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Convicted criminals change names to cover up past

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WATCH ABOVE: Recent cases of high profile criminals changing their names for anonymity sake prompted a closer look into the process. Meaghan Craig finds out that, despite criminal records, legally choosing a new name is easy – Mar 4, 2016

SASKATOON – Could you be living next to a convicted criminal? According to one criminal defence lawyer, it’s quite possible since many of his clients have changed their name after being found guilty of an offence.

In 2015, 927 people in the province filed for a name change, after meeting all eligible criteria:

  • Is ordinarily resident in Saskatchewan;
  • Has been actually resident in Saskatchewan for at least three consecutive months in the 12-month period immediately preceding the date of his or her application;
  • Is legally entitled to remain in Canada; and
  • Is at least 18 years old or is married, widowed or divorced.

“They’re going to need to fill out an application form as well bring with them two pieces of identification, so typically their driver’s licence and a health card or a birth certificate as well,” said Alyssa Daku,vice president of strategy, quality and risk management for eHealth Saskatchewan.

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READ MORE: Online criminal record checks offered by Saskatoon police

One qualification left off the list, a criminal record check as part of the application process.

“I know that certain accused persons will sometimes change their name if there’s warrants outstanding so it’s more difficult to track them down through that,”  said defence lawyer Brian Pfefferle.

Vince Li legally changed his name to Will Baker after being found not criminally responsible due to a mental illness for beheading a passenger on a Greyhound bus eight years ago in Manitoba.

“His name change is probably not going to serve the function he may wish to because he’s already served notoriety under the alias unfortunately for him,” said Pfefferle at his office before heading back to court.

Notorious killer, Karla Homolka now goes by a different name after being released from prison after serving 12 years for her role in the sex slayings of two school girls.

“You could have someone charged with very serious crimes, change their name and unless you knew where to look for the information the person could develop anonymity again,” added Pfefferle.

“In some sense that’s why changing your name can be useful for someone that’s been convicted of a serious crime.”

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There are some protections that are in place when it comes to getting a new identity but very few.

“The sex offender registry, even if you’re declared not criminally responsible, sex offender registration would apply.  So for the first 10 years if you changed your name, your address or your occupation, you have to notify the police service so at least their aware of it,” Pfefferle said.

As to why there would be no criminal record check for someone convicted of wrongdoing?

“One would be questioning the validity of denying someone if they have an impaired driving charge or something and they want to change their name because they got married,” he said.

While name changes are made public in the Saskatchewan Gazette, finding documentation of the exact name swap comes with some degree of difficulty. In the case Global News examined you would needed to know the year the name changed, which issue to find it in and/or index and which page it may be published on.

“In some sense it’s a fresh start for someone who is an offender,” said Pfefferle.

“So I’m not sure if there is significant utility in discouraging that from the public perspective other than I can appreciate members of the public want to know who’s living beside them and I appreciate that.”

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