Acceptable format, imaging paper documents, and backing up electronic files
On this page, you will find information on the following:
What is an acceptable format?
The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) accepts records that are produced and kept in:
- paper format
- paper format, and later converted to and stored in an accessible and readable electronic format
- an accessible and readable electronic format
Records and supporting documents originally produced in paper format
You have to keep these items in paper format, unless they are saved in acceptable microfiche, microfilm, or electronic image formats.
You can use electronic imaging software to keep images of paper records. For more information on microfiche, microfilm, and electronic imaging formats, see What is imaging?.
Records and supporting documents originally produced in electronic format
You have to keep them in an electronic readable format, even if you have paper printouts.
What is imaging?
Generally, you must keep originals of your paper documents. However, you can produce electronic images of these documents, known as imaging. The images can be kept in electronic files, on microfiche or on microfilm.
Imaging a paper supporting document
When producing an image of a paper document, you must make sure:
- it is an accurate reproduction with the intention of it taking the place of the paper document
- it gives the same information as the paper document
- the significant details of the image are not obscured because of limitations in resolution, tonality, or hue.
Reproducing imaged documents
Reproductions of imaged documents are as acceptable as the originals, if you follow certain procedures.
You must produce, control, and keep imaged reproductions (including microfilm and microfiche) of books of original entry and source documents according to the latest national standard of Canada. For more information, see the following publications:
- Information Circular IC78-10R5, Books and Records Retention/Destruction
- GST/HST Memorandum 15.1, General Requirements for Books and Records
You can also see the Canadian General Standards Board (CGSB) publication at CAN/CGSB 72.34, Electronic Records as Documentary Evidence.
If your business is using commercial software for smaller scale electronic scanning of its paper records and supporting documents, it should make sure the scanned records meet the rules and guidelines set out in the latest national standard of Canada.
CAN/CGSB 72.34-2017, Electronic Records as Documentary Evidence, was updated in 2017 to include electronic imaging that was part of CAN/CGSB 72.11, Microfilm and Electronic Images as Documentary Evidence. CAN/CGSB 72.11 is no longer in force but can still be referenced with the understanding that it is no longer being maintained and may not be current.
Destroying imaged paper documents
If you have imaged your paper books of account and supporting documents according to the Canadian General Standards Board (CGSB) standards, the images become the permanent records. You can therefore destroy the imaged paper item. If you have any doubt about destroying any paper records, get legal advice first.
If your business cannot meet the CGSB standards when imaging, it has to keep the original documents.
The standards can be viewed at selected libraries in Canada, and are also available for purchase from the CGSB:
On the Web
Go to Obtain Standards.
Canadian General Standards Board
Gatineau QC K1A 1G6
By telephone, fax, or email
National Capital Region: 819-956-0425
Rest of Canada: 1-800-665-2472
Place du Portage
Phase 3, 6B1
11 Laurier Street
Backing up electronic files
You should make backup copies of all your business information that has been recorded on rewritable media, such as computer hard disks, floppy disks, CDs, DVDs, tapes, or cartridges. A back up copy allows you to access your information, if you accidentally lose, delete, or erase the originals.
You should store the media containing the information in an environment that is free from hazards that could affect the media. These hazards include magnetic fields, direct light, excessive moisture, and temperature extremes.
When you keep backup records in a different medium you should:
- Follow the suggested procedures of the media manufacturer.
- Pay particular attention to the suggested shelf life of the medium.
- Ensure the file backup can be restored in a format that is usable and accessible by the CRA.
If you contract an outside party to keep your electronic records, the records must still be available to CRA officials when they ask for them.
For more information on ensuring the availability and reliability of backup data, see Information Circular IC05-1R1, Electronic Record Keeping, and GST/HST Memorandum 15.2, Computerized Records.
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