The Evolution of Signatures

Written By on October 5, 2018

From a chisel on stone tablets, to a quill on parchment, to digital signatures, the evolution of signatures has seen many changes along the way. As a result, businesses and governments have had to adapt to the changing times. Yet, innovations in signature technology have been questioned as far back as 1867 when a US Court looked at the legitimacy of a signature transmitted via telegraph.

Today, we have much more certainty thanks to the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA). The purpose of the federal statute is to enable “the use of electronic alternatives” where federal laws consider the use of paper for transactions and communications. More specifically, PIPEDA provides for the use of electronic signatures where federal law and regulations have been complied with.

According to a recent note on the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) website, however, electronic signatures are accepted on all but a single document, Form T183. This is contradictory to an otherwise agency wide acceptance and requirements to sign declarations electronically before efiling other documents, such as Form T1013. The general avoidance away from signature software is due to the potential for a stamp-like quality which fails to provide any assurance regarding the integrity of the signature or document.

This issue was demonstrated during a Commons committee meeting in 2016, when Stephanie Henderson, Canada Revenue Agency’s offshore compliance manager declined to confirm whether she had signed the official document granting amnesty to wealthy taxpayers in the infamous Isle of Man offshore tax sham. Check out the CBC article or view the leaked offer and signature.

At the highest level of integrity stands Secure Electronic Signatures which can be admitted under the Evidence Act and thus accepted in the highest federal courts across Canada. To obtain an electronic signature compliant with the Evidence Act, among other criteria, the certificate attached to the document must be issued by a federal authority recognized by the Treasury Board Secretariat of Canada. Surprisingly, the CRA is one of these authorities and holds a potential solution to the signature integrity problem through this prestigious status.

We have been advocating for a CRA signature policy for years. Our goal is to pioneer a signature that includes digital identities managed by the CRA for signatures that are compliant with the Secure Electronic Signature Regulations. Thankfully, the Government of Canada is currently conducting public consultation on a nation wide digital transformation. We have submitted a recommendation to amend the Income Tax Act and Regulations to include a requirement for digital signatures to be witnessed by a CRA issued digital identity.

This is a call to action for like minded individuals and businesses to stand up and speak out with us. Time is running out, as the consultations end October 12, 2018, so please participate in the Government of Canada’s digital transformation consultations before it’s too late.

At Benson Seymour LLP, our signatures are physically obtained from clients, witnessed by the digital identity of a Partner in the firm, yet distinct from traditional electronic signatures. The identity of the signor along with the time of the signature is proven easily and with high assurance. Our signatures are compliant with the Income Tax Act and Regulations, as well as the Electronic Records as Documentary Evidence standard set by the Canadian General Standards Board and have been an integral component of our 0% Paper delivery since day one.

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