Notaries, commissioners, affidavits, declarations, oaths, and affirmations… But what does it all mean?

On August 1st 2020, paralegals licensed by the Law Society of Ontario were granted the option to apply to become notaries, further expanding their scope of practice and increasing ‘access to justice’ for Ontarians. But the question is now, what the heck does it all mean? 

What is the difference between notarizing and commissioning documents?

Many legal actions require the use of true copies of documents or the swearing of an oath. Have you ever needed to order a new piece of identification (ID), or needed to transfer ownership of a vehicle? If so, chances are you have taken a visit to a Notary Public or Commissioner of Oaths. In fact, even if you’ve never had to do either of those things there’s a high chance you have, or will at some point, need to use the services provided by a Notary Public or Commissioner of Oaths. These titles are all well and good, but what do they mean? Today we’re going to explore this topic.

Who is a commissioner of oaths/for taking affidavits?

A commissioner of oaths, or more formally, a commissioner for taking affidavits is an individual who takes affidavits or oaths by asking someone to swear or affirm that what is in a document is true.

Anybody who regularly requires the use or provision of these services can apply to become one themselves. Lawyers and paralegals are also automatically commissioners for taking affidavits once they are licensed. These individuals are governed by the Commissioners for Taking Affidavits Act and its various regulations.

Why would I need to access these services?

Commissioning is an important service in our legal environment and in society as a whole as it provides a process for the certification of truth, which helps to combat fraud and false information.

You might require the services of a commissioner for taking affidavits or making statutory declarations when conducting business transactions, accessing, and applying for federal, provincial, or municipal government services, or for various documents in court.

What documents can be commissioned?

Any document could be commissioned, but some documents that may require commissioning include, but are not limited to:

·       Documents for a legal name change

·       Insurance claim forms

·       Applications for passports

·       Birth certificate registrations and amendments

·       Documents included in immigration applications

What is the difference between affidavits, declarations, oaths, and affirmations?

As we know, a commissioner for taking affidavits can also be called a commissioner of oaths. Although these titles are essentially referring to the same profession, it is important to understand the difference between an affidavit and an oath.

An affidavit is a written statement attesting the truth of the contents of said statement. An affidavit is “sworn” by an oath or affirmation. People take oaths by swearing that the information they are providing is true. Oaths hold a religious connotation and are made on a Bible or an equivalent religious object of importance and reverence. An affirmation (or a solemn affirmation) is similar to an oath but taken without the religious connotation. It is important to note that at law oaths and affirmations hold the same weight.

Declarations are similar to affidavits but are usually used outside of court, where an affidavit is typically used in court proceedings.

What about remote commissioning and the status of the profession?

Traditionally, to commission a document, the commissioner and the deponent/declarant (that is the person who is making the affidavit or declaration) must be physically together for the statement to be considered valid. However, as of August 2020, the Commissioners for Taking Affidavits Act was modified to allow affidavits and declarations to be commissioned remotely.

Who is a Notary Public?

A Notary Public is an individual who has the same powers as a commissioner for taking affidavits but can certify, witness, and attest to the execution of a document, as well as certifying and attesting that a document is a true copy.

A person who wants to be a Notary Public must apply  to the provincial government for said designation. A person may only be appointed as a Notary by the Attorney General, if required to do so as an essential part of their employment, or if they are a lawyer or paralegal practising law or providing legal services in the province of Ontario. Notary Publics are governed by the Notaries Act.

Why would I need to access these services?

Similarly, to the services provided by a commissioner for taking affidavits, a Notary Public’s are important to protect people against misinformation and fraud.  A Notary plays an additional role in our legal environment by certifying and executing important documents like wills, effectively making them binding legal contracts.

You may need to access these services when asked to provide medical, legal, educational, or employment documents.

What documents need to be notarized? 

Some documents that may need to be notarized include, but are not limited to:

·       Wills

·       Powers of Attorney

·       Medical certificates

·       Acceptance, enrollment, and admission letters from schools

·       Copies of identification documents (ID)

·       Copies of educational documents to be submitted to the IRCC

Where can I access these services?

All lawyers and paralegals in Ontario are automatically appointed as commissioners for taking affidavits. There are however numerous other professions which may commission documents. Documents can be commissioned remotely as of August 2020, and as such the commissioning of documents can be done from the comfort of your own home with a professional that you trust. 

Notarizing documents must be done in person and the appointments are made on an as needed basis and are therefore less accessible than commissioning services. We suggest contacting a trusted, licensed legal professional or municipal employee to notarize your documents in a safe and secure manner. 

Co-Written by Rebecca B. Tripp and Gavin Baxter.

Originally Posted on April 16, 2021

Copyright © 2020-2021 Rebecca B. Tripp All Rights Reserved.