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Home > What's New > News & Events Archive

The Keeping of Business Records for Law, Audit and Archives:
A Report on the Experts' Meeting
June 10-11, 1999
Ottawa, Ontario

Table of Contents

Executive Summary

I.  Introduction

II. Day One:  Presentations by Experts

III. Day Two: Opening Plenary

IV. Reports from the Breakout Sessions

V. Final Plenary Discussion

VI. A Proposed Forward Agenda

Annex One:  Terms of Reference

Annex Two:  Meeting Agenda

Annex Three:  List of Participants

Executive Summary


It is widely recognized that the keeping of authentic and reliable records presents a significant challenge for the legal, audit, and archival communities, among others. On June 10-11, thirty experts drawn from these three communities met at the National Archives in Ottawa to consider the multitude of issues at stake in this area.

The legal community is concerned not only about the admissibility of electronic records as evidence in a court of law, but more generally about legal authenticity of records for purposes such as electronic commerce or ordinary interchange among people. The legal community is also concerned, as it should be, about the validity of electronic documents during their whole life cycle, in order to provide the citizens with sufficient legal security to enter into contracts and other business without having to go t the courts to determine whether the document that expresses the deal or the contract is valid.

This is related to the concern of those involved in the development of electronic commerce applications where the formulation of requirements for the transmission and management of authentic and reliable electronic business records has been difficult.

The audit community is concerned about the capability of organizations to create and maintain audit trails of their activities within an electronic environment. The challenge of keeping authentic and reliable records of Year 2000 conversions in anticipation of potential litigation and audit is but one of several examples of why this concern has been raised.

The archival community is concerned about the preservation and long term accessibility of electronic records that have been designated as having archival value. How can these be maintained as authentic and reliable records in the face of changing software and hardware technologies?

Major Conclusions

The major conclusions from the discussions at the experts’ meeting were the following.

  1. The legal, audit/evaluation, and archival professions share common perspectives on the attributes of records authenticity in the electronic age.
  2. Yet most senior policy makers, managers of business activities, chief information officers and others are largely unaware of the issues associated with the management of records or with records authenticity.
  3. Policies and standards, especially those which have formal sanction (e.g. via a nationally or internationally recognized standards development process), would be helpful to address the issues.
  4. Existing initiatives in each of the domains of law, audit/evaluation, and archives could benefit from multi-disciplinary contributions.
  5. Participants agreed that there are benefits to be derived from inter-disciplinary collaboration. These will be pursued as a result of the meeting.

I. Introduction

Origins of the Experts’ Meeting

This meeting of experts brought together over thirty lawyers, auditors, archivists and records specialists at the National Archives of Canada to explore issues concerning the authenticity of records from a legal, audit and archival perspective. The meeting was prompted by the realization that a multi-disciplinary approach to these issues would be far more productive than if each discipline approached the issues on its own.

The meeting was co-hosted by the National Archives and the National-Provincial-Territorial Archives Council. Lee McDonald, Acting National Archivist opened the session and Ian Wilson, Archivist of Ontario, served as the Chair of the sessions. James Mitchell of Sussex Circle moderated the discussions.


The experts meeting was intended to provide a forum in which representatives from each of the three communities would have the opportunity to:

  • exchange information on records authenticity among concerned individuals from the audit, legal and archival communities;
  • identify the requirements for establishing the authenticity of records based on the perspectives of each of the audit, legal and archival communities and, if feasible, identify common requirements shared across the communities; and
  • identify opportunities for inter-disciplinary cooperative ventures and partnerships designed to address records authenticity issues shared across the communities.

The meeting itself was organized into three parts.

  • the first part was in the form of brief presentations by selected participants on planned or current records authenticity related initiatives underway in each of the communities (speakers were from the Office of the Auditor General, the Attorney General’s Office in Ontario, the Ministry of Justice in Quebec, the Archival Studies program at the University of British Columbia, and the Treasury Board Secretariat);
  • the second part took the form of focus groups where participants had the opportunity to discuss the issues associated with establishing records authenticity, to identify general requirements, and to propose inter-disciplinary approaches to solutions based on current and planned initiatives underway in each community;
  • third part consisted of brief presentations by the facilitators in the breakout groups and by the Moderator who presented a synthesis of the deliberations over the previous two days; these were used to stimulate plenary discussion of both the issues and the next steps following from the event.

II. Day One: Presentations by Experts

Introductory Remarks  -  Lee McDonald

Acting National Archivist Lee McDonald began with the fact that both the private and public sectors increasingly are using electronic records. Yet records-creation technology has leapt ahead of records retention technology. This creates a concern over the long-term survival and utility of electronic records.

This problem presents practical problems for the National Archives of Canada. The Archives has collected electronic records for two decades now. But it is still grappling with issues at stake in their long-term retention.

The issue of the long-term authenticity and integrity of electronic messages crosses institutional boundaries  -  while archivists select and store documents, auditors, lawyers and many others both inside and outside government require credible, reliable electronic records.

Presentation One  -  Eric Anttila and Julia Lelik, Office of the Auditor General

The two representatives of the Office of the Auditor General (OAG) described how the OAG conducts independent audits and examinations that provide objective information, advice and assurance to Parliament. To perform these functions, the auditor must rely on management in the department or agency being audited to maintain accurate, complete and reliable information and records on matters relevant to the use of resources and the results achieved during any particular time period. In the past, the OAG has been able to rely on systems of recording information that had appropriate controls built up over the years, but now changes are happening.

