Are electronic signatures legal in Canada?
Canada’s legal model is an open one. This means that unlike a tiered model (that see’s Qualified Electronic Signatures as a legitimate form of e-signature), there aren’t any conditions for electronic signature types. And so a QES doesn’t receive legal status.
Canada operates a Common Law system, which is based on:
- Judicial decisions are seen as binding
- Laws aren’t always of a written structure
- Few provisions are hinted at into the contract, by law
- Generally, everything is permitted that isn’t expressly prohibited by law
Few provisions are implied into a contract under the common law system – so it’s important to cover all the terms governing the relationship between the parties to a contract in the contract itself. This usually means that contracts are typically longer than one in a civil law country.
The exception to this law is the province of Quebec. Quebec operates according to the Quebec Civil Code, in addition to legislation that would apply to e-signatures specifically.
On the federal level, the use of eSignatures was officially endorsed by the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA). The act became in effect in 2004. According to the law, each kind of eSignature is equivalent to a physical one and are fully court-admissible. Each company operating in the Canadian market is free to use both digital and paper documents — the law recognizes them as equally valid.
However, PIPEDA has reiterated the explicit requirements for an electronic signature to be secure. According to them, an eSignature should be:
Unique and distinctive
Created under signer’s sole control
Can confirm the identity of the signer
Protected by the technology that can detect any subsequent changes in the document
This means that you can’t just draw an “X” or another kind of icon to sign your document. Marks like these can’t be identified as unique and can’t prove your identity.
On the provincial level, eSignatures have been accepted by law since 1999, as a part of the Uniform Electronic Commerce Act (UECA). Nine provinces use this act as a universal set of legislation when Quebec is the only province that has its own electronic signature laws stated in the Act to Establish a Legal Framework for Information Technology.
In Canada & Quebec, a hand-written signature isn’t compulsory for a contract to be seen as valid. As long as legally able people have come to an agreement. This can be done by agreeing verbally, electronically or by physically signing. However, these types of agreements may need to be supported by other evidence in court.