Quebec has joined Ontario as the second province in Canada to recognize being transgender as a reason to keep personal details of those seeking a legal name change from being publicly published.
Every province and territory – with the exception of British Columbia and Nunavut – publishes a list of recent legal changes of name in their provincial gazette.
More than 2,100 Canadians who changed their name this year had their former and new names published in these gazettes. They’re published every week, and all but the Manitoba Gazette are free to read online.
Publication in the gazette is part of the name change fee in some provinces, meaning you must pay to have your identifying details published.
Gabrielle Bouchard, peer support coordinator at Quebec’s Centre for Gender Advocacy, says many people are surprised to hear most provinces publish all legal name changes shortly after they happen.
Changing this, she says, is something transgender communities have been advocating for a long time.
In Quebec, the province’s Directeur de l’état civil may still publish notices when name changes are approved for transgender people. These notices include the applicant’s former and new names as well as their birthday, but not their street address.
Prior to the change, anyone wishing to change their name in Quebec would have to publish four letters of intent – two in a local newspaper, and two in the Gazette. The letters would include their street address, down to the apartment door number.
People would also need to publish a notice if they intended to change the designation of sex on their birth certificate.
Dangers of publication
The Centre for Gender Advocacy complained to the province of Quebec about publication requirements last year.
The changes in Quebec came into effect on March 1st, as part of a set of amendments to made to Quebec’s civil code in December.
Bouchard says the amendments protect trans people, who may be put in danger by the publications.
“It would be like having to publish that you’re gay, or publishing that you’re lesbian, in a local paper. It goes into the archives forever, until the end of time,” says Bouchard.
“So pretty much anyone can know where you live at the moment where you made that particular request, and go throw rocks at your window.”
Bouchard says she hasn’t heard of any cases where someone was violently harassed because their name change was published in Quebec’s gazette, but that it’s fortunate that trans-discriminatory groups in Canada are not as organized as they are in some countries.
“We just have to look at France, for example, where they have these very well-organized, very well-funded groups against gender theory, where they’re going after people,” says Bouchard.
“[...] It’s because the tools are there. Because they’re not being used now, it doesn’t mean they’re not being used later.”
A health study published last year, surveying 433 people in Ontario who indicated they were within the definition of “trans,” estimated that 20 per cent of trans people in Ontario have been physically or sexually assaulted because they were trans.
The study estimates an additional 34 per cent have experienced verbal harassment or transphobic threats.
The British Columbia Gazette stopped publishing legal changes of name over ten years ago.
A representative for the province’s Vital Statistics Agency says the change was made “because a lot of people who change their names are doing it for safety reasons.”
An old tradition brought online
While some provinces publish the community and birthday of everyone receiving a name change, Quebec is the only province that requires people to publish their full street address before they can change their name.
Some provinces, like Ontario, only publish people’s former and new name – but Bouchard says that in the age of the Internet, it’s possible to see where people live by putting the gazette’s information together with other publicly-available information online.
Provincial gazettes have existed in Canada since the country’s founding, recording changes in legislation and other governmental notices.
The publishing of name changes in gazettes is a practice dating back to the beginning of the last century. The Saskatchewan Gazette was posting notices of change of name as far back as 1917 – about 90 years before Google existed.
Ontario, in late 2006, was the first province to introduce legislation that recognizes being transgender as a reason to keep a name change from being published in the Gazette.
The Chief Commissioner of Ontario Human Rights Commission advised the Ministry of Government Services on the “the discriminatory impact on transgendered persons of public disclosure requirements of the name change process,” according to the Commission’s 2006-2007 annual report.
“For sure, from a trans perspective,” says Bouchard, “if your old name and your new name are being published: it’s not only dangerous, but that old name reminds you of that time where you were part of a 40 per cent suicidal rate among trans people.”