We are witnessing the dawn of the knowledge-based economy, a series of developments every bit as significant as the invention of the printing press and the industrial revolution. This knowledge-based economy is enabled primarily by microchip technology and pervasive global networking. In terms of information management, this change takes us from paper-based documents to data-based records. In some cases we are seeing documents atomized and stored in linked fragments that may even be geographically dispersed.

Accuracy, security and reliability of information is a management responsibility. The OAG expects management to continuously examine risks and update controls on data as necessary. This would include employing modern standards, tools and practices to provide assurance that all important financial and non-financial data is being retained appropriately.

The auditor is required to obtain sufficient and appropriate evidence to support an audit opinion given. The nature of evidence available to the auditor is changing quickly. Being able to see audit trails, logs and metadata1 help the auditor to see the context in which records and other data have been created. It is very important that departments and agencies have awareness of, and access to, advice and standards for record keeping in a rapidly-changing business and technological environment.

Presentation Two: John Gregory, Government of Ontario

John Gregory opened the legal part of the presentation with remarks focused on the common law system. He noted that legal documents are those that state or change the legal relationship between people, or between the state and people. They share some authenticity questions with audit and archival documents, but unlike them, legal documents have someone who decides their authenticity definitively: the judge.

Authenticity is relative, not absolute. As with audit and archive documents, there are no guarantees, there is just greater or lesser certainty. This means that imperfectly authenticated documents may have legal effect. A signature is the traditional way of authenticating a document, though there are many ways of signing, some more secure than others. However, unsigned documents may be shown to be authentic, from their content or their context. The key question is not whether there is a signature, but how reliable is the authentication.

Authenticity and truth are different concepts. The contents of a record may be untruthful even if the record is authentic.

Electronic documents are subject to the same principles. The record-keeping system is a key element of the context. People have to learn how much authentication they need for different legal purposes, and what electronic techniques will provide that level of assurance. Standards developed for such purposes will be helpful rather than definitive. One size will not fit all.

Sometimes legal rules seem to require paper, e.g., where statutes call for writing, or signatures, or original documents. Law reform may be needed to ensure these rules do not block appropriate electronic communications. Admissibility of electronic documents in evidence is generally not a problem in practice. Some of the questions of principle have been addressed in proposed uniform legislation.

Presentation Three: Jeanne Proulx, Government of Quebec

Maître Jeanne Proulx focused her remarks more on the issue of records than that of the file, because a file is composed of document. If each one of the documents in a file authentic and whole, so too will the file be. She began by pointing out that, in Quebec, a Civil Law jurisdiction, the concept of the document is the cornerstone of the legal infrastructure necessary to establish confidence in commercial and other exchanges. Just as in common law jurisdictions, people want to be able to use either electronic or paper systems with the same degree of legal confidence.

In her remarks, Mme Proulx made the following major points:

  • The Civil Law notion of “signature” closely parallels that of the common law. There is no need for a new legal definition of what a signature is, and how it can be accomplished in an electronic document; the addition of a new definition for the purposes of electronic records would only contribute to legal confusion. Indeed, the idea that every time we change our technology of communication we need to change our concept of signature would be utterly impractical.
  • It should be noted that, while a document can exist, and be authenticated, without a signature, the notion of a signature without a document is meaningless. In this context, it is important to make the link between signature and document, something often forgotten by those who would propose new definitions of “signature”.
  • There is an issue as to what the law must do to ensure technological neutrality. The answer is, the law must provide standards that are sufficiently clear that new technologies can respond to them. In this context, the notion of technological neutrality presupposes that one is not tying the legal authenticity of a document or signature to the employment of a particular technology, but rather that the technology being used is able to satisfy the legal definitions of “document” and “signature”. Thus, in terms of legislation, the law must be neutral with respect to technology (in the sense of not favoring one technology over another).
  • People must be allowed to use the medium of communication  -  paper or electronic  -  with which they are most comfortable, and for this reason the Civil Code has given to judges the right to demand a paper version of an electronic document for use in legal proceedings.
  • There has to be a way of ensuring the integrity of data when they are migrated between systems, or printed out. When data are exported they become “fragile”. Only when they are as stable as a written document can electronic records be considered to be equivalent to those written on paper. Until then, the electronic record is weighed like a spoken document, which has a known weight in Civil Law.
  • In Civil Law, electronic records are seen as 'material' objects, created within an understandable electronic framework, and they are therefore weighed the same way as paper documents. Thus the electronic system within which a document is created and stored must be intelligible in the same way as the environment in which a paper record is created.
  • Electronic and paper records have a ‘common spine’; they will co-exist for many years and so they must be looked at as one document.

Presentation Four: Heather MacNeill, UBC

Heather MacNeil reported that since 1994, a team at UBC has been involved in two research projects aimed at identifying methods for establishing the reliability and authenticity of electronic records.

Both projects are based upon two disciplines: diplomatics2 and archival science3.

