What’s the difference between a notary public and a commissioner?


A Notary Public and a Commissioner can both put people under oath and take declarations, but in BC a notary public can do much more.

A commissioner and a notary public can put you under oath, but a notary public can also do much more!

There are several kinds of officials who can take your signatures on legal documents:

  • a commissioner (also called a Commissioner for Taking Affidavits)
  • a notary public
  • a lawyer
  • individuals who hold special jobs

Read here for information on the difference between a notary public and a lawyer in BC.

So what’s the difference between these two legal professionals?

Notably, there are two main differences:

  • their scope of work, and
  • the people they serve.

What is a Commissioner?

A Commissioner is someone who can put you under oath, or take your signature under a solemn declaration.

Oaths and declarations are often needed for various government or legal purposes, such as:

  • court
  • government or government agencies (eg. ICBC, Autoplan, Fortis)
  • certain banking or corporate purposes (eg. pension letters, removing a deceased person from an account)
  • other legal purposes (eg. identification verification documents)

In BC, some people are automatically Commissioners because of their profession. For example, a lawyer and a notary public in BC are automatically Commissioners for Taking Affidavits.

Additionally, the Provincial Government can also appoint people to act as Commissioners.

These Commissioners can only provide services under certain circumstances. They cannot sign all documents.

For example, they might not be able to sign documents for the public at large.

Additionally, they cannot provide legal advice to their clients. In contrast, a notary public can provide legal advice on work within their scope of practice.

Additionally, commissioners may not be able to charge for their work. That might sound like a bonus to the public, but that will make it comparatively harder to find one. No one wants to take on legal liability for free.

What is a Notary Public?

In contrast, a Notary Public is a special kind of legal professional in BC. The Society of Notaries Public of British Columbia governs BC Notaries.

Similar to commissioners, a notary public can take your signatures on affidavits and statutory declarations.

Additionally, a notary public can also help you with other kinds of legal support as well as affidavits, such as:

Notwithstanding these additional powers, a notary public in BC does not work in legal areas that are (or can be) contentious, such as family law, probate, litigation or criminal law.

Who does a notary public or a commissioner serve?

A notary public can provide their approved services to any member of the public. Importantly, a notary public is also a commissioner by virtue of the fact that they are a member of a specially identified profession.

If the notary public is acting as a commissioner, they can serve any member of the public.

In contrast, a commissioner can only serve those people approved in their appointment order. For example, some law firms will appoint one of their assistants as a commissioner.

These kinds of commissioners have restricted powers, and can only help clients of the firm.

Scope of Work

A commissioner and a notary public both have a very specific “scope of work”. Both types of professionals are only allowed to provide services that fall within their scope of work. For example, neither can represent a client in court.

Scope of work for commissioners

The scope of work for a commissioner for taking oaths is fairly narrow. BC’s Evidence Act RSBC 1996, c. 124 sets out the powers of a Commissioner.

Under these rules, a commissioner can:

  • take affidavits
  • administer oaths
  • administer declarations and affirmations

Scope of work for a Notary Public

Comparatively, a notary in BC has a wider scope of practice.

The Notaries Act sets out the powers of a BC Notary. These powers include:

  • drafting contracts and other documents relating to property
  • making Wills and other estate planning documents
  • taking affidavits, declarations and oaths

Before you sign…

Always check to see what kind of legal professional you need. It may be easier for you to find a notary or a lawyer who can act as a commissioner.

In case of doubt, a notary public in BC will always be able to act as a commissioner for you.

Above all, make sure you tell your notary or lawyer that you need them to sign as a commissioner, so they sign the documents using the right formalities.

			June 12, 2017 9:59 pm 
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