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Potentially Preventing High-Risk Offenders From Changing Their Name
Alberta has proposed amendments to current legislation to prohibit name changes for high-risk criminal offenders. Under the proposed amendments, anyone who is a dangerous or a long-term offender would be unable to pursue a legal name change or have someone else initiate a name change on their behalf. If passed, Alberta would be the first province in Canada to institute this law.
Currently, it is entirely lawful for convicted criminals to legally change their names. Many decide to change their names to not have to live with the stigma of their charge. While you do have to provide identification and pass a criminal record check as part of the application process, this mainly exists to prevent individuals from escaping outstanding warrants.
Allowing convicted individuals or dangerous offenders to change their names gives them the ability to blend into the community and rebuild their lives after serious charges without facing extreme stigma.
Why Is Alberta Trying To Prevent Name Changes?
As stated above, a big reason why these proposed amendments are currently being brought up is that the public is afraid of unknowingly living or interacting with a convicted criminal. However, legal name changes are a right of every citizen in Canada, and even convicted criminals should be allowed to exercise their rights.
Many convicted criminals have changed their names to avoid public backlash after they have served their sentences. An infamous example is Vince Li, also known as Will Baker, who was found not criminally responsible for beheading Tim McLean on a Greyhound bus. Baker, however, has already been in the public eye with his new name and is notorious.
Can Convicted Criminals Remain Anonymous With Name Changes?
Even a name change cannot erase the details of the crime and the subsequent trial for many serious offenders especially in cases where there is media involvement.
Sexual offenders must register for the National Sexual Offender Registry (NSOR). The NSOR requires individuals to keep their information up to date, including any legal name changes. If a sexual offender on the NSOR changes their legal name, they must register the change within seven days. You can read more about the NSOR in our blog here.
Ultimately, there are systems in place in Canada to protect communities from sexual offenders. The NSOR allows law enforcement to know what geographical area offenders are currently residing in. However, the NSOR is not available to the general public. A large reason for this is to allow offenders to go back to a normal life after they have served their sentences and are considered rehabilitated. .
Why Should We Allow Name Changes For Criminals?
The public may feel strongly about allowing convicted criminals to change their names and return to living in their communities, but realistically preventing name changes does not reduce the risk of reoffending. The public clamour to hold those convicted of any crime should not supersede their ability to regain a normal life. For example, registered sex offender information held by the NSOR is only accessible to law enforcement. Therefore, the public simply does not know and cannot track the details of these individuals.
Additionally, prison sentences are meant to rehabilitate offenders so they can return back to regular society. If we allow legislation like the proposed amendments to take away the rights of rehabilitated offenders, we are simply not trusting in the process of the justice system. Realistically a very small percentage of high-risk offenders see release back into society, and preventing them from changing their legal names will not stop them from reoffending.
The public demand for tracking these offenders and preventing them from shedding their criminal past also forces them to constantly carry around the stigma of their crime. If we do not allow these rehabilitated offenders, who have served their sentence, to go on and live as law-abiding citizens, perhaps we reinforce the likelihood that they will go back to a life of crime.
We must protect the rights and freedoms of people that have been convicted of crimes so that the criminal justice system can continue to operate the way it was meant to.
At Ross Lutz Barristers, we are here to protect your freedom. Criminal convictions can affect your reputation and future livelihood. It’s important to retain an experienced defence lawyer to defend your charges. Contact us today.