The first research project entitled "The Preservation of the Integrity of Electronic Records," was carried out between 1994 and 1997 and resulted in the identification and elaboration of requirements and methods for creating and maintaining reliable and authentic electronic records that are needed for the usual and ordinary course of business (i.e., records that are active and semi-active). The second project, which began in January 1999, is an international and interdisciplinary endeavour known as InterPARES (International Research on Permanent Authentic Records in Electronic Systems). It focuses on preserving the authenticity of electronic records that are no longer needed for the usual and ordinary course of business but that must be kept for broader social purposes and that either have been or will have to be removed from the original system (i.e., inactive records).

It was noted that active and semi-active records are key concepts here. Each will have different levels of ‘risk management’ associated with it.

In the projects’ terms, reliability means that a record is capable of standing for the facts contained within it; reliability is associated with the record’s creation and, more specifically, with the completeness of its intellectual form, and the degree of control exercised over its creation.

The term “authenticity” means that the record is what it purports to be (i.e., it is genuine) and that it has not been corrupted since its creation. Protecting authenticity requires secure methods of transmission and storage.

In the first research project, the investigators found that reliability and authenticity are best ensured by

  1. embedding procedural rules in an agency-wide record keeping system and by integrating business and documentary procedures.
  2. instituting procedures that tighten the archival bond, i.e., the connection between records, such as classification, registration, and electronic record profiling; and
  3. integrating the management of the electronic and non-electronic components of the records system. This integration reinforces the archival bond between records and completes their documentary context.

The research team has written detailed rules designed to meet the requirements identified in these findings.

The InterPARES project has been divided into four interrelated domains of inquiry:

  1. Conceptual Requirements for Preserving Authentic Electronic Records
  2. Appraisal Criteria and Methods for Selection of Authentic Electronic Records
  3. Methods and Responsibilities for Preserving Authentic Electronic Records
  4. Framework for the Formulation of Policies, Strategies, and Standards

Some of the issues that the InterPARES project will address are as follows:

  1. What specific elements are associated with authenticity? Are the elements inherent in the records themselves or do they exist outside the record?
  2. If the elements reside outside the record, e.g., in the technological context, can they be removed from where they are currently found to a place where they can more easily be preserved and still maintain the same validity?
  3. Are technology procedures sufficient to ensure authenticity or are external procedures necessary? In other words, is technology alone enough to ensure a record’s authenticity over time?
  4. How can we remove permanently valuable records from the active system without compromising their authenticity?
  5. Do our current appraisal methodologies compromise the authenticity of records?

Presentation Five:  Neil Levette, Treasury Board Secretariat

In remarks based on his experience at the National Energy Board, Neil Levette talked about issues that arise when an institution moves to a fully electronic interaction with its clients, and therefore to an archival system that is largely if not entirely composed of electronic records. He observed that electronic systems are now ‘pageless’  -  that is, the page is no longer the base concept for electronic documents. Today, electronic data is fragmented and managed at the level of its component parts, rather than expressed always as a “virtual page”. These components are then hyper-linked together to represent the whole document.

Within this system, the printed document is, in effect, an “artifact” of the original. In many cases, there is no paper equivalent of the electronic document.

Among other key points made during his presentation:

  • presentation per se is not so important as the context within which the records were created;
  • people working with electronic systems not only must work within the bounds of federal and provincial jurisdictions, but also within the technological limitations of the electronic world;
  • ISO standards are more reliable than those of a commercial provider;
  • software by itself does not provide sufficient security for documents; systems architecture, which is the most stable environment in which to establish the legality of a record, needs to be standardized. However, there are no generally-accepted standards for electronic systems architecture at present;
  • one issue that systems people (and others) wonder about is whether the physical location of the server on which a document is stored  -  off-shore, out of province, out of municipal boundaries  -  affects the legal authority of the records;
  • finally, we need a system that does not require that its users have expert knowledge of either the system or archival science, or even IT generally.

Plenary Discussion

In the ensuing plenary discussion, participants debated issues raised in the five presentations and explored a number of other significant topics.


  • Standards are being developed, including those which will be applicable across jurisdictional boundaries.
  • Although there are standards for microfilm images, there is a lack of industry standards for electronic records.
  • The swift pace of technological obsolescence is a great problem for business just as it is for government; maintaining currency in systems and technology requires constant reinvestment.
  • Lawyers feel a need for minimum standards for the conservation of electronic documents. Although they can (or should be able to) outline what these standards should be4, they are obviously not in a position to enforce them.


  • There is a need for consistent usage of language and terminology across disciplines for any standards to work. Terms like ‘reliability’ ‘trustworthiness’, ‘integrity’, and authenticity’ have different meanings to members of different professional communities. Lawyers require accurate language to carry out their duties.

Government and Industry

  • One can ask whether we are masters of our own destiny. Is it the computer industry or government that is really in control of standards and regulatory procedures? When we set standards and rules, will they have to be global in their application or can we act in Canada alone?
  • Meetings of this sort will become more common as the problems of electronic records become more apparent. There is an issue as to how to move beyond experts talking in camera to discussing these issues with the wider community, and especially with those who would have to implement, interpret and apply any regulatory procedures.
  • Another basic question is whether regulatory procedures be implemented from the top-down or bottom-up. Any regulatory infrastructure should be flexible enough to allow for daily practical applications.

