Knowing the date is important to our daily lives. It tells us everything from when medication expires to when bills need to be paid and flights are scheduled. Whether it is a due date, expiry date, or the date a document was written, knowing the precise date keeps our lives running smoothly.
But in Canada, understanding just what the numbers in a date mean isn’t easy. That is because there is no agreed upon order or format for listing the month, day and year. For example, the birthdate for your social insurance number is entered as day/month/year, but when applying for the Canada Pension Plan it is year/month/day. If you look at the expiration date on many foods it could say May 20, or 17 MA 20.
When individuals and organizations do not use a common way to communicate the date it can lead to confusion and misunderstanding. But standards offer a solution to this problem.
In 1988, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) launched ISO 8601: Data elements and interchange formats - Information interchange - Representation of dates and times to provide a standardized way to represent dates using numbers. Thirty years later, listing the date as the year/month/day has become the accepted standard in countries around the world.
ISO 8601 eliminates uncertainty and confusion when communicating dates, which is critical in today’s global economy. But the full standard also covers how to write other things such as:
- Time of day
- Coordinated universal time (UTC)
- Local time with offset to UTC
- Date and time
- Time intervals
- Recurring time intervals
More information on this voluntary standard can be found on the ISO website.
As the leader of Canada's standardization network, the Standards Council of Canada (SCC) has been working to promote the use of consistent all-numeric dates in Canada. We are here to provide Canadians with the information they need about standardization issues like this one—and, where appropriate, to advocate the use of specific standards—so they can make informed decisions.
As providers of the standards development rules for the country, SCC makes it mandatory for its accredited Standards Development Organizations (SDOs) to use the required format in the standards developed for Canadians.
At SCC, we are committed to raising awareness about the standardization issues that matter most to Canadians and ensuring governments, industry and consumers understand the role that standards play in our lives. We are continuously collaborating with standardization organizations across the country and around the world to deliver value to Canada by developing and implementing innovative standardization solutions that promote trade, drive innovation, support small business and ignite the economy.