjudicated by the Standards Council (Council). This independent body made up of senior industry and public representatives is supported and co-ordinated by, but independent from, ASC.

The critical factor in determining whether an advertisement should be reviewed by Council is whether an advertisement, regardless of the number of complaints that have been received about it, appears to contravene the Children's 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 complaint between advertisers or special interest group complaint, and that based on the provisions of the Children’s 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 advised of alternative approaches that can 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:

  1. the specific advertisement(s) about which the complainant alleges a Children's Code violation has/have not been identified;
  2. based on the provisions of the Children's 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 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
  4. such advertising is not within the purview of the Children's Code or the complaint is beyond the resources or ability of ASC to resolve effectively, reasonably or conclusively under this Consumer Complaint Procedure for Children’s Advertising (Complaint Procedure); or that
  5. the complainant is abusing this 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 Children’s 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.

Where a preliminary determination has been made that there may be an infraction of one or more of the clauses of the Children’s Code (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 Children’s Code has, in fact, been violated.

Council Hearing and Decision

Complaints directed to ASC will be initially evaluated by ASC staff. If a complaint raises a potential Children’s Code issue it will be evaluated by the Standards Council in Toronto.

At the initial deliberation by a 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 Children’s 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 a Council, the complaint is not upheld by Council, 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 deliberation by a Council. 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 the Standards Division 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

As part of its commitment to transparency, ASC publishes summaries of Council findings on upheld complaints and releases online ad complaints reports.

The advertising complaints reports are be divided into two sections. One section will provide details, including advertiser and advertisement identification, of those consumer complaints upheld under the Children’s 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 Complaint Procedure, in whole or part, including the imposition of sanctions set out below, 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 Children’s 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 Complaint Procedure the complaint may be adjudicated 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

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 Children’s Code.

March 2012

1Complaints about advertisements appearing in non-broadcast media (including print, outdoor and internet) will be evaluated under the Canadian Code of Advertising Standards (the "Code") pursuant to the process outlined in the Consumer Complaint Procedure under the Code.