Archival Issues

  • Archival decisions and concepts appear to be based upon paper records. Are these applicable to electronic records?
  • Are our traditional concepts of records, files, series, etc. being turned upside down or are we simply having difficulty applying these logical concepts to a new increasingly electronic reality? Have textual records been replaced entirely by electronic documents?  Has the concept of the document replaced that of the whole file?
  • What is it realistic to expect from clients? Archivists must realize that files are created for operational purposes and not for archival storage. In order to be realistic, standards must not interfere with the daily operations of the department or business. Departments and agencies need to be shown the immediate benefits they can expect from the implementation of rigorous standards.

II. Day Two: Opening Plenary

The second day of the meeting opened with a plenary discussion of issues raised by the presentations on the previous day.

Meeting Chair Ian Wilson opened the discussion by observing that, for him, the key areas of debate were the concepts of ‘verification’, ‘centralization’, and ‘personal enterprise.’ These concepts relate to how our society is structured and to the tension between the centralization of power and the empowerment of the individual. In the information age, traditional distinctions between public and private are blurring. Many government functions have been privatized. In this context, there has been a lack of consistency in government policy about electronic documents. The key issues revolve less around information technology (IT) and more around information management (IM).

Governments need to realize that information is an asset that must be valued and managed like any other. One can help promote this awareness by relating ‘good stories’ of how efficient management of records has aided the government in high-profile litigation such as that related to residential schools.

Among the questions raised by Ian Wilson:

  • Can we define standard requirements for records retention and then enforce their adoption by government? (Perhaps this can be accomplished  -  or at least begun  -  through the annual meeting of CIO’s or some other similar venue.)
  • Who will take up the challenge to fill the policy vacuum that surrounds Information Management?

Issues for Discussion

After the plenary session, participants were asked to propose topics that they thought merited further consideration in the small group sessions. The following issues and questions were proposed:

  1. How can we better communicate with one another to develop interdisciplinary resolutions to common interests and problems.
  2. How can there be adherence to standards, through authoritative powers and processes (this was referred to as “occupying the field”)?
  3. How can we overcome professional jealousy to allow for frank discussion and effective work groups? (A corollary of this being how to overcome fear of and resistance to new technology.)
  4. Will we have to influence the software industry in order to implement standards?
  5. How can we raise the profile of archives? Do we need to develop an action plan to mobilize the various interested communities to raise these issues with professional bodies and with the government?
  6. How can we influence the legislative agenda? How can we gain government support for electronic records keeping issues?
  7. How can we use the Web for our purposes?
  8. Are electronic records essentially the same as paper records, or are they fundamentally different?
  9. There are technical problems associated with storage and retrieval. Are these merely practical problems, or are they fundamental? Is technology affordable? Is technology stable?
  10. Are existing standards sufficient? Are the components of reliable metadata identifiable? Can standards be developed and adopted in one country alone?
  11. How do we build an Information management infrastructure that is user friendly? The gap between managers and users must be closed by standards, to make users feel at ease in complying with standards.
  12. What is involved in raising the profile of records management within departments? Similarly, how can we expand the potential of records management divisions?
  13. There is a need to establish a research agenda and to uncover ways for the government to fund a research agenda.
  14. We also need an agenda for immediate, short-term action. (Don’t forget short term solutions in favour of long-term approaches.)
  15. Another issue is addressing the policy vacuum. There is seldom a determined lead in records management from senior policy makers.
  16. How can individual liberties and rights be protected in the face of new technology?
  17. What is involved in advertising the benefits of efficient records retention by showcasing positive stories?
  18. How can we engage politicians to take up efficient records management as a cause?
  19. Records management is deteriorating at just the moment when the generation of records is expanding exponentially. Will it take a catastrophe like Y2K to make people care?
  20. Do we have a shared understanding about how to look at records?
  21. Is ‘authenticity’ a characteristic embedded in the record itself, or is it in the electronic system?
  22. There is an issue with respect to location, custody and control of records. They may be in the hands of other governments, or outside a particular jurisdiction. If records are held in a foreign jurisdiction, access to them may be restricted.
  23. The issue of Risk Management: what risks are acceptable?
  24. Should we portray efficient records management as a strategic business investment?

IV. Reports from the Breakout Sessions

After two hours in the small group discussions, the three groups reported back with conclusions and recommendations.

Group One

Group One reported that they had examined two main questions.

  • the value and use of records in society; and
  • the means by which this could be developed as part of a policy agenda.

Members of Group One were concerned with how to push this issue both politically and on a policy level. They identified the use of ‘good news’ case studies and the establishment of a champion as elements of this approach.

The key conclusions and recommendations from Group One were the following:

  • Participants in the experts’ meeting should work toward heightening awareness of IM throughout government and in the private sector.
  • There is a need to make the government better aware of the value of its intellectual assets and the importance of managing them properly.
  • The issue of records authenticity is an inter-disciplinary problem that can best be solved by building a cooperative case that could be argued by a well-briefed champion5
  • Solutions may be enabled or driven by technology, but they should be embedded within broader business practices and wider corporate plans.

Group One also felt strongly that the group of experts should continue to meet to share information and should continue its work on the key issue areas identified above.

Group Two

This group focused on ‘occupying the field’, though members acknowledged that the nature and extent of the field had yet to be determined. The group noted that the legislative process had already begun (e.g., Bill C-54), but that there was still a need for initiatives in policy, regulation and standards.

Group Two saw the need to enter the battle, but wondered aloud where the first engagement should take place -- provincially? federally? internationally? Members felt that an aggressive campaign to disseminate information was needed, one that would be coordinated with ongoing, progressive research.

