After the Canadian Organic Regulations (COR), products that are grown and sold in the same province can be labeled as organic without being certified because the COR only apply to products sold on interprovincial and international markets.
But if a product is labeled as "certfied organic", there should be an organic certificate delivered by an accredited certifying body. So you are entitled to ask for this certificate.
If there is no certificate, the claim is not legal; a complaint can be lodged at the Canada Competition Bureau that manages the Consumer Packaging and Labelling Act.
This is how it is managed at the national level. I know that in BC, the phrase BC Certified Organic is protected; but I am not sure that this protection could be extended to "certified organic".
This is an important and interesting debate to have. For over a decade my mother participated in the certification process in B.C. It was quite a lot of work, particularly a huge amount of paperwork. Our sales simply never justified it and we finally stopped. We still grow using all the same techniques and inputs. I haven't gone back on the program as I'm running the farm & house by myself and there's no time to do the required paperwork. In my respectful opinion, farmers should be allowed to use the phrase "organic" if they are growing organically. "Certified organic" should be reserved for those who have agreed to subject themselves to the certification/oversight process. The consumer has to be educated to the difference and then make choices -- trust the farmer's claim, trust the certifying body, etc. I believe it is vital to get people to think about food and to allow them to be informed so they can choose -- that means complete labelling (including GMO where it is present). One final thought (which I never speak of to the general public as I don't want to risk jeapordizing the "certified organic" label) an unscrupulous farmer/gardener could easily get certified and NOT be growing organically; there just aren't enough inspectors to prevent it. So, it all comes down to ethics and trust in the end. My plea to all of you is to remember that some of us truly don't have the time to be certified, but need to tell consumers that we are growing in a natural, healthy, organic way! Thank you.
Perhaps we should standardize our system to mimic the US naming convention. I believe there that you can only use the term 'Organic' if you are essentially what we call 'certified organic' in BC. This makes it really clear for the consumer what they are buying and also easier to enforce the rules.
Not sure if I agree with Lyn on the paperwork issue though. The paperwork required for organic certification is (in my opinion) not much more than would be required to run any successful business that properly tracks inputs, outputs and income and expenses.
In our case the cost to maintain organic certification is insignificant in comparison to our costs related to feeding our animals certified organic feed and providing sufficient space and housing. I can't see it making much sense (for livestock producers anyway) to walk away from certification and then continue feeding certified feeds and meeting the organic husbandry regulations. Perhaps the operational economics are different for vegetable/fruit farmers?
With respect to unscrupulous individuals obtaining certification and then using farming practices which are not in keeping with organic regulations I guess it would be possible. I think it is far more likely that this type of farmer would just not seek certification but use wording in their advertisements that suggest they are essentially organic anyway.
The bottom line is that third party oversight is a good thing, even if it is limited to one visit per year. Many certification schemes that consumers demand (ISO, FSC, etc) also rely solely on annual reviews.
I recognize that there are likely farmers who are not certified and who might meet or exceed COR, but without third party oversight you are just taking them at their word as a consumer.