Canada joins international deal to make document certification faster, cheaper

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Canadians who need to certify documents for use abroad should find the process faster — and cheaper — starting today, now that Canada has joined the largest international convention for verifying documents.

The 1961 Apostille Convention streamlines the process for certifying documents for use in the other 125 countries that have signed the convention. Canada agreed to join the convention in May 2023 and the changes come into effect today across the country.

Under the convention, Ontario, Alberta, British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Quebec will be able to unilaterally certify documents used by Canadians working or living abroad — official government documents, financial documents, school transcripts and legal documents, among others.

The remaining provinces and territories will continue to submit documents to Global Affairs Canada (GAC), which will continue to handle the certification process.

But once a document is certified — either by GAC or by one of the five provinces doing their own certification — it can be used in any member country of the Apostille Convention with no need for repeated certifications.

It’s a vast improvement over the old arrangement, said Todd McCarthy, Ontario’s minister of public and business service delivery.

“It’s going to be faster, simpler and less expensive to do it,” he said. “So it’s good for individuals, for families, for businesses in particular. And it’s one-stop shopping.”

Ontario Minister of Public and Business Service Delivery Todd McCarthy says the convention should make certification faster and less expensive. (Christian Paas-Lang/CBC)

Before now, Canadians had to submit documents for certification to GAC by mail, with a predicted turnaround time of 30 to 45 business days. They would then have to present those certified documents to the consulate or embassy of the country in which they were planning to use them.

The process would then have to be repeated for each document or copy of a document an individual or business needed to use in a foreign country.

“We’re happy that the federal government has taken the steps to implement Canada-wide,” said B.C. Attorney General Niki Sharma. “So we think it’s certainly a benefit for people, particularly B.C.”

Different processes, faster timelines

The process will work slightly differently in each province that is authorized to certify documents. People in Ontario will be allowed to present their documents in person at some locations, with the option of getting the documents certified by mail.

In Quebec, Alberta and B.C., residents can use an online form and then mail their documents to a centralized location. Processing times are estimated at five to 14 business days.

Any document issued by Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Manitoba, Yukon, Northwest Territories or Nunavut must be certified by Global Affairs Canada, no matter where the person requesting the certification is living.

Canadians abroad can obtain certification from consulates or embassies, but there will be a transition period from Jan. 11 to 28 when only urgent requests will be fulfilled.

The Canadian Embassy is shown in Washington on Tuesday, July 23, 2002.
The Canadian Embassy in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday, July 23, 2002. (Doug Mills/Associated Press)

Canada generally doesn’t require that foreign documents be certified at all. The federal government instead relies on other factors to determine the authenticity of foreign documents.

Sean Stephenson, a lawyer at Dentons Canada and vice-chair of the Canadian Bar Association, said the legal profession is pleased to see Canada join the convention.

“This is a tried and true method of document certification for non-Canadians or folks trying to use foreign documents in Canada,” he said.

Stephenson said the convention also opens up opportunities for the private sector to streamline the process further by offering certification services. Such services are common in the U.S. and other Apostille Convention member countries and could quickly come to Canada once the process becomes more well known.

How it will work:

Ontario

  • Beginning January 11, residents can bring documents in person to locations in Ottawa, Toronto, Windsor, Thunder Bay and St. Sault Marie.

  • Residents can also mail their documents to the Official Document Service desk at 222 Jarvis Street in Toronto after receiving approval online and paying a $15 fee.

  • Anticipated turnaround time is 15 days, depending on volume.

Saskatchewan 

  • Documents must be submitted by mail to the Ministry of Justice and Attorney General of Saskatchewan.

  • There will be a $50 fee for each document.

Alberta

  • Documents must be submitted to the Office of the Deputy Provincial Secretary for certification.

  • There will be a $10 fee for each document.

  • Anticipated turnaround time is 5 to 7 days, depending on volume.

British Columbia

  • Documents must be mailed to the OIC Administration Office in the Ministry of the Attorney General after completion of a B.C. Document Authentication Request online form.

  • There will be a $20 fee per document.

  • Anticipated turnaround time is 15 days, depending on volume.

Quebec

  • Document certification must be requested through an online form. The certification is carried out by the Ministry of Justice.

  • There will be a $65 fee for each document.

Rest of Canada

  • Global Affairs Canada (GAC) will continue to provide the service for the rest of Canada

  • Any document issued in Yukon, Nunavut, Northwest Territories, Manitoba, P.E.I., New Brunswick, Nova Scotia or Newfoundland and Labrador will have to be certified through Global Affairs Canada, no matter where the person requesting the certification currently resides.

  • There is no charge for GAC’s service beyond the cost of mailing documents.

  • Turnaround times are expected to be “greatly reduced” from the current 30 to 45 business days, but GAC did not give an exact target.

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