Saturday, February 2, 2013

Rage Against the Public Notary

As a caveat to this entire story, I want to say that Yuliya and I are patient, rational people most of the time.

This all started with a simple task.  I needed to go and get copies of my driver's license, birth certificate, and passport, as well as Yuliya's passport, permanent resident certificate, and PR stamp in her passport notarized.  CIC (Citizenship and Immigration Canada) required these documents as part of the application for citizenship for adopted children.  The CIC application for adopted children is a two step process - first step is CIC confirming the potential adoptive parents' citizenship status, second step is processing the documents for the children themselves.  Thanks to this compartmentalization, we can actually apply for the children's citizenship before we even get a referral, and we'll have their passports in hand when we travel to the DRC.  No embassy visit for us.

Anyway, that was a tangent.  In the course of Yuliya's immigration to Canada, we notarized about 50 documents for CIC, so we have some knowledge and understanding of the government requirements for these true copies.  Yuliya phoned a local law firm to make an appointment, and I went on my day off (yesterday) to get it done.

The first sign that this would be trouble was the receptionist.  I don't know what happened, but after she went to let the notary know that I had arrived, she burst into tears and left the building.  It's not related, but I consider it a bad omen when the person working the front desk breaks down and leaves the premises shortly after meeting you.  Yes, I know that this is magical thinking, but it improves the narrative.

The second sign was the lawyer herself.  Maybe it was a Casual Friday, but most lawyers in my experience still take themselves seriously enough to wear something other than black leggings and a tight t-shirt.  You will notice as well that I didn't mention her underwear.  That is because all evidence indicated that she had decided against any on this particular day.  So it was with trepidation that I followed her to her office.

I quickly explained the documents we needed, gave her the CIC guide for how they wanted things to be notarized, and waited while she made the copies.  She returned the documents to me and that is when the third sign of things to come was made apparent.  At some point in the ten minutes it took to photocopy our identification, she had lost Yuliya's passport.  After a short and exhaustive search of the office it was found.

Then everything went sideways.  CIC demands that all notarized copies have a statement on them stating the name, title, and law office of the notary, and verifying that these are true copies of the originals.  They are very specific about that requirement in the guide.  Our notary made the statement on a separate piece of paper, stapling it to the copy as a cover sheet.  I point out the requirement, and she looked the guide over, and dismissed my concern.

"This is how we always do it, and we've never had issues."  This phrase was a touchstone of the law firm, for the number of times we heard it.

I insisted that she follow the guide, and she was aggressive about this being correct as well.  At this point, I didn't have time to argue, as I had to pick Yuliya up from work.  On the way I called CIC and was informed that yes, the guide needed to be followed to the letter.  So I picked Yuliya up, and we headed back to take care of business.  We explained that per our conversation with CIC the original request was how things should have been done.  She then went and hunted down a senior partner because this was unheard of.  They decided that she should just write the statement of authenticity by hand onto the copies.  She did, and returned them to us.

Now, if you've ever gotten anything notarized, you know that there is always a very prominent stamp or seal displaying the name, title, and office of the notary.  On ours, the stamp was faint to the point of being illegible, barely a circle impressed in the paper.  We asked if there was a way to make it more permanent, and she said that was how it worked and no one had ever had issues with it before.  So we went back to the car and called CIC again, and verified that the stamp needed to be legible or at the end of the 6 week processing time the documents would be rejected and we would have to start over.  Back to the law office we went.

We entered the office in combat mode.  This is a frame of mind Yuliya and I get into when we're dealing with people who have our money and are not being reasonable about holding up their end of the bargain.  We become hyper-sensitive to obfuscation and fallacies in an argument, and are more than willing to call someone a liar if we can prove it.  When we're both like this, we treat the conversation more like a pack of wolves stalking a deer than anything else.  We are the wolves, and we are going to pull off somebody's arm if they don't lay off the BS and get something done.  We maintain a neutral tone but adopt extremely aggressive body language.  It has been highly effective in the past.

The first time that I can recall that we did this was dealing with a rental agency who was not getting our paperwork in order for an apartment, after we were kicked out of a basement suite on short notice.  We pulled our application on the grounds that three weeks was too long to wait for approval, and we had made other living arrangements.  The agency tried to keep our application fee, which they were legally entitled to - something we were not aware of at the time.  We asked them to show us where on the agreement we signed it said that they were entitled to the fee, and no one could, and they didn't think of pointing to the legislation.  We declined to leave the office until they paid us back.  After 30min, a very flustered lady came out and we got a cheque for about a third of the amount, which we were in no way legally entitled to.  But I digress.

Now the notary flatly refused to provide any further assistance, as in her opinion she had done her job, rendered services, etc.  We advised that CIC would not accept documentation with an illegible stamp, and she fell back on the company motto.  Yuliya requested that she come and read the stamp and see if she could read it herself, and asked if she thought that the CIC case officer would accept something that appeared to be less than authentic.  In turn, the notary advised that she would never have agreed to notarize the documents if she knew that those were the standards which the documents are held to.  I then charitably pointed out that I had put the document guide in her hand with the documents, which stated clearly everything that we had already asked for.

Her last defense was that this was how they stamped things, it wasn't going to get any better than this.  She offered the opinion that we should try another notary.  We agreed, but asked for our $63 dollars back.  She declined, and apologized for being unable to meet our standards, but felt that the work had been done.  In turn, we highlighted the fact that this wasn't an issue of our standards, but rather CICs.

By this time her body language had drastically changed, and we felt less like people pushing for their rights as consumers and the reasonable expectation of receiving quality services from a law firm, and more like a mama bear who had just turned around to see a foolish little human between her and her cubs.  I know that this analogy doesn't really stand, but here was an obstinate lawyer who had our money, and was putting herself firmly in the way of us moving on to the next step of getting our children.  She never stood a chance.

At this point she fled the office, literally shaking and stammering incoherently.  She said that the managing partner would be in later, which I didn't believe for a second.  What managing partner at a law office is out on a Friday at 2pm, but comes back in later?  We called her bluff and offered to wait for him.  She then returned with the office manager, who proceeded to correctly stamp and notarize the letters on behalf of the notary, who had retreated to the women's bathroom.  It took all of two minutes.

We left feeling red-jawed and vindicated, if frustrated that we had spent over two hours(!!) trying to get official photocopies of six documents made.  We returned home, documents in hand, and I listened to Sabotage, by the Beastie Boys.


  1. Wow, just wow. No words for you except awesome job sticking to your guns!

  2. I'm sure that was very frustrating for you guys, but it was a mighty entertaining read for me :D

  3. It was a special time alright. Those are the times that make the best reading later on.