Other recommendations from Group Two included:

  • the need to show government and industry that secure records mean a secure organization. This translates, in practical terms, into a secure environment in which to conduct business;
  • the need to get the wider public involved and to help them understand the scope of the issues;
  • the importance of overcoming ‘professional jealousy’.6

Group Three

Group three was also concerned with “occupying the field”. The group felt it imperative to break down professional and disciplinary stove-pipes. Among the Group’s major conclusions were the following:

  • technology changes the methods of retaining records, but not the overall goals;
  • citizens need to be reassured that electronic technology is benign and will not be employed against them in a “Big Brother” manner;
  • politicians need to be brought on side through the identification of practical issues concerning electronic records;
  • key players have to be identified and approached, especially in the areas of industry and standards. Existing agencies and initiatives should be harnessed to this end;
  • the National Archives can assert its role in the legislative process if it does so early on;
  • the move to management by results is a threat to comprehensive records retention policies because the focus is on outcomes rather than on how decisions were arrived at.

Group Three recommended an action plan, including striking a steering committee to guide the experts’ group over the next 6-12 months. Two immediate tasks were identified.

  1. research to identify common areas of interest.
  2. the development of a communications plan that would include “good news” stories of the results of proper records management policies. This plan would be directed at CIO’s and at the various professional associations.

Results of research would be publicized, and media attention would be sought continuously. This could be accomplished in part through posting information on a Web site and through the different departmental Intranets. The state of the communications plan could be communicated to the main group at a future meeting.

It was generally agreed that any initiatives arising from this conference must be based on the collaborative efforts of all the professions associated with the larger group.

 V. Final Plenary Discussion

The floor was then opened for discussion and for the identification of overall conclusions. Facilitators had noted the desire in each group to identify and adopt practical action steps, though all groups also had been concerned with policy issues.

An Emerging Agenda

The Chair suggested that a sense of urgency, cohesiveness and a shared agenda had begun to emerge.7 He observed that records retention has always been narrowly defined as an ‘archival’ problem. However, the agenda that may be developed out of this conference will have to demonstrate that this problem crosses many disciplines, and is an ongoing business task.

In this regard, it was suggested that there were other people who could usefully be included in any future forum on this subject:

  • systems specialists, government policy people and business sectors such as the pharmaceutical industry;
  • users, as they are the ones with the greatest need for solutions;
  • politicians. (It was suggested that an interested back-bencher might be approached to champion the cause of records retention. Parliamentary interest would be heightened if there were studies to clearly indicate the usefulness of records retention to the wider public. )

Committees and Other Fora

Among groups with which participants can partner to “occupy the field” were identified the Committees of Ministers and Deputy Ministers of Justice, the committees of CIO’s, the Association of Canadian Archivists, ITAC, and various training groups. It was pointed out that the different disciplines and professions represented in bodies such as these might have academic arms that already were undertaking research into these issues. These should be identified. Similarly, any “disasters” should be immediately capitalized upon for the purposes of publicizing the issues identified at the experts’ meeting. It was noted that professional associations often have educational components which might help publicize the cause.

Existing government programs and achievements such as those at NEB, Justice, DND and Health Canada should be capitalized upon. It was observed that participants need to be masters of their individual domains before advertising the value of good records keeping to the wider community.

It was pointed out that the National Archives alone does not have the power to shape government policy. However, the Information Management Forum, which was established by the National Archives, together with the NA itself, might serve as a catalyst in helping to influence record keeping across government. Currently, the Forum comprises representatives from 50 government institutions and professional organizations and has been developing guidelines and other products for government-wide use.

Communicating the Message

On the communications front, it was suggested participants in the experts’ meeting should use their contacts and expertise within the various professions to develop a concrete, understandable message that can be promulgated to wider professional, government and private bodies.8 It was suggested that a great deal of work needs to be done on issues of content, before the policy process gets under way.

Another concern was how to pressure industry to come on board. Are technological issues too big to be resolved, or can the computer industry be convinced of the value of incorporating record keeping considerations into the design of their products? How can we deal with the rapid pace at which technology becomes obsolete?

Records Preservation

The National Archives’ view is that electronic records can be stable, and can be retrieved as long as we possess the proper documentation.

Archivists are concerned about maintaining the authenticity of records through time. Authenticating records as they are communicated from point to point across space is challenging but trying to preserve records which are being communicated through time presents a far greater challenge. The issue extends beyond archives and impacts on any organization concerned about the retention of electronic records to meet their business and accountability requirements.

This issue is the focus of the UBC project as well as other projects established within the archival community. While technical standards are being developed, attention is also being paid to policies, management practices, and techniques such as those for describing records in their original context. These issues are all of interest to other non-archival organizations as well as the legal and audit communities. But questions have arisen as to whether or not an archives have the capacity and resources to maintain archival records. Should other organizations, including the records creating organizations take on this job?

Data Migration

A debate is underway concerning the extent to which the migration of records to account for changes in technology is the best path to follow. Some have suggested that it might be possible to create systems and technologies for emulating the original systems environment thus permitting electronic records to be left in their original format. Strategies for the preservation of electronic records must be based on the resolution of this debate and the development of standards and practices to support the most effective solution. But archives (or any organization for that matter) cannot develop these in isolation. The ways and means of building partnerships and joint ventures to address this issue should be explored.

