- April 15, 2020

What is the difference between a lawyer, notary public, and commissioner of oaths?

This question comes up often. It can certainly be confusing to distinguish between the designations of Lawyer, Notary Public, and Commissioner of Oaths. Before we explain the distinction, rest assured that everyone that works at Walk-In Notary has all three of these designations, which means that at Walk-In Notary we can notarize or commission any kind of document in person, and often online as well.

All lawyers are automatically commissioners of oath. But not all commissioners of oath are lawyers. All notaries are lawyers but not all lawyers are notaries. Confused yet? We’ll try to clarify.

In Ontario when someone gets admitted to the Bar they not only become a lawyer entitled to practice law but they also become a Commissioner of Oaths. A Commissioner of Oaths is someone that administers an oath, usually for the purpose of swearing or affirming the truth of a written statement such as an affidavit or statutory declaration. What’s the difference between “swearing” and “affirming”? Swearing is religious and affirming is secular.

It is possible, however, to become a Commissioner of Oaths without being a lawyer. For example, some court clerks are provided with this designation so that they can administer an oath in court. This is not the case for Notaries, however. That is, in Ontario, in order to become a Notary Public an individual must first be a lawyer (there are exceptions to this provided to individuals such as members of parliament who require the designation to carry out their duties. However, the designation of Notary Public in this case does not entitle them to serve the public. They can only “notarize” internal documents related to their office).

Lawyers are not automatically given the “Notary Public” designation upon becoming lawyers. Rather, this additional designation is something that Ontario lawyers must apply for. This is not the case in the United States, for example, where almost anyone can become a Notary without having to go to law school and become a lawyer first. This approach enables more people to become notaries, which makes it easier to find a notary public. The Canadian approach is more prudent and is intended to mitigate the risk of fraud and malpractice by limiting the designation of Notary Public to lawyers only.

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