Electronic Communications Under Federal Law

The electronic documents part of the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) generally operates on an opt-in basis. Thus, for example, s. 41:

A requirement under a provision of a federal law for a document to be in writing is satisfied by an electronic document if

(a) the federal law or the provision is listed in Schedule 2 or 3; and

(b) the regulations respecting the application of this section to the provision have been complied with.

To date, only the Federal Real Property and Federal Immovables Act and a small part of the Canada Labour Code have been listed under clause (a). So the ‘functional equivalents’ parts of PIPEDA are essentially inactive, and not noticeably expanding.

Where the law does not require a particular medium or use a word that suggests the use of paper, then PIPEDA authorizes electronic communications in s. 33:

A minister of the Crown and any department, branch, office, board, agency, commission, corporation or body for the administration of affairs of which a minister of the Crown is accountable to the Parliament of Canada may use electronic means to create, collect, receive, store, transfer, distribute, publish or otherwise deal with documents or information whenever a federal law does not specify the manner of doing so.

A large number of forms are available online, and some of them may be submitted online as well. S. 35 deals with forms.

There are other federal laws than PIPEDA that provide for the use of electronic communications, at least between the citizen/taxpayer and the federal government itself. One can file tax returns electronically. One can submit incorporation documents electronically. Presumably all these possibilities are authorized by their own statutory regimes, under, for example, the Income Tax Act or the Canada Business Corporations Act.

Is there somewhere a comprehensive list or description of the federal laws that authorize the use of electronic communications to satisfy writing or signature requirements of federal law? It would be helpful to have such a list in two parts, one dealing with communications with the federal government and the other dealing with communications among private parties but governed by federal law (e.g the Bank Act?) Or do people just have to figure it out on a case-by-case basis?

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