A notary public is a person who can serve as an official witness to the execution (signing) of contracts, agreements, and an almost limitless array of legal documents. A notary may also certify documents to be true copies of the original. A notary has the authority to administer oaths, solemn affirmations, and declarations that are used for affidavits and statutory declarations.
Having documents signed before a notary provides assurance to others that that particular person signed the document. In the modern era, when contracts are routinely entered into between parties thousands of kilometers apart, notaries perform a useful function removing some of the risk associated with such remotely executed agreements.
In some jurisdictions, a notary can also draft contracts, promissory notes, wills, mortgages and other legal documents. Almost always, the powers of a notary public in each province or state are derived from provincial or state legislation. Generally speaking, however, in most Provinces the legislation is just a codification of the common law that preceded it.
For example, in Ontario, a notary public derives his or her authority from the Notaries Act which states: “[a] notary public has and may use and exercise the power of drawing, passing, keeping and issuing all deeds and contracts, charter-parties and other mercantile transactions in Ontario, and also of attesting all commercial instruments that may be brought before him or her for public protestation, and otherwise of acting as is usual in the office of notary public, and may demand, receive and have all the rights, profits and emoluments rightfully appertaining and belonging to the calling of notary public.”
In some jurisdictions such as a number of Canadian Provinces, the requirements for becoming a notary are such that effectively only lawyers are qualified to provide all notary public services. In Quebec, the requirements are similarly stringent, but different. In essence, the legal profession is split, so that you may need the services of a Notaire, or an Avocat, depending on the matter before you.