Complaint Procedure under the Code for Responsible Advertising of Food and Beverage Products to Children
IN EFFECT AS OF OCTOBER 1, 2023 (updated October 25, 2023)
How to Submit a Complaint
Complainants may submit a complaint about advertising for a food or beverage product that:
- they believe is primarily directed to persons under thirteen years of age; and
- the food or beverage product featured in the advertisement does not satisfy the child advertising nutrition criteria under The Code for the Responsible Advertising of Food and Beverage Products to Children(the “Code for Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising”).
For complaints related to advertisements that also fall under The Broadcast Code for Advertising to Children ("Children’s Code"), the complaint process outlined in the Consumer Complaint Procedure for Children’s Broadcast Advertising can also be pursued.
To submit a complaint related to the Code for Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising online:
You can choose to submit a complaint by letter:
- Include your full name, telephone number, complete mailing address and (if available) email address. In the case of an advertiser (including an advocacy group), you must also include the name of the entity.
- Identify the product or service being advertised, and the media, 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 Code for Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising that may apply.
Mail the letter to: Attn: Chief Legal Officer, Ad Standards, 33 Bloor Street East, Suite 303, Toronto, ON M4W 3H1.
For complaints between advertisers (which includes, without limitation, advocacy groups), the complainant must pay a fee of $250 for Ad Standards members and $500 for non-members prior to adjudication. If, where a complainant does not identify themselves as an advertiser but Ad Standards concludes (at any point in the review process prior to releasing its decision) that a complaint is a disguised complaint between advertisers or a disguised advocacy group complaint, the complainant will be notified that the fee will be assessed.
How Complaints are Received and Handled by Ad Standards
Ad Standards carefully considers and responds to all written complaints it receives about advertising that allegedly does not comply with the Code for Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising.
Where a complaint relates to an advertisement that was previously approved by Ad Standards Clearance Services under the Code for Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising and its accompanying Guide, and provided the advertisement was aired in accordance with any restrictions included with the approval, the complainant will be advised that these ads are compliant and no further action will be taken.
For complaints related to advertisements that were not previously approved by Ad Standards Clearance Services under the Code for Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising and its accompanying Guide, these complaints are reviewed and adjudicated by the Director, Clearance Services, an analyst with experience in the preclearance of food advertising, children’s advertising, and/or advertising under the Code for Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising, and the Chief Legal Officer.
Ad Standards shall decline to accept, or to proceed further with, a complaint, or any part thereof, where it is of the opinion that:
- the specific advertisement(s) about which the complainant alleges a Code for Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising violation has/have not been identified, or insufficient information is provided about the ad or advertiser for it to be found and/or evaluated;
- based on the provisions of the Code for Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising, reasonable grounds for the complaint do not appear to exist;
- such advertising is not within the purview of the Code for Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising;
- 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,
- 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 Code for Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising infraction in the advertisement (i.e. an accepted complaint), the complaint will be forwarded, verbatim, to the involved advertiser. If, in the case of a complaint from the public, the complainant grants consent to Ad Standards, the complaint will include the identity of the complainant. In the case of an advertiser complaint, the identity of the complainant will be included with the complaint sent to the involved advertiser.
The advertiser will be asked to respond directly to Ad Standards by providing, in writing and without unreasonable delay, information requested so that Ad Standards may deliberate and reach an informed decision about whether Code for Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising has, in fact, been violated.
Ad Standards’ Decision
The complaint review process will include, at a minimum, the complaint letter, the advertiser’s written response, if any, and a copy of the advertising in question.
If Ad Standards concludes an advertisement violates the Code for Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising, the advertiser 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 Ad Standards, the complaint is not upheld, both the complainant and the advertiser will be notified in writing with an explanation for the decision.
Appealing a Decision
Both the complainant and the advertiser are entitled to request an appeal from a decision of Ad Standards 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 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 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 Ad Standards is satisfied that the advertising medium used to convey the advertising is unable to facilitate the withdrawal in the designated time.
A three-person Appeal Panel will be selected from among a roster of persons who serve on Ad Standards' Children's Clearance Committee (excluding the Chair of the Children’s Clearance Committee who is also the Director, Clearance Services at Ad Standards).
The advertiser and the complainant will be permitted 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 Code for Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising findings on upheld complaints on its website.
The advertising complaints reports include: (1) "Identified Cases" providing details, including advertiser and advertisement identification, of those complaints adjudicated and upheld under the Code for Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising using the process described above; and, (2) "Non-identified Cases," which summarize, without naming the advertiser, complaints upheld using the process described above about advertisements appropriately dealt with by the advertiser.
"Appropriately dealt with" means action voluntarily undertaken by the advertiser, 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 Ad Standards for review and decision. Alternatively, the advertiser, without delay, may permanently withdraw the advertisement and any substantially similar variations from any further exposure, distribution or circulation.
Re-Opening a Case
Ad Standards will have the discretionary right to reactivate the complaint procedure, in whole or part, 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 Code for Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising.
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 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 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 Ad Standards and on any further pertinent information submitted by the complainant for review.
Failure to Follow Procedure or Comply with Decision
If an advertiser fails to comply with the decision of Ad Standards or the appeal decision (as applicable), 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
- may publicly declare, in such manner as Ad Standards deems appropriate, that the advertising in question, and the advertiser who will be identified, have been found to violate the Code for Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising.
Date in effect: October 1, 2023 (updated October 25, 2023)