Risk Management

Risk management was defined as a key area of concern and one that is central to authenticity. In future, issues of authenticity will be weighed in part in terms of how important is the risk engendered by the loss of a document.

The resources expended on records management will be commensurate with the risk involved in their loss. Departments may well segregate their records according to risk, devoting more resources to the highest risk files. In this regard, Treasury Board is about to publish updated guidelines for risk management. The National Archives is also concerned with risk management issues.


Participants considered the question of where more research is needed. Some areas were identified:

  • How to integrate users into the equation in order to get people to file electronic documents
  • Long-term retention of electronic records
  • Risk management
  • Defining common, standard terminology. Can existing standards be adopted and refined?
  • What are the characteristics of metadata?
  • How do documents alter when migrated? Does this affect their authenticity?
  • How to develop a business case or model. Can experimental economics help us resolve this last problem?

VI. A Proposed Forward Agenda

The following agenda emerged from the points discussed in both the larger forum and the smaller groups.

Continuing the Group

The National Archives and provincial archivists present agreed in principle to sponsor a continuing forum on issues of records authenticity and related matters, with representatives drawn from a wide community of interested parties. They also agreed:

  • that a steering committee for the above purpose should be struck immediately;
  • that a time-frame for implementing the action plan should be decided upon, in order to capture the momentum of this meeting;
  • that a Web site on these issues (the NA site? IM Forum site?) be established and maintained; and
  • that the main conclusions of this meeting, as embodied in the published report, should be widely disseminated and publicized to professional bodies, through conferences and meetings of professional associations.


With respect to outreach, it was agreed that:

  • a communications plan is necessary and that a workshop/conference should be conducted to deepen relationships between professional groups;
  • participants should begin to raise the public profile of these issues immediately.
  • the proceedings of these discussions should be produced as a public document.
  • another meeting of the group should be scheduled for 6-12 months hence. This will be useful only if the steering committee has been active. The annual conference of the Association of Canadian Archivists next year might be a place to meet and to publicize the work of the group. The group could also reach out to librarians, records managers and others through personal invitations, which would help build up interdisciplinary contacts.


Notwithstanding the importance of good process, and the vital contribution of an effective program of communication and outreach, participants commented at several points over the course of the two-day meeting on the need for a continuing focus on the substance of these very difficult issues. What the experts meeting showed was that a number of exciting projects and programs across the country have served to advance the thinking in various disciplines  -  the UBC project, the Quebec legislative program, and the NEB electronic filing and archiving program are but three examples highlighted in discussion at the meeting.

There is an issue as to how to integrate and advance this kind of work, perhaps through the use of future gatherings of experts with an agenda focused more on specific issues with accompanying workshops and the like. This might be a useful topic for consideration with the proposed Steering Committee.

Closing Remarks

In his closing remarks, Chair Ian Wilson noted that the meeting had served to identify common problems and even some possible solutions. In some cases, however, only further questions were identified. He suggested that members of each professional community should take away their impressions of the meeting and write them up for inclusion in professional journals and newsletters. In his view, members of the interested communities can indeed “occupy the field” by adopting and promoting the ideas voiced over the past two days.

Annex One: Terms of Reference

The Keeping of Business Records for Law, Audit and Archives

An Experts Meeting
June 10-11, 1999
Ottawa, Ontario

The National Archives of Canada and the National, Provincial and Territorial Archivists Conference are co-hosting an experts meeting on the keeping of business records from the legal, audit, and archival perspectives. This one and one half day inter-disciplinary meeting will be held on the afternoon of June 10 and all day on June 11 at the National Archives/National Library Building, 395 Wellington Street, Ottawa.

1.1The Canadian public and private sectors are poised on the threshold of doing business electronically. Almost all information within any enterprise is first created in digital form. Communication networks for the transmission of digital information between institutions are already in place. The production and keeping of a paper copy “for the record” are increasingly viewed as redundant as organizations move to an electronic mode of conducting business.
1.2But a chasm exists. The electronic business tools available in the office cannot meet the expectations of society for a reliable and authentic record. The efficient infrastructure that is Canada’s competitive economic advantage in a global economy will not be sustained if electronic records cannot serve purposes beyond immediate communication (i.e. serving legal and social purposes; establishing accountability for transactions of the past and build on existing knowledge for the future). At the heart of the matter is the capability of modern organizations to manage the electronic records needed to serve multiple purposes in a manner that ensures their authenticity and reliability through time.
1.3The legal, audit and archival sectors represent organizations where the keeping of authentic and reliable records presents a significant challenge.

- the legal community is concerned about the admissibility of electronic records as evidence in a court of law. This concern is linked directly to the concern of those involved in the development of electronic commerce applications where the expression of requirements for the transmission and management of authentic and reliable electronic business records has been difficult.

- the audit community is concerned about the capability of organizations to create and maintain audit trails of their activities within an electronic environment. The challenge of keeping authentic and reliable records of Year 2000 conversions in anticipation of potential litigation and audit is but one of several examples of why this concern has been raised.

- the archival community is concerned about the preservation and long term accessibility of electronic records that have been designated as having archival value. How can these be maintained as authentic and reliable records in the face of changing software and hardware technologies?

