Trans, non-binary Canadians caught off guard by voter cards addressed to dead names used before transition

A spokesperson for Elections Canada apologized to any trans and non-binary elector who received a voter information card using their dead name — the name a person used before their transition. At least one Canadian affected by the error says they've gone through the proper channels and dread doing it again.

Elections Canada apologizes for using dead names on voter information cards

A person holds an Elections Canada voter information card after receiving it in the mail on Tuesday, Aug 31, 2021. Faelan Quinn said it was jarring to see their dead name on their card after they had legally changed it. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

It's been four years since Faelan Quinn legally changed their name and two years since they updated their information with Elections Canada.

So they said it came as a shock to see their dead name — the name a person used before their transition —  once again listed on their voter information card. 

"It was very jarring to just sort of see it come up out of nowhere, when there had been no prior indication that that was something that was going to happen again after having done everything correctly on my end," said Quinn.

"I had no reason to believe that my previous name would ever be used for me again through Elections Canada."

They are among a number of transgender and non-binary Canadians who say they were caught off guard when their voter cards were addressed to their dead names this year, especially since similar complaints were made ahead of the 2019 election.

In an email to CBC News, a spokesperson for Elections Canada apologized to any elector who receives a voter information card using their dead name. 

"However, there are a number of reasons why Elections Canada may not have received or processed the information," said Matthew McKenna.

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Elections Canada updates its registry using provincial and territorial driver's licence bureaus, the Canada Revenue Agency, and elector lists from other jurisdictions.

"Data sources feeding into the register may provide conflicting, dated or incorrect information, and we cannot validate and process any changes to an elector's name or gender if some of these data sources have different information about that person," said McKenna.

"There may also have been a delay in those sources sending updates."

McKenna said in some cases, Elections Canada may have two records for an elector. 

"For example, if an elector updates their information online (through Elections Canada's Online Voter Registration Service) by re-registering under a new name, it will create a new record in the register but not override the previous one. As such, an elector may receive a voter information card for both names, or for their previous name only, as changes may not have been processed in time before [voter information cards] are mailed out," he wrote.

How to update your name

According to the Elections Canada website, if someone still needs to update their name they can do so in person at their Elections Canada office by 6:00 p.m. the Tuesday before election day. They can also update their voter information at their assigned polling station before voting.

"Updating your information directly with Elections Canada ensures your first and middle name will appear correctly on your voter registration and in your voter information card," notes the website.

Feeling of 'dejection'

It's a process Quinn said they've already been through and are dreading going through again.

"It had been kind of an unpleasant process to be honest. It was sort of obvious in the moment that the staff who were present at my polling station didn't quite know what to do with me or what to make of me," they said.

Quinn said they feel like Elections Canada's response so far deflects blame when they, and others, have gone through the proper channels.

"It kind of creates the sense of sort of dejection, of hopelessness," they said.

"I find myself kind of asking what would even be the point of going through the hassle of contacting Elections Canada every election season, to try to get my name finally updated, if I'm just going to be sent a voter information card with my dead name on it every four years?"

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