Since the widespread adoption of the Internet, ordinary people have a far greater ability to view and verify documents. Because of this, jurisdictions in different locations have begun legislating how the process of notarization, which is just a functionary verifying a signature, works online. With remote notarization, the notary never needs to see the signer in person, but only over a webcam. The regulation is not uniform: some areas refuse to allow it, and others have established policies relating to how online notarization works. In Canada, only two provinces, Ontario and British Columbia, have legislation so far regarding online notarization. We explore those laws here.
On July 30, 2020, the Ontario government amended the Commissioners for Taking Affidavits Act, updating the circumstances under which notaries (also known as Commissioners of Affidavits) could remotely verify documents. In particular, the amendment specifies how oaths or declarations may be made without the declarer being in the presence of the notary. First, the declaration must be made over some kind of electronic communication, which allows the notary and declarer to see and hear each other. Second, the identity of the declarer must be verified by the notary. Third, the fact that the oath was notarized remotely must be recorded in the terms of the document, in the stamp of the notary, and in the records of the notary. The rest of the notarization process is business as usual, with the notary ensuring that the declarer understands what he or she is signing. Unlike many remote notarization regulations, this one does not have an expiration date.
On March 20, 2020, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Court of Appeal, Supreme Court, and Provincial Court of British Columbia set out a temporary process for which documents can be notarized remotely. This process involves noting that the signer of the document was not physically present, the verification of both sides of the signer’s ID by the notary, and both the notary and signer must have copies of the documents signed. Unlike Ontario’s law, these court decisions only apply for the extent of the emergency declaration.
Several Canadian provinces have made the first steps towards allowing remote notarization. However, most provinces have not passed any laws, and the states that have vary in what they are willing to allow, and whether or not the changes will persist. It remains to be seen how Canadian provincial governments will continue to legislate on the subject of remote notarization in the future.