Any organization using paper files knows the importance of document shredding. Legally, here in Canada, organizations are required to securely dispose of their own and others’ documents eventually, and if the information is no longer useful to you, shredding is the simplest and most secure option. 

However, what documents should be shredded and when is crucially important. You’ll regret shredding a document too soon, as it will deprive you of important information. Worse, depending on the type of document, you may even open yourself up to suspicion and prosecution from the authorities. On the other hand, holding on to a document longer than you have to won’t cost you much per document, but can be a waste of space and money if your organization has more than a few hundred pages. 

As experts in record management, we wanted to help make it easier to figure out which of your documents to shred, so that your organization doesn’t run into any unfortunate difficulties. Before we can explain which documents to shred, though, we need to categorize the types of documents your organization (probably) interacts with on a regular basis. These are Business Documents, Transitory Records, and Personal Information

Business Documents

What counts as a business document?

In Canadian regulations, the term “Business Documents” or “Business Records” refers to any documents which pertain to the structure, activities, or history of your organization. So this includes any and all financial records, official memos and correspondence, meeting minutes, property deeds, contracts, and more. If one of your documents contains information about your organization or something your organization has done or will do, then you can safely assume it’s a business document. 

These documents are important to your operation, so shredding them too early is an obvious mistake to avoid. At some point, however, a document will no longer be relevant. Meeting minutes and old contracts aren’t very valuable once the topics and agreements they refer to have become old news. 

How long should you wait to shred a business document?

Even after a document is no longer relevant to your operation, you might still have to hold onto it. Federal regulation requires you to retain any and all business documents for a certain period of time (i.e. “retention periods”). The length of a retention period depends on three things: (1) the date the record was created or imported, (2) what kind of document it is, and, (3) the type of organization. 

In general, though, most retention periods are six years. When that six-year period begins, however, varies based on the factors listed previously. At most, the retention period might not begin until 364 days after the document was created. When it comes to deciding what documents should be shredded, the safest policy is to wait until after seven years have passed. 

There are some documents your organization should never shred, however. Any documents which are considered “business-historical records,” those that would have any effect on the sale, liquidation, or ending of your business, need to be retained until several years after it ends. So long as you are in business, these documents should never be shredded.

(For more details, check out our blog on records retention.)

Transitory Records

Although the category of “business documents” covers most of the files your organization will create or interact with, federal regulations do make a provision for documents in your possession which aren’t important enough to be worth keeping. These are termed “transitory records” and can be shredded or otherwise disposed of at your leisure. 

The only requirement for records to be deemed “transitory” is that they “have no value in documenting or supporting the organization’s business.” This definition is admittedly vague, so it’s better to err on the side of caution and avoid labelling any records as transitory unless you’re quite sure. If the CRA does an audit, you don’t want to find yourself disagreeing with them about whether a file should be considered transitory. Being able to get rid of a document sooner is not worth risking an audit, fines, or potentially even prosecution. 

Personal Information

Unlike business documents, personal information should be destroyed or disposed of as soon as is practical. Rather than possibly being penalized for destroying a record too early, you’re more likely to be penalized for waiting too long to destroy or dispose of personal information. 

What counts as personal information?

In the language of the regulations, “personal information” refers to any information which could be used to identify someone. The general principle for deciding when to dispose of personal information requires you to have a purpose for collecting it in the first place. Once that purpose has expired, you’re expected to get rid of the personal information, so long as there’s no other reason to keep it. 

For example, according to the principles of the legislation, a tailor shop collecting customers’ names and measurements should delete or destroy that information once the service has been provided. Unless, of course, a customer has explicitly requested that they retain it, so as to inform future services.

When should you shred personal information?

In order to maximize your chances of being found compliant with legislation, we recommend that you somehow record the purpose for each piece of personal information collected in concrete language. That way, it can serve as a guide for deciding when to dispose of the information, and as a reference for any audits. Manually recording this information for every piece of personal information may be prohibitively tedious depending on your business model, but a digitalized process allows this step to be automated. 

A notable exception to this broad policy is when personal information is used to make a decision about the subject of that information. When your organization makes such a decision, you need to retain the personal information, and the information about the decision, long enough for the person involved to access it. This gives them the ability to understand and potentially even challenge the decision. 

Personnel Records

At the intersection between personal information and business records, are personnel records. The information they contain can be used to identify individuals, and usually even includes sensitive details like their Social Insurance Number or banking information. But that information is also crucial to the operation of the business, so which category of document do these fall under? 

The answer is both. A document can be both personal information and a business record, so long as the personally identifying information it contains is important information to the organization. Your purpose for collecting your employees’ and members’ personal information involves their continued involvement in your operations. Thus, in line with the principles of privacy regulations and retention periods, once a person has left your organization, you’re expected to destroy or otherwise dispose of the personal information in your records, so long as the retention period has ended. 

Conclusion

Existing within the “Information Age,” means organizations need to process more information than ever before. Computers and high-speed internet access are now so commonplace that nearly every company, organization, and private citizen is functionally required to have them, or miss out on faster, cheaper, more efficient, and more flexible ways of doing business. Paper documents are increasingly becoming a thing of the past, given their many disadvantages, one of which is the requirement for them to be shredded at the end of their lifecycle. Shredding one or two documents a week is no big deal, but when that volume increases, secure shredding options can become costly. 

Consentia offers secure and reliable services to convert your paper documents into digital files, including scanning and data entry. Plus, you’ll never have to worry about shredding your digital documents, you can delete and overwrite them with ease. Consentia can even securely destroy your documents for you once they’ve been digitized!

Want to learn more about how digitizing your documents can improve your legal reliability, save you money, and make your information more secure? We also offer expert advice! Get in touch with us today to find out how we can help you elevate your business.

Local Shredding Options

Even though we strongly recommend switching to digital, if you’ve got a lot of paper files to destroy, you’ll have to get rid of them eventually. Here are our top picks for document shredding in Edmonton.

  1. Shred-it – Consentia’s preferred shredding service.
  2. EnviroShred
  3. Iron Mountain
  4. Western Archives
  5. UPS
  6. RoboShred
  7. Rip n Shred
  8. Best Shredding
  9. Shred Nations