2.The Issues
2.1From the perspectives of the legal, audit, and archival sectors, what are the requirements for creating and maintaining authentic and reliable records?
2.2How can closer cooperation be encouraged among the legal, audit, and archival communities to accelerate the development of solutions to meet the requirements for managing authentic and reliable records?
3.The Experts Meeting

- to provide a forum for the exchange of information on records authenticity among concerned individuals from the audit, legal and archival communities.

- to identify the requirements for establishing the authenticity of records based on the perspectives of each of the audit, legal and archival communities and, if feasible, to identify common requirements shared across the communities.

- to identify opportunities for inter-disciplinary cooperative ventures and partnerships designed to address records authenticity issues shared across the communities.

3.2.1Individuals with expertise in various aspects of the records authenticity issue from each of the archival, legal, and audit communities will be invited to the meeting. Knowledgeable individuals from other related communities will also be invited to ensure that the discussions benefit from a wide range of views (e.g. private sector, academic sector, etc.). The event will be opened by the Acting National Archivist, and Ian Wilson, Archivist of Ontario, will serve as the Chair of the meeting. A consultant will moderate the discussions and ensure the smooth flow of the meeting.
3.3.1The experts meeting has been organized into the following three parts:
  • the first part will be in the form of brief presentations by selected participants on those planned or current records authenticity related initiatives underway in each of the communities (enhances understanding of the context and issues which address the issue of records authenticity);
  • the second part will be in the form of focus groups where participants will have the opportunity to discuss the issues associated with establishing records authenticity, identify general requirements, and propose inter-disciplinary approaches to the development of solutions based on current and planned initiatives underway in each community; a facilitator will be used to support the efforts of each group;
  • the third part will be in the form of a brief presentation by the consultant who will have prepared a synthesis of the deliberations over the previous two days as a means of stimulating discussion of both the issues as well as the next steps which should emerge from the event.
3.3.2A report on the meeting will be provided to the participants (distribution targeted for September, 1999), published on a web site and made available widely to interested groups and individuals.


Annex Two: Meeting Agenda


The Keeping of Business Records for Law, Audit and Archives
An Experts Meeting 
395 Wellington Street, Room 156, Ottawa, Ontario
JUNE 10-11, 1999

Thursday, June 10, 1999
13:30 - 14:00welcoming remarks, introductions, context setting
14:00 - 15:00brief presentations on records authenticity related initiatives
15:00 - 15:30coffee/tea/soft drinks
15:30 - 17:00brief presentations on records authenticity related initiatives cont.)
18:00 - 19:15cash bar
19:15 - 21:30supper hosted by the National Archives of Canada
Château Laurier (Renaissance Room)
Friday, June 11, 1999
8:30 - 09:00coffee/tea/pastries
09:00 - 10:00open plenary discussion of the issues based on the presentations (to serve as a catalyst for the focus groups)
10:00 - 10:15coffee break
10:15 - 12:00focus groups
12:00 - 13:30buffet lunch
13:30 - 15:15plenary (each focus group presents a report back to the full group followed by a discussion involving all participants)
15:15 - 15:30coffee break
15:30 - 16:30synthesis of the discussions over the past day and a half within the context of the objectives of the event (i.e. requirements for records authenticity; areas of potential cooperation, etc.);
16:30 - 16:45closing remarks


Annex Three: List of Participants


10 - 11 JUNE 1999

Eric Anttila
Office of the Auditor General of Canada
Informatics Audit Attest and Consulting
240 Sparks Street
West Tower, 10th Floor (10-15)
Telephone: (613) 995-3708
Fax: (613) 941-8285

Gabrielle Blais
Directeur, Division des archives gouvernementales et de la disposition des documents
Direction du développement et de la préservation des archives
Archives nationales du Canada
344, rue Wellington
Telephone: (613) 996-3405
Fax: (613) 996-8982

Richard Brown
Chief, Appraisal and Special Projects
Government Archives and Records Disposition Division
National Archives of Canada
344 Wellington Street
Telephone: (613) 947-1469
Fax: (613) 947-1546

Sue Bryant
Assistant Director Operations
Interdepartmental PKI Task Force
Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat
L’Explanade Laurier, Floor: 10EE,
140 O’Connor Street
Telephone: (613) 957-0527
Fax: (613) 946-9893

Ken Chasse
Barrister and Solicitor
2289 Shardawn Mews
Mississauga (Toronto) ON  L5C 1W6
Telephone: (905) 276-7760
Fax: (905) 276-4606

Diane Chisholm
Assistant Territorial Archivist
Yukon Archives
Box 2703
Telephone: (867) 667-5641
Fax: (867) 393-6252

Jean-Maurice Demers
Responsable des lois applicables aux archives
Direction des systèmes et technologies de l'information
Archives nationales du Québec
1210, avenue du Séminaire
Telephone: (418) 644-4802
Fax: (418) 646-0868

Wendy Duff
Assistant Professor
Faculty of Information Studies
University of Toronto
140 St. George Street
Telephone: (416) 978-3152
Fax: (416) 971-1399

John Gregory
General Counsel
Policy Branch
Ministry of the Attorney General (Ontario)
720 Bay Street, 7th Floor
Telephone: (416) 326-2503
Fax: (416) 326-2699

Jacques Grimard 
Directeur général
Direction du développement et de la préservation des archives
Archives nationales du Canada 
344, rue Wellington

