20 Things You Should Know About Digital Signatures in BC Real Property E-Filing

March 29, 2012

In this week’s column, I’m sharing 20 things you need to know about digital signatures required for real property E-Filing in BC. Without further ado…

  1. Only Some Individuals (a “Subscriber”) Can Obtain Digital Signature Certificate – at the present time, only BC lawyers, notaries and land surveyors, and certain financial officers can obtain digital signature certificates for use in BC. It is expected that additional individuals, such as certain statutory officers and governmental officers, will be authorized in the future to obtain a digital signature certificate.
  2. Juricert-Issued – Juricert (operated by The Law Society of British Columbia) is the certification authority that approves and issues digital certificates, and will help with proper registration and downloading of a digital signature certificate.
  3. “Adobe Acrobat” Digital Signature – it is an Adobe Acrobat digital signature, so you must have Adobe Acrobat software and follow Adobe Acrobat procedures to deal with it, and these procedures may vary depending on the version of the software.
  4. Password – remember the password you give to Juricert. Juricert keeps a record of it for 7 days only – after that, if you can’t remember it, then your only option is to download a new digital certificate with a new password.  The password is case sensitive, and it is required each time the digital signature is applied to an electronic form.  The password should be kept secure and should not be revealed to third parties.
  5. Storing It – when downloaded from Juricert, the digital signature certificate should be saved in a safe and secure location on your computer, with a back-up copy saved on another computer, on a CD, shared server, or USB.
  6. Installing It – when it has been downloaded and saved, it should be properly set it up in Adobe Acrobat following the procedures for your particular version.  If you subsequently upgrade to a higher version of Adobe Acrobat, it may be necessary to re-install it.
  7. Who Can Apply It – it can only be applied by the individual to whom it has been issued. It is an offence under the Land Title Act (British Columbia) for someone else to apply a digital signature. Misuse of a digital signature may result in revocation.
  8. Where to Apply and Representations/Declarations of Subscriber – the digital signature is applied in the box on the top right-hand side of the electronic form and the subscriber must comply with the representations and declarations on the top of the prescribed electronic form before applying the digital signature. These representations and declarations differ depending on the type of form and, in some cases, the subscriber must have an original document in their possession.
  9. Review Electronic Form and Printed Copy – for a Form A, B, or C, the subscriber is representing that he/she is a subscriber who has applied the digital signature in accordance with the Land Title Act, and that the true copy or a copy of it is in their possession. The electronic form must mirror the true copy, so you must check this.  For other forms, such as a Form 17, the subscriber must check, among other things, that the copy of the supporting document attached to the Form 17 is the same as the original supporting document in their possession.
  10. Requirement for Originals – as above, you cannot apply a digital signature to certain electronic forms unless you have an original document in your possession.  Once the electronic form is fully registered, it is deemed to be the original, but prior to full registration the registrar has the ability to require evidence to verify that it has been properly executed, which may require production of the original paper document, or a copy, or a statutory declaration or affidavit. A subscriber should ensure that they are in a position to show that they have properly complied with the representations and declarations on the applicable form if called upon by the registrar prior to full registration or at some later date by their governing professional body, and that they comply with any on-going document retention rules maintained by any applicable professional body.
  11. Locking – an electronic form can be locked which generates a unique control number. Locking only affects certain fields on the electronic form. When applying your digital signature, you cannot assume that the electronic form you are looking at is the same as the printed signed copy just because they have the same control number because there are several exceptions to the locking feature. For example, in a Form C Charge changes can be made to items 1 (applicant) and 8 (execution), and the Terms of Instrument – Part 2 without affecting the control number.
  12. Inadvertent Errors/Typos/Small Changes – on a Form A, B or C, after the printed copy of the form has been signed, the particulars of execution must be inserted into the electronic form prior to e-filing. It is a common source of errors, typos, or small changes – something is omitted, or the particulars of execution are entered with typos, or short forms. As far as I am aware, you do not have any discretion to file an electronic form that differs from the originally signed paper document – even if you think the change is so small as to be insignificant.
  13. Saving after Applying Digital Signature – you should always ensure that you have retained an unsigned version of the electronic form (in case you have a problem and need to create a new version), and the save a digitally signed copy. Problems arise if the signed electronic form is not saved properly and may result in a rejection when it is submitted. For example, if the electronic form has been sent by e-mail, you may have problems if you open it from the e-mail instead of right-clicking on it, saving it to your desktop and then opening it and applying the digital signature.
  14. Validity – you can check the validity of a digital signature either before or after it has been applied by right-clicking on it and checking the Signature Properties, and looking at the details (Show Certificate). The Issuer should be shown as www.juricert.com. Also, once you have applied the digital signature, if you do not see a reference to www.juricert.com where the digital signature appears on the form, but see an e-mail address, for example, then the signature is not valid.
  15. Corrections – an electronic form cannot be altered after the digital signature is applied. To make a change or correction, prepare a new version, get a printed copy re-executed (or have amendments made to the previously signed copy and ensure they are properly approved and initialled), apply a digital signature and file. Or, depending on the circumstances, you may be able to submit the electronic form and then a corrective Declaration.
  16. Beware of Computer Changes – a change to your computer system, even if it has nothing to do with the Adobe Acrobat software, can affect your ability to apply a valid digital signature or corrupt a document to which a digital signature has been applied.  If you upgrade to a higher version of Adobe Acrobat, you may have difficulty applying your digital signature and you may have to “synch” your digital signature with the new version.
  17. Digital Signature Error Message – when you e-file, you may get an error message about the digital signature, but the problem may not be the digital signature itself. If this is the first time you’ve applied it, it may not have been downloaded and saved properly on your system, and this is something you can check. If you’ve used it before and not had a problem, it has not expired, and you have not had any computer changes, then the form has probably become corrupted and you may have to prepare a new electronic form.
  18. On-Going Support – Juricert does not provide on-going support after it is issued for problems that arise with e-filing. BC Online or a registry agent may be able to assist you with e-filing problems, however, it is often difficult for a third party to determine exactly what has happened and you may have to prepare a new electronic form and try again.
  19. Digital Certificate Expires – the digital signature certificate will expire 5 years after issuance. BF your expiry date and make sure you download a new digital signature from www.juricert.com prior to expiry. Juricert will not give notice that it is going to expire, but BC Online has advised that they will give prior notice if they have contact particulars.
  20. Pay Fees On Time – if you are not in good standing, then your digital certificate can be revoked. The Law Society of British Columbia has advised lawyers that if they do not pay their professional fees when due, their digital certificate can be revoked.

Next week – hints and tips on preparing electronic forms.

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