In Canada, not just anyone can use the title engineer. To practice engineering and use the title engineer (or any variation), you must be licensed by the engineering regulator for the province/ territory where the title is being used. Regulation minimizes risks to public safety and ensures that these activities are conducted by licensed engineers who are held to high professional and ethical standards that require them to work in the public interest.
Disregarding the regulated use of the title engineer can put public safety at risk, mislead the public, and impact their high degree of trust in the profession. That is why each of the engineering regulators work diligently to ensure only licensed individuals are using the title engineer.
Engineers Canada defines the practice of engineering in the Public Guideline on the Practice of Engineering in Canada. In it, an activity is considered engineering if all three of these elements are present:
- Any of various particular intellectual activities or combinations of them, including:
- Directing or supervising
- Managing any of the above
- The application of engineering principles, and
- Safeguarding societal interests, such as:
- Economic interests
- The public welfare or the environment
In each province or territory, engineering may be defined differently or more specifically in legislation, but in general most regulators follow a variation of this definition.
Misuse of the title engineer
Claiming to be an engineer without being licensed is against the law. Titles such as Professional Engineer, Professional Licensee (engineering), P. Eng., P.L. (Eng.), or any title including the word engineer or a related abbreviation can only be used by those who are licensed. This also applies where such terms and abbreviations are combined with any name, title, description, letter, symbol, or abbreviation. The use of terms or abbreviations that imply someone is licensed with a regulator when they are not can result in legal action.
Areas of concern
There are several places where the use of engineer is often used improperly. They include:
Software or data engineer: Unless someone is licensed with a provincial or territorial engineering regulator, they cannot use the title engineer, or any variation. This applies even if the title is assigned by the employer. Alternative titles can include:
- Data analyst
- Data scientist
- Software specialist
- Software technician
- Data technologist
- Data manager
- Data technical expert
Job postings: Advertising an engineering related job without requiring licensure from the engineering regulator in the province or territory where the work will be taking place may have legal implications. Requiring eligibility for licensure in the job posting is a a first step, but the newly hired person must be licensed before practicing engineering.
Social media profiles: Using a protected title like engineer in an individual’s profile, such as on LinkedIn, is misleading and illegal.
Provincial and territorial regulators have the legal authority to enforce against those who improperly use the title engineer. Courts can impose fines and injunctions for unauthorized use of title.
Court case: In an oral decision delivered on November 26, 2019, Associate Chief Justice Nielsen of the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench ordered an injunction against an individual who was using the title “Software Engineer” in his online profiles, despite the fact he was not an APEGA member. Associate Chief Justice Nielsen found that by holding himself out to the public as a “software engineer”, this individual could by implication lead a member of the public to conclude he is a professional engineer, licensee or permit holder with APEGA. This was a violation of s. 3(1)(a)(ii) of the Engineers and Geoscience Professions Act. Associate Chief Justice Nielsen granted the injunction order sought by APEGA and awarded costs to APEGA for the contested application.
Court case: In APEGBC v. Kaiser, 2002 BCSC 1831, the defendant was not licensed to practice engineering in BC and the regulatory body sought an injunction to, among other things, prevent her from referring to herself as an "engineer". Even though the applicable legislation did not provide a blanket prohibition against all use of the term "engineer" by non-registrants, the Court prohibited the defendant from using the term "engineer" because, in the circumstances, it implied the right to practice a discipline of professional engineering.
Court case: On 10 March 2020, the Quebec Superior Court (2020 QCCS 1465) upheld a lower court ruling, finding an individual guilty of improperly using the French abbreviation “ing.” In e-mails sent to clients and colleagues, and on a résumé sent to a prospective employer. The Court found that the use of “ing.” by an individual not registered with Quebec’s governing body would induce a reasonable person to conclude that the individual is indeed an engineer. As a result, the individual was found guilty of 4 counts of improper use of title. Leave to appeal was denied by the Quebec Court of Appeal on 5 June 2020 (2020 QCCA 730).
Each provincial and territorial regulator has information about the proper use of title in their jurisdiction, as well as enforcement mechanisms to investigate and address improper uses. Review our list of engineering regulators for links to their websites.
Provincial and territorial engineering regulators across Canada signed a letter on the use of “software engineer” and other protected titles across Canada. Although each province and territory regulates the practice of engineering within their jurisdiction, the signed letter represents regulators’ alignment on enforcing and educating about the proper use of the protected titles.