If you send a contest notice by mail or email, in order to promote a product, service or business interest, be sure the notice does not give the impression that the recipient has won or will win a prize or benefit, or the recipient pays money or incurs a cost before claiming their prize or benefit.
Winning something means there are no strings attached. If you state that a prize or benefit has been won, then the recipient of the notice must actually receive a prize or benefit and you must:
- provide details of the number and approximate value of the prizes or other benefits
- distribute the prizes or benefits in a timely manner
- provide information on the distribution area(s) for the prizes or benefits
- include any important information relating to the chances of winning (for instance, odds, skill-testing question, if any, and closing date)
- select winners or distribute prizes or benefits randomly or based on the participants’ skills
When deciding whether marketing information is false or misleading, the court considers both the literal meaning of the information and the general impression it makes. This is known as the “general impression test.”
Penalties for non-compliance
Someone who contravenes the criminal section of the Competition Act dealing with deceptive notices of winning a prize can be fined up to $200,000 per count and/or imprisoned for up to one year on summary conviction. If indicted, individuals can face fines at the discretion of the court and/or be imprisoned for up to 14 years.
Potential for immunity
If you have engaged in a deceptive marketing practice prohibited under the criminal provisions of the Competition Act, you are encouraged to come forward, share what you know, and fully cooperate with our investigation and any subsequent prosecution. If you meet the requirements of the Immunity Program, we will recommend that the Director of Public Prosecutions of Canada provide you with immunity from prosecution.
Having a credible and effective compliance program can provide benefits in dealing with the Competition Bureau to resolve a violation of one of the legislation it enforces. A compliance program can also help:
- reduce the risk of potentially illegal conduct
- protect your brand and reputation
- detect instances of potentially illegal conduct at an early stage
- identify when others might put you at risk
To find out more information on written opinions under section 124.1 of the Competition Act, contact the Bureau’s Information Centre toll-free at 1-800-348-5358 or online. If a written opinion is provided by the Commissioner, a fee will apply based upon the section of the Act the proposed conduct or practice applies to. A written opinion is binding on the Commissioner as long as the facts submitted are accurate, and it remains binding if the facts on which the opinion is based remain substantially unchanged and your conduct or practice is carried out, as proposed. All fees and service standards for written opinions are set out in the Competition Bureau Fee and Service Standards Policy.
- Written opinions
- Enforcement guidelines: Deceptive notices of winning a prize
- Advertising dos and don’ts
- Immunity program (Immunity and leniency programs under the Competition Act)
- How we foster competition and ensure compliance with the law
- A special prize just for you? Don’t be fooled into believing you are a sweepstakes winner
- Competition Act, section 53