If You Think Our Red Tape Is Bad…

We often get frustrated with seemingly unnecessary red tape and arbitrary rules – but every once in a while we run across requirements from other countries that are mind boggling. For those who have never encountered this, it goes something like this.

A government agency or business in a country your client does business in requires a copy of a document. If they were here, they may not need that document in the first place, but even if they do it would be a simple manner of scanning and emailing a pdf.

But no, they require a notarial copy – still simple enough. Then they say the document needs to have a corporate seal as well. Explaining that most Canadian companies don’t have corporate seals because they have not been required here for decades doesn’t help – its easier and cheaper to just buy a corporate seal.

But they won’t accept a notarial copy on its own, it has to be consularized, meaning the document has to go to that country’s embassy or consulate to be vetted and stamped or formalized in some way. So you look up the process for that on the consulate web site and see that they have very specific rules about things such as what time of day they will accept documents, what ID has to be provided by the requesting person, and the need to bind the document together in a way that avoids substitution. It may suggest methods such as sealing wax or an eyelet. No staples allowed. So the firm gets canvassed to see if there exists anywhere an eyelet/rivet tool that some lawyers used decades ago to fasten wills together. That fails, so you end up sending the document to a print shop to be bound.

Before the bound document goes to the consulate, it has to go to the provincial Ministry of Government Services so they can sign the document to confirm that the notary who signed it is really a notary. Then it goes to the consulate where they add their official seal for a modest fee.

But we are still not done. All of this is in English, so you have to send it to be translated by a certified translation agency or law firm in the country it is going to.

Then it can go to whomever requested it.

By the time this is all done, that document copy has been certified/stamped/sealed by: originating company, notary, provincial official, consulate, official translator.

The task that would have taken 5 minutes here has stretched into hours of work, various fees, and an elapsed time that might be measured in weeks.


  1. David – this problem was solved back in 1961 by the Hague Convention of 5 October 1961 Abolishing the Requirement of Legalisation for Foreign Public Documents, which Canada has not ratified.

    Back then the standard Hague Conference drafting language did not contain a satisfactory federal state clause which meant that Canada had to have all the provinces on side – it could not sign, and then let them enact local legislation at their own pace.

    In Hague Convention countries one simply attaches the Apostille, you get from the national competent authority – and then the document is recognized in the foreign state.

    My recollection was that Justice Canada did not regard this particular Convention as a priority. And the lack of a federal state clause was a useful pretext.

    For details on the Convention and Apostilles, see the Hague site.

  2. Yes – solved but not solved.

  3. You bring back fond memories for me. 30 years ago when I was articling in Montreal for an international law firm, I did a lot of legalization of documents. It was relatively easy with the large number of consulates in the City. However, anywhere else it can be a real pain!

    For anyone interested, on Aug 26 at 4 pm, I am giving a CPD program on Commissioners for Taking Affidavits and Notaries. One of the issues that we will cover will be the legalization of documents. Anyone interested can register at: http://ezurl.ca/1b2x (30 substantive minutes and 30 professionalism minutes)

  4. Marcel – yes! Running around the city to get all the necessary signatures was a staple of every student’s year at my firm.

    Where I articled there were not many established “consulates” but for every country we dealt with there was a “consul general” appointed, usually an expat from that country with a day job. So you’d sit in a doctor’s office or day care and wait your turn.

    The “modest fee” was at that time payable with revenue stamps (completely separate thing from postage stamps). Our paralegal had a drawer full of stamps from various countries.

  5. One of the problems with the legalization process today is that a number of countries don’t recognize the provincial certificate (for the notarial signature) so one has to go to Foreign Affairs in Ottawa – where they have about a two-month backlog. And many consulates don’t do the work, so the document has to go to the embassy in Ottawa. There are private services that will look after this for you, but they can’t jump the queue usually, so the time is the same in any event.

    There is a bit of interest in the Apostille Convention across the country. One problem is that setting up the system requires an investment, though one that can be recouped by fees charged for the apostilles. Getting the money up front can be a challenge these days, even if it’s a net break-even. (I’m not sure the Convention allows it to be a profit centre, but it expressly allows cost recovery.)

    The Hague Conference has been doing a lot of work on electronic apostilles too, with some success, especially for the registry of apostilles that can be readily verified from the country of destination. I have written about that element here and here.