Canada CWTA Messaging Compliance

SMS marketing is a powerful tool for businesses to connect with their customers. Companies need to understand the laws regarding SMS marketing to make the most of this tool. By understanding this, businesses can create their campaign appropriately, speeding up their time-to-market while helping them avoid any legal problems down the line.

This article will discuss SMS marketing and the laws surrounding it in Canada. It will explain Common Short Codes (CSCs) use, the governing regulatory body, how to comply with the laws, and the penalties for non-compliance.

What are Common Short Codes?

Common Short Codes are ideal for high-volume programmed messaging, which is often defined as around 100 messages per second or more. CSC numbers are shorter, usually five to six digits long, compared to the more familiar ten-digit code number.

Sending a large number of messages daily from a long code number can put your messages at risk of being marked as spam. According to Canadian law, any electronic commercial message sent without the recipient's express consent is considered spam. Spam includes messages that are unsolicited, irrelevant, or sent too frequently.

CSCs are most commonly used in Canada for:

  • Two-factor authentication (2FA) or one-time passwords (OTP)
  • Promotional or marketing alerts
  • Account alert notifications
  • Reminders (appointments, upcoming payments, etc.)

The Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association (CWTA) regulates CSCs in Canada.

SMS verification is an example of an everyday use case of Short Code messaging, as seen here:

Verify phone number form

What is the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association (CWTA)?

The Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association (CWTA) is an association that plays a crucial role in the SMS marketing industry. Its responsibilities include:

  • Managing the industry's CSC registry
  • Working with businesses and wireless service providers (WSPs) to ensure compliance with regulations
  • Conducting ongoing compliance testing to ensure that all CSC programs follow the CSC Code of Conduct
  • Working with WSPs by providing them with the assessment results of CSC programs. These results evaluate compliance and will inform wireless service providers of any necessary disciplinary actions regarding held CSC campaigns.

As shown below, the Canadian CSC program ecosystem involves multiple parties. Each has a role in promoting and ensuring compliance with the Canadian CSC Compliance Policies:

Parties chart of Canada CSC

In the case of the Canadian CSC industry, the CWTA is the administrator of all CSC programs.

How Do You Obtain Short Codes?

CSC Content Providers, including content developers, application service providers, and marketers, can obtain their Short Codes from the CWTA in Canada. If approved, these CSCs will be activated across participating wireless service providers (WSPs).

Note that two or more WSPs must agree to participate in the CSC program for the CWTA to approve it.

Obtaining a CSC first involves establishing Short Message Peer-to-Peer Protocol (SMPP) with WSPs. SMPP is an industry-standard language that cellular networks use to send and receive messages.

Once SMPP is established, you can begin the CSC application process with the CWTA. If your application meets all the necessary criteria, the CWTA will issue your CSC.

The entire application process and other relevant information about CSC programs can be found here.

How to Comply With Canada CWTA Messaging Requirements?

Complying with industry standards is important when running a Short Code campaign. However, even when following the guidelines, WSPs may suspend short code service for unforeseeable reasons. Therefore, compliance is not a guarantee against service suspension.

Despite this, it's essential to comply with all guidelines outlined by the CWTA.

Here are some of the critical guidelines you must implement whenever you want to run a CSC campaign:

Request an Opt-In

When conducting a CSC program, it is crucial to ensure that the people receiving it have given their permission or "opted-in." Additionally, Content Providers must maintain proper records of consumers' opt-in to prove consent.

There are five ways accepted by the CWTA that consumers can opt-in to your CSC program:

  • Sending a message from their handset or other wifi-capable devices
  • Signing up via a WAP (wireless access device) interface
  • Signing up online
  • Signing up via a manually entered opt-in, such as in a paper application
  • Signing up via spoken opt-in, such as over a phone call with a customer service representative

Provide an Opt-Out Method

When consumers sign up for a Short Code program, they should be able to stop participating and receiving messages in the program whenever they want.

To do this, consumers have to send the keyword <STOP>. After this, no further text messages may be sent to the opted-out consumer.

If a Content Provider continues to send CSC text messages, appropriate penalties will be applied.

Use Mandatory Keywords

All CSC programs must include five mandatory keywords: STOP, ARRET, HELP, AIDE, and INFO. These keywords should be in capital letters in all messaging and advertising to emphasize their importance.

