Frequently Asked Questions about Ad Standards' Advertising Dispute Procedure

Ad Standards receives queries from members of the advertising community about the Advertising Dispute Procedure (Procedure) We hope the answers to the questions below will help to clarify this important Procedure. If you have additional questions, please contact Catherine Bate, Chief Legal & Policy Officer, at:

What mechanisms are available in Canada for advertisers wanting to contest the content of advertising by another advertiser?

  • Contact the other advertiser directly
  • File a complaint under Ad Standards' Advertising Dispute Procedure alleging a Code violation
  • Take legal action against the other advertiser
  • Complain to appropriate regulatory body, e.g. Competition Bureau, Canadian Food Inspection Agency or Health Canada.
Ad Standards' Advertising Dispute Procedure (Procedure) is a confidential fee-based procedure designed to resolve disputes between advertisers. First developed in 1976 as the Trade Dispute Procedure, and regularly updated to keep it contemporary and relevant, the Procedure has generally proved to be faster and less costly than resolving disputes within the judicial system. The Procedure is based on the provisions of the Canadian Code of Advertising Standards (Code) , the principal instrument of advertising self-regulation in Canada.

What are the benefits of using the Procedure?

This process provides advertisers with a useful mechanism for resolving disputes expeditiously and at a lower cost than using the court system.

What should we consider before filing a complaint under the Procedure?

Ad Standards requires as first step before filing a complaint that the advertiser reach out to its competitor in an attempt to resolve the matter directly. If that is unsuccessful, a detailed complaint, along with the applicable fee can be filed with Ad Standards

Does the Procedure apply only to members of Ad Standards?

The Procedure is open and accessible to members and non-members alike. The fee schedule is higher for non-members.

What is the basis for a complaint under the Procedure?

The basis for a complaint is the alleged breach of one of more clauses of the Code. To be accepted by Ad Standards, the complaint cannot be based on, or include, an alleged breach of a statute or regulation, or a ruling in another jurisdiction.

Can a complaint be filed with Ad Standards, as well as with a regulatory body?

No. Ad Standards cannot proceed to handle an advertising dispute if the same matter is the subject of a complaint that has been filed with a Canadian regulatory body or court.

Why is the Procedure confidential?

The Canadian advertising industry has stated its preference that the entire process be kept confidential between the parties themselves. Summaries of upheld complaints are published online without identifying the parties.

How many Advertising Disputes does Ad Standards handle per year?

There is no predictable pattern. Over the past 8 years, Ad Standards has had as many as 12 and as few as 3 disputes filed in a year.

What happens if the parties cannot reach a satisfactory resolution?

The complaint will be adjudicated by an Advertising Dispute Panel. The three member Advertising Dispute Panel comprises two senior, experienced advertising industry members and is chaired by a lawyer experienced in advertising law. Often, the Panelists include members of the Standards Council, who are very experienced in adjudicating complaints under the Code.

What happens if a defendant does not participate in the process?

The complaint will be adjudicated even if the defendant advertiser fails to participate in the process.

What happens if a defendant advertiser ignores the decision of the Advertising Dispute Panel?

In the case of noncompliance with a decision of the Advertising Dispute Panel, Ad Standards will publish a summary of the outcome of the case; publicly refer to the advertiser’s unwillingness to participate or comply; advise the exhibiting media of the non-compliance; and may notify the Competition Bureau of the fact of noncompliance.

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