Vigi Gurushanta
CARS & Hybrid Image System Development
Systems & Technology
Royal Bank Financial Group
315 Front Street, 15th Floor
Telephone: (416) 348-5688
Fax: (416) 348-5460

Hans Hofman
Electronic Records Program
Rijksarchiefdienst, Postbus 90520,
The Netherlands
Tellephone: 31 70 331 5518
Fax: 31 70 331 5555

Robert Kapitany
Information Services
Office of Management Services
Therapeutic Products Directorate
Health Canada
Tunneys Pasture
Telephone: (613) 941-1351
Fax: (613) 941-3338

Rhonda Lazarus
Treasury Board Legal Services
Department of Justice
L’Esplanade Laurier, West Tower, 5th Floor
300 Laurier Avenue West
Telephone: (613) 952-3345
Fax: (613) 954-5806

Julia Lelik
Office of the Auditor General of Canada
Chief Knowledge Officer
240 Sparks Street
West Tower, 10th Floor (10-15)
Telephone: (613) 995-3708
Fax: (613) 941-8285

Neil Levette
Infrastructure Investment Management Division
Chief Information Officer Branch
Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat
275 Slater Street, 6th Floor
Telephone: (613) 941-3132
Fax: (613)

Andrew Lipchak
Coordinator, Policy and Planning
Archives of Ontario
Unit 300, 77 Grenville Street
Telephone: (416) 327-1575
Fax: (416) 327-1992

Michael MacKinnon
Provincial Archives of New Brunswick
P.O. Box 6000
Telephone: (506) 453-3960
Fax: (506) 457-4992

Heather MacNeil
Assistant Professor
School of Library, Archival, and Information Studies
University of British Columbia
831-1956 Main Mall
Telephone: (604) 822-6365
Fax: (604) 822-6006

Paul McCormick
Director General
Information Resource Management
National Library of Canada
395 Wellington Street

Lee McDonald
Assistant National Archivist
National Archives of Canada
395 Wellington Street

John McDonald
Senior Advisor
Office of the Director General
Archives Development and Preservation Branch
National Archives of Canada
344 Wellington Street, Room 5014

Tom McMahon
Law and Privacy Section
Department of Justice
Room 3167, 284 Wellington Street
Telephone: (613) 957-4724
Fax: (613) 941-2002

Elizabeth Murphy-Walsh
Institute of Internal Auditors
c/o Environment Canada
10 Wellington Street
Telephone: (819) 994-7736
Fax: (819) 994-7321

Rosemary Murray-Lachapelle
Acting Director
Office of Government Records
Archives Development and Preservation Branch
National Archives of Canada
344 Wellington Street

Thomas G. Parker
Records Management Division
Nova Scotia Archives and Records Management
Government of Nova Scotia
P.O. Box 261
Telephone: (902) 424-3012
Fax: (902) 424-0129

Michael Power
Assistant Director
Interdepartmental PKI Task Force
Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat
275 Slater Street
Telephone: (613) 946-5056
Fax: (613) 946-9893

Jeanne Proulx
Ministère de la Justice du Québec
1200, route de l’Église, bur. 4.19
Telephone: (418) 646-8242
Fax: (418) 643-9749

Joan Remsu
Senior Counsel
Public Law Policy Section
Department of Justice
284 Wellington Street, EMB-5
Telephone: (613) 946-3118
Fax: (613) 941-4088

 Shelley Smith
Provincial Archivist
Provincial Archives of Newfoundland & Labrador
Colonial Building
Military Road
Telephone: (709) 729-3065
Fax: (709) 729-0578

Al Whitla
Director, Internal Audit
Comptrollership Branch
Treasury Board of Canada, Secretariat
300 Laurier Avenue, West Tower, 9th Floor
Telephone: (613) 952-3363
Fax: (613) 952-3247

Ian Wilson
(Formerly) Archivist of Ontario

National Archivist
National Archives of Canada
344 Wellington Street
Telephone: (613) 947-1513
Fax: (613) 947-1500


[1]. Metadata are data in the record which are about the record itself as opposed to being part of the content of the record.

[2]. “Diplomatics” is an analytical technique, born in the seventeenth century, for assessing the authenticity of records. The primary contribution of diplomatics to an understanding of electronic records is its analysis of the common attributes of a record based on concepts and principles that have evolved over centuries of detailed study of the documentary process. Those concepts and principles have proven useful in identifying electronic records generated within different hardware and software environments and for developing standards.

[3]. The contribution of archival science is its analysis of aggregates of records in terms of their documentary and functional relationships and the ways in which they are controlled and communicated.

[4]. If this is so, it is clearly an area that would repay further work by members of the legal and archival communities.

[5]. It was suggested that this person should be as high in the government as possible. Suggestions included the Clerk of the Privy Council or perhaps an executive in the pharmaceutical industry who would be acutely aware of the risks involved in poor records management.

[6]. Delegates were asked rhetorically whether they would be willing to give up the records they create to a common database, set of standards or records-keeping module. Professional responsibilities have to be coordinated in order to enable collaborative action.

[7]. Indeed, there was some sense that small group discussions had tended to focus more on processes by which the agenda could be moved forward as opposed to the hard underlying issues themselves, though it was recognized that the latter was difficult in the relatively short time frame of the meeting.

[8]. To this end, the National Archives agreed to issue a communications release after the meeting.