The terms “notary public” or “notaries public” are common ones, and if you’re an adult chances are you’ve used our services. But we’ve noticed that there’s often a lot of confusion about the role of notaries public, who can do the job, and exactly what we do.

It’s likely you have some idea about when you need to seek out a notary for their services but, in Canada in particular, there are often questions – for example – about who is qualified to hold this position and why. And what are all those complicated services we list on our website?

Let’s start with the most common question.

Are notaries public also lawyers? And what’s the difference between the two?

The answer to this question in most cases is “Yes, I’m a lawyer.” (There are a few provinces in Canada where notaries do not need to be lawyers, and in the U.S., notaries are usually NOT lawyers.)

However, though both notaries public and lawyers deal with legal matters, notaries do not dispense legal advice nor do they represent clients in a court of law. Rather, notaries deal with so-called “non-contentious” issues – things like writing wills and representing clients in real estate transactions, authenticating documents and administering oaths.

So, the simple explanation is that notaries provide “legal type” services but do not offer legal representation as do those who specialize, for example, in criminal law or corporate law.

That said, however, British Columbia notaries public have the same education as others in the province with a law degree and are indeed knowledgeable about the Canadian legal system.

Why does the notary have to watch me sign my documents?

This is another favorite and this one is pretty simple! Notaries public act as witnesses to your signature. So if you sign whatever document requires your signature BEFORE you arrive at the notary, there is no guarantee that it is indeed YOUR signature. Anyone could have signed it! A notary stakes his reputation on his work, so you should never ask he or she to stamp a document that you signed before you arrived.

What is a certified true copy?

You may have read that notaries can verify “certified true copies” of original documents. What is this, you might wonder?

Verification of copies means that they will examine both the original document and copy of the document to certify that they are indeed identical. These documents might be birth certificates, passports or driver’s licenses, applications for immigration, or professional certifications, for example.

Once the notary public is satisfied that the two are identical, he/she will stamp or write “Certified True Copy of Original Document”, and then sign it, date it and stamp it with their notary seal.

What happens if you need a notary but are outside your province or country? Can you help me?

If you are visiting British Columbia but have to sign papers to sell your home in Alberta, can a BC notary do the job? Or, conversely, if you live in the Vancouver area but are selling a house in California and can’t get there for closing, can a BC notary notarize your settlement papers?

In most cases, the answer to both is “yes”. Most notaries have wide-sweeping authority to do their job and can help you with these issues. It’s usually as simple as having the notary sign/stamp the documents wherever you are and then sending them where they need to go. This is known as “notarizing a document for use in another jurisdiction” and it’s a common practice.

So, wouldn’t it be easier if I just go to my lawyer for all of this?

The answer is a resounding “no”. A notary public is an expert in conveyance and has the particular knowledge necessary to perform the services we advertise. Your lawyer is probably an expert in litigation. The two are very different.

That doesn’t mean, of course, that notaries public can’t help you in instances where litigation becomes necessary. We keep a list of trusted litigation experts to whom we can refer you if necessary, and will stand with you throughout the process, when needed.

However, if you need help with real estate transactions, wills and estate planning, or simple notarization, why not choose someone who is a specialist in those fields, like the experts at Langley Notary Public? We’ll offer you the best service available and take the time to explain our role and how we can help you.