Consumer Complaint Procedure for Children’s Broadcast Advertising

How to Submit a Complaint1  

Consumers' complaints about "children’s advertising" appearing in a broadcast medium (television or radio) are evaluated under The Broadcast Code for Advertising to Children ("Children’s Code").

"Children’s advertising" is defined in the Children’s Code as:

"any paid commercial message that is carried in or immediately adjacent to a children's program. Children's advertising also includes any commercial message that is determined by the broadcaster as being directed to children and is carried in or immediately adjacent to any other program."

"Children’s program" is defined in the Children’s Code as: "a program that is directed to the under-12 audience, as defined by the broadcaster."

To submit a complaint online:

Complete the Online Complaint Submission Form

To submit a complaint by letter:

  • Include your full name, telephone number, complete mailing address and (if available) 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.

Mail the letter to: 33 Bloor Street East, Suite 303, Toronto, ON M4W 3H1.

How Consumer Complaints are Received and Handled by Ad Standards and Council

Ad Standards 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, Ad Standards.

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 Ad Standards 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 Ad Standards 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 Ad Standards' Advertising Dispute Procedure or Special Interest Group Complaint Procedure.

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

a. the specific advertisement(s) about which the complainant alleges a Children’s Code violation has/have not been identified;

b. based on the provisions of the Children’s Code, reasonable grounds for the complaint do not appear to exist;

c. 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 that generally meets, or exceeds, or is not inconsistent with, advertising standards articulated in regulations, guidelines, or otherwise by an agency (or some other comparable entity) of the Canadian government or a provincial government with respect to products or services that are fundamentally comparable to the products or services advertised in the advertising to which the complaint refers; or has been, specifically, approved by an agency (or some other comparable entity) of the Canadian Government; or that

d. such advertising is not within the purview of the Children’s Code or, if in Ad Standards' opinion, the complaint is beyond the resources or ability of Ad Standards to resolve effectively, reasonably or conclusively under this complaint procedure; or if the matter to which such advertising refers has been identified by a competent authority such as an agency (or some other comparable entity) of the Canadian government or a provincial government as being outside the purview of Ad Standards.

e. the complainant is abusing this procedure.

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 complaint will be forwarded, verbatim, to the involved advertiser/broadcaster. If the complainant grants consent to Ad Standards, the complaint will include the identity of the complainant.

Where a complaint relates to the content of the commercial message, the advertiser will be asked to respond directly to Ad Standards by providing, in writing and without unreasonable delay, information requested by Council in order that Council may deliberate and reach an informed decision about whether the Children’s Code has, in fact, been violated.

Where a complaint relates to scheduling of children’s advertising (Clause 6. "Scheduling" of the Children’s Code), the involved broadcaster will be asked to respond directly to Ad Standards regarding the merits of the complaint. A courtesy copy of the complaint will be sent to the advertiser.

Council Hearing and Decision

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

At the initial deliberation by a Council, the materials available for Council’s review include, at a minimum, the complaint letter, the advertiser’s/ broadcaster’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 Council concludes an advertisement violates the Children’s Code, the advertiser/broadcaster, will be notified of the decision in writing, with a copy to the complainant, and will be 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/broadcaster will be notified in writing with an explanation for Council’s decision.

Appealing a Council Decision

Both the complainant and the advertiser/broadcaster are entitled to request an appeal from a decision of Council by filing a Request for Appeal addressed to Ad Standards. The Request for Appeal must be in writing and received at Ad Standards 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/broadcaster for an appeal will be considered if that advertiser/broadcaster undertakes in writing to withdraw the advertising in question within 11 working days after the Request for Appeal is received at Ad Standards. The withdrawn advertising may be reinstated, however, if at the appeal hearing the Appeal Panel decides not to uphold the complaint. A reasonable extension of time in which to withdraw the advertising will be granted 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 advertising industry sector.

The advertiser/broadcaster and the complainant will be requested to make only written submissions to the Appeal Panel. The submissions must be brief, confined strictly to the matters under appeal and received by Ad Standards within the requested timeframe.

At the appeal hearing, the complaint will be treated as a new complaint and the matter reconsidered in its entirety.

Decisions of Appeal Panels will be by majority vote and will be sent to both parties following the appeal hearing. Decisions by Appeal Panels will be binding and final.

Advertising Complaints Reports

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

The advertising complaints reports are divided into two sections. One section, "Identified Cases" provides details, including advertiser/broadcaster and advertisement identification, of those consumer complaints adjudicated and upheld by Council under the Children’s Code. In this section, advertisers/broadcasters will be entitled to state their position on the advertisements about which Council has upheld one or more complaints.

The other section, "Non-identified Cases" summarizes, without naming the advertiser/broadcaster, consumer complaints upheld by Council about advertisements dealt with appropriately by the advertiser/broadcaster.

"Appropriately dealt with" means action voluntarily undertaken by the advertiser/broadcaster, without delay, to amend the advertisement to correct the alleged infraction, after being advised by Ad Standards that a complaint had been received and before the matter was brought forward to Council for review and decision. Alternatively, the advertiser/broadcaster, 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

Ad Standards 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/broadcaster 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 Ad Standards' request for a copy of the advertisement that is the subject of a consumer complaint, Ad Standards may ask the carrying media to assist Ad Standards by providing it with a copy of the advertisement in question. If an advertiser/broadcaster fails to respond to a complaint or participate in the complaint procedure the complaint may be adjudicated in the advertiser’s/broadcaster’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, Ad Standards:

  • 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

If an advertiser/broadcaster fails to voluntarily comply with the decision of Council, Ad Standards:

  • may publicly declare, in such manner as Council deems appropriate, that the advertising in question, and the advertiser/ broadcaster who will be identified, have been found to violate the Children’s Code.

Revised October 2015

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 complaints process under the Code.

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