Thursday, January 31, 2008

Notarize this!

Our passports expire at the end of April, a fact that has been hanging over our heads for a few months. The passport process in Canada requires that you have two guarantors, in your country of residence, that have known you for at least two years. As we’ve only lived here for a year and a half (581 days, according to the tally marks I’m scratching into the wall) we have no one in France that qualifies.

This has nothing to do with my story, but it's very funny, and full of Montreal landmarks. Parental Advisory: Strong Language

It then fell upon us to find an third party guarantor to whom we could swear our identity, which could be, according to the Department of Foreign Affairs, a judge, lawyer, mayor, police officer or notary. Believing that a lawyer or notary would be too expensive, we attempted to take advantage of what we hoped would be the “free” options – the city hall or the police.

I therefore popped into the mairie (city hall): They didn't understand the concept, said they couldn't do it, and moreover, I would have to get a lawyer or notary. That the marie, the place where one must go to legalize one’s wedding vows, didn’t understand the concept of a sworn oath, is somewhat disturbing to me.

I figured I’d at least try to get a price on a notary, and set off in search of an office. While doing so, I stumbled across a bunch of notaries-in-training on a smoke break from class; they were unable to direct me to an actual qualified notary – not even their instructors. One despairs for the future.

I then spotted a bunch of municipal cops loitering about on their smoke break (leading me to ponder if any business is conducted indoors in this country). They directed me to a large building near the canal, and told me to ask for the Commissariat.

The desk officer there, looking at our English language forms, insisted that there was no one present that could validate our identity. I tried to point that it stated right on our form that any police officer could, to which he said, growing red faced: “Non. We are done,” and turned his back. Given that “police officer” in French is” officier du police” I can see why he was confused.

Finally, we gave in and made an appointment with a notary. I should point out that the French take their notaries very seriously: when Lasalle discovered the head of the Mississpi and claimed the land for France, he had a notary on hand, in the wilds of interior North America, to certify his claim.

And here is where Canadian bureaucratic perversity meets French tradition. It was necessary, for reasons obscure to me, for the notary to signs our forms within a tiny little square, which was marked with a warning to not stray outside the lines. However, our notary had, over the course of his illustrious career, developed a signature worthy of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I suspect, as a youth, he had practiced the bold, swooping strokes, dreaming of one day affixing it to a revolutionary manifesto, or a death warrant for the King.

Being a generous man, he was not about to disdain such a humble canvas as our application. He began his masterwork, starting outside the signature box, to an audible gasp of dismay from Amynah. We were not sure, given the vagaries of the post, that we’d be able to get new forms before we were forcibly ejected from the country. Our photos received the same treatment, being further vandalized by the loving application of an official seal.

We posted it all anyway, and I'm told that despite our notary's Baroque flourishes, the Embassy has contacted at least one of my Canadian referees. Perhaps they believe I normally have a gold circle on my face?


Anonymous said...

I'm renewing my passport too and live in fear either my blank, sinister photo or wayward signature will disqualify me from Canadian citizenship.
They've stolen our smiles.. its the beginning of the end.-Tara

Travis said...

Can anyone explain to me the point of notaries, beyond "Hey - we can totally charge people for a meaningless signature and because it'll be associated with critical services they'll have NO CHOICE but to pony up! Eat it, suckers! Pass the cocaine."
Isn't it an infinite regress? Who notarizes notaries? Who notarizes THOSE people? (No, seriously. How can this be justified?)

Mark Reynolds said...

I have no idea why they exist, but they do have the happy effect of taking business that might otherwise go to lawyers.

I'm pretty sure that notaries don't need to be notarized - around here, the townspeople will gather into a mob and thrown accused notaries into Rhine. If they float, they're a notary.