James can legally change name to hide criminal past

Ex-convicts, including sex offenders such as former junior hockey coach Graham James, can avoid having their criminal history checked by legally changing their name.

Ex-convicts, including sex offenders such as former junior hockey coach Graham James, can avoid having their criminal history checked by legally changing their name.

Name changes in Canada are done at the provincial level, and only two provinces, British Columbia and Alberta, currently demand fingerprints when someone applies.

"Absolutely it's a concern," Supt. Chuck Walker, the director of field services for the RCMP's national criminal database, said Tuesday in an interview.

"We're aware of scenarios where we've actually had convicted persons apply and obtain a legal name change and there is no linkage — no connecting of the dots if you will — until they're picked up and charged [again]," said Walker, who helps oversee the Canadian Police Information Centre.

Once a person is charged and fingerprinted, the CPIC database will quickly determine whether matching prints are on file under a different name, at which point a new alias would be added to the existing file.

There was widespread outrage this week when The Canadian Press reported that James, who pleaded guilty in 1997 to sexually assaulting two of his former teenaged players over a 10-year period, had been granted a pardon in January 2007.

No fresh charges

Former NHL star Theoren Fleury lodged a formal complaint with Winnipeg police in January alleging he, too, had been abused by James. And another potential complainant has contacted The Canadian Press to allege he was assaulted by James several years before the events for which the junior coach pleaded guilty.

No fresh charges have been laid against James in connection with the new allegations.

The former Western Hockey League coach appears to have fallen off the map since surfacing briefly in 2001-03 working a coaching stint in Spain. Even a shocking tell-all autobiography published last October by Fleury failed to elicit any public comment from James, 58.

That's led to speculation James has assumed a new identity.

While legal name changes are "gazetted" in provincial government publications, there's no national system for cross-referencing them to RCMP or other police databases.

Walker said he attended a January workshop that dealt with the issue and was told fingerprinting "would be very unacceptable in certain jurisdictions."

He also raised the matter of marriage name changes, which can obscure a person's past.

"If that woman happens to have a criminal history under her maiden name, how are the two connected? The answer is they are not."

The ideal system

Walker points to British Columbia as a model of how the system should be managed.

For more than seven years, B.C. has required adults seeking a name change to have their fingerprints taken by police or another approved agency. The agency then sends them along with other supporting records to the province's vital statistics agency.

Following registration of the name change, the fingerprints are sent to the RCMP, which does a criminal record check.

An RCMP fingerprint screening is also part of the name-change application process in Alberta.

Procedures vary in other provinces and territories to screen out people seeking a new name for unscrupulous reasons.

In Prince Edward Island, the new name is provided to the RCMP and "such other police authorities as may be prescribed." 

Applications in New Brunswick will not be granted if the proposed new name is sought for "fraudulent, misrepresentational or other unlawful purposes," such as to avoid a court order to pay child support, or to avoid criminal charges or financial obligations.

Ontario residents who have been convicted of an offence must submit a police record check with their application for a name change .

In Nunavut, applicants are asked to declare on the application whether there are any outstanding criminal actions or liens against them.