Here are what these keywords do:

  • <STOP>: Whenever STOP is sent as a keyword from a consumer, the Content Provider must:

    • Reply with one message stating that the consumer will no longer receive messages in connection to the CSC program
    • Stop sending messages to that consumer unless the consumer initiates the service again
    • Must return an English response
    • The consumer must immediately be removed from the CSC program
  • <ARRET>: This keyword will return the same information and have the same effect as <STOP>, but the response must be in French.
  • <HELP>: If a consumer sends this, the following information must be included by the Content Provider in an English message response:

    • Customer service contact information, including email, URLs, and phone details. If a phone number is the only contact method, it must be toll-free.
    • Cost and message frequency of the program
    • Opt-out/unsubscribe information using <STOP>
  • <AIDE>: This keyword will return the same information as <HELP>, but the response must be in French.
  • <INFO>: If a consumer sends this keyword, the Content Provider must reply in both English and French. The message should contain the following information:

    • The Content Provider company name
    • Customer service contact information

Here's how this information is officially disclosed in a Guidelines document:

Canadian Common Short Code Guidelines: Mandatory Keywords section

Disclose Appropriate Information to Consumers

When promoting a CSC program, Content Providers must clearly state all the terms and conditions associated with participating in the program. The business holding the CSC must also inform consumers about the cost of sending and receiving text messages from the CSC program.

If the signup process requires the consumer to visit multiple web pages, then the program's participation cost must be included on all pages throughout the process. This consists of all pages from the first page to the last page, including pages in between that do not ask for consumer registration information.

Here's how this is disclosed in the official Guidelines:

Canadian Common Short Code Guidelines: Minimum Disclosure for online advertising section

Provide Customer Support

Content Providers are required to provide customer support for their CSC programs. This support must be accessible through either a web-based support page, email address, or toll-free phone number.

If a phone number is the only means of obtaining customer support, it must be toll-free.

Canadian Common Short Code Guidelines: Customer Support section

Adhere to Restrictions

The CWTA imposes several restrictions on the content of CSC messaging. These include:

  • Sexual or adult content
  • Short Codes sending messages on behalf of more than one brand
  • Cannabis or cannabis-related messaging, including CBD. Wireless service providers and the CWTA will assess applications related to cannabis or CBD on a case-by-case basis.
  • Campaigns dealing with age-restricted content, such as alcohol and gambling, are allowed but will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis by the CWTA. All CSC programs related to age-restricted content must also include an age verification mechanism. For example, the programs must ask consumers to verify whether they are of legal age.
  • CSC programs should not be used to encourage people to access content that promotes illegal activities such as copyright infringement or piracy.
  • Messages sent to consumers must be at most 320 characters, equivalent to two SMS messages, unless otherwise agreed to by the CWTA.

Comply With Canadian Anti-SPAM Law (CASL) and Other Laws

When sending text messages, it's crucial to comply with the standards set by wireless carriers, CWTA, and general Canadian law. This includes the Canadian Anti-SPAM Law (CASL), which applies to CSC messaging campaigns.

The specific compliance requirements will depend on the nature of your campaign, so it's essential to consult with your legal counsel to ensure compliance with all applicable standards and laws.

What are the Penalties for Not Complying With Canada CWTA Messaging Requirements?

CWTA or WSPs may penalize users for not complying with the above standard practices. Some violations will automatically result in suspension of the CSC campaign, while others will offer a remediation period before termination.

Here are some penalties set out by the CWTA and their corresponding offenses:

  • Violations resulting in immediate CSC suspension

    • Campaigns containing prohibited content such as sex, hate, alcohol, firearms, and tobacco violations
    • Messages sent to consumers without their consent through an opt-in
    • Running a program without CWTA approval
    • Failure to comply with opt-out keywords
  • Violations resulting in a remediation period with possible suspension

    • Failure to comply with HELP keywords
    • Failure to send an opt-in confirmation
    • Missing pricing disclosures. For example, "message and data rates may apply"
    • Missing message frequency disclaimer. For example, "This campaign will have two messages per week"
    • Not including the program name
    • No links to SMS terms


Businesses must follow Canadian regulations when conducting Common Short Code campaign messages. They must balance promoting their products or services while respecting the legal and ethical boundaries outlined by the CWTA.

While SMS marketing can be a highly effective strategy for engaging with customers in Canada, it must be approached with an understanding of the legal landscape.

By prioritizing consent, allowing for opt-outs, including mandatory keywords, providing customer support, and disclosing messaging terms, businesses can navigate the complexities of CSC programs in Canada while building trust with their audience.

Not doing the above can result in possible suspension of CSC campaigns.