Ontario Bill 190 Expands Digital Business/Legal Services

The Ontario government has passed a new bill entitled the COVID-19 Response and Reforms to Modernize Ontario Act, 2020 – or simply “Bill 190.” As the name suggests, these reforms are a response to the unique challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has severed supply chains and disrupted commerce around the world. But these regulatory tweaks aren’t just a knee-jerk reaction to a black swan event. Rather, they provide much-needed adjustments that will help Ontario’s business community adapt to longstanding technological and business trends, trends that have been further accelerated by COVID-19. As such, even though some of these regulatory adjustments are being presented as temporary, we shouldn’t be surprised if they end up outliving the pandemic.

Broadly speaking, Bill 190 trims some of the regulatory red tape in Ontario, allowing for corporate meetings and notary certification to be conducted on a remote basis in the province for the first time.

Some of Bill 190’s new regulations for Ontario businesses and non-profits include:

  • Allowing for the submission of copies of articles, applications, and other documents (as opposed to original copies).
  • Allowing for documents to be signed by electronic signatures rather than hard copies in official filings.
  • Allowing for documents to be filed via electronic methods such as email, as specified by the minister, director, or registrar.
  • Extending the deadline for corporations to call and hold annual meetings (temporary).
  • Allowing corporations to hold virtual meetings via either telephone or electronic means (temporary).
  • Allowing for the remote notarization of documents by a paralegal via technological means.
  • Allowing for the remote commissioning of a document by a paralegal.

There’s an unambiguous logic underpinning these reforms in the context of COVID-19: the necessity of reducing person-to-person contact and easing the load on our overburdened government services. Yet many of these reforms have the added advantage of re-aligning Ontario’s regulatory framework with the realities of the digital economy. Moreover, many have long been advocated by professional regulatory associations; for example, the Law Society of Ontario, which was pushing for legislative reforms to allow for virtual commissioning and notarization of documents before the first case of COVID-19 even appeared in China.

This is not to say that there are no challenges involved in shifting legal services into the virtual realm. Quite the contrary, there are several of them, including new fraud risks, difficulties providing a high level of client service and detecting undue influence, and the potential annoyance of technical difficulties and network outages. But there’s a widely-held belief that these risks can be successfully mitigated via education, training, and best practices on securing virtual documents and meeting/communication channels. It should also be pointed out that such reforms aren’t exactly a radical concept. Compared to the United States, where 43 states have already authorized notaries to conduct services online, Ontario has been behind the curve.

Bill 190 heralds exciting new possibilities on both sides of the lawyer-client relationship. Lawyers are now able to offer their services over a much wider geographical area and widen the pool of potential clients. They are also better equipped to work remotely and have the option of reducing overhead on office space. Many of the 2.8 million Canadians who are estimated to live abroad are lawyers, and this cohort will welcome the changes ushered in by Bill 190. So too will clients, who, like lawyers, are less and less bound by physical geography in their private and professional lives. It could be as simple as having to take care of a family member up north and not being able to return to the city to have an important document notarized. With Bill 190 these common situations will no longer be a nuisance, regardless of whether you live in Ontario or Oman.

Wright Business Law provides legal services using modern technology without requiring in-person attendance. Contact us to learn more.