Saskatchewan has become the first province to ban people from changing their names if they’ve been convicted of certain sexual offences.
People convicted of an offence that requires registration in the National Sex Offender Registry will no longer be allowed to change their names.
“These changes are about helping to protect the most vulnerable in our society,” Justice Minister Don Morgan said Tuesday in a statement.
“We don’t believe sexual offenders should be able to change their name to avoid public disclosure and scrutiny.”
While most of the 22 offences that will prohibit a name change are against children, some, such as sexual assault and incest, can be committed against both children and adults.
Faye Davis, executive director of the Saskatoon Sexual Assault and Information Centre, said the organization supports the amendments made to the Change of Name Act.
“It would prevent a sexual offender from changing their name to avoid detection,” Faye said in a statement to Global News.
“As the vast majority of assaults are never reported to police and a small percentage of those reported cases lead to a conviction, it will not address those who are not reported and or convicted, but it is a small step in the right direction.”
Morgan said the province believes people who have spent time in the criminal justice system have the right to reform.
“The goal of this was not to be punitive,” he said. “The goal of this was (the) protection of children, and that’s why we didn’t spread it out across a lot of other offences.”
Other serious crimes like murder and aggravated assault are not included in the list of offences that will prohibit someone from changing their name.
Anyone looking to change their name is now required to complete a criminal record check. A name change application may be approved if there is no record showing on the criminal record check, government officials said.
If an application comes back showing a record, the applicant will need to provide fingerprints and get a more exhaustive record check that shows the offences.
Criminal defence lawyer Chris Lavier said it’s rare that his clients change their names after serving their time.
He noted the Sex Offender Information Registration Act already requires people to report if they change their name or address.
OUTSaskatoon executive director Rachel Loewen Walker said the move if good for past or potential victims of sexual violence, but she worries the cost of criminal record checks will be prohibitive for trans people hoping to change their names.
“We fought so hard to make it easier for people to be able to change their names, so… it’s heavy thinking about that — that this makes it more costly for people to change their names,” she said.
Public dollars won’t be used to cover the cost of the criminal record checks, Morgan said.
The ability for convicted sexual offenders to legally change their name came to light in 2018 after Global News uncovered several convicted criminals who had changed their name.
Justin Gryba, who has served time twice for child pornography-related cases, legally changed his name to Justin Pasloski in February 2018.
In another case, the Saskatchewan Internet Child Exploitation unit charged Gabriel Michael Fisher with a number of child porn-related offences in March 2018.
Fisher, formerly known as Kevin Daniel Hudec, had already been designated a long-term offender.
—With files from David Baxter