Sask. considering criminal record checks when applying for name change

The Saskatchewan government is looking at possible changes to policies around who is eligible to change their name in the province, according to Justice Minister Don Morgan.

Lawyers say potential new policy cannot be too restrictive or overreaching

Justice Minister Don Morgan said there have been discussions with the Ministry of Health and eHealth about potential changes to the province's name change policy. (CBC)

The Saskatchewan government is looking at possible changes to policies around who is eligible to change their name in the province, according to justice minister Don Morgan.

Morgan said he spoke with the Ministry of Health and eHealth, the organization responsible for the province's vital statistics, about potential restrictions on the ability to change one's name.

In cases where an offender is being released into the public and may pose a threat to public safety, authorities usually provide public notice before the release occurs. 

"I'm not prepared to allow a person to simply change their name and avoid the effect of that public disclosure," Morgan said. 

"Those public disclosures are made for the purpose of public safety, so the public knows that an individual is there, knows what the risks are, and we can't have a process of someone simply changing their name to avoid that." 

The topic of name changes for people with criminal records came to light when two Saskatchewan sex offenders legally changed their names. Morgan said the discussions were not spurred by any specific situation.

A criminal record will not prevent someone from being eligible to change their name in Saskatchewan. 

Morgan said possible options include requiring a criminal record check when applying for a name change. If there is a criminal record, a name change could be denied.

The other option would be simply reissuing another public disclosure with the new name and the person's history attached to it.

"We are carefully considering how to balance an individual's right to legally change their name with the public's right to know about potentially dangerous offenders," the Ministry of Justice said in an email.

Updated policy can't be too restrictive: lawyers

Defence lawyer Brian Pfefferle said there is merit in someone being able to change their name, despite a criminal record, if they've shown successful reform and rehabilitation. (Don Somers/CBC)

Saskatoon lawyer Brian Pfefferle said Saskatchewan's policy around name changes is a bit lax and would benefit from an updated policy.

But he warned against potential restrictions being too cumbersome for those looking to change their names, despite having a criminal record. 

"There is definitely some merit in an individual who has been reformed in being able to take on a new life ... without unnecessary or inappropriate attention being given to them," he said.

Using the example of Karla Homolka, a convicted killer who later changed her name to Leanne Teale, Pfefferle acknowledged that people want to know about name changes and should have an avenue to do so.

The Saskatchewan Gazette which publishes every name change in the province.

New name = same record

Defence lawyer Aaron Fox said a reasonable line needs to be drawn, and there shouldn't be mass rejections of anyone with a criminal record. (Jason Franson/Canadian Press)

Defence lawyer Aaron Fox said if there had been someone with a criminal record and had opted to change their name, their record would still be attached to the new names.

"I think the thought that changing your name is automatically going to give you a different identity is probably not realistic," Fox said.

He added that the Canadian justice system and court proceedings are public for a reason.

He said public concerns around name changes are understandable but noted there are varying degrees of criminal offences, which are reflected in the sentences which are imposed.

Fox's big question is where the government would draw the line, if a new policy was enacted.

"People change their names for many reasons ... and you're not going to want to infringe on that," he said.


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