REGINA — Questions are being raised about the Saskatchewan government's move to automatically deny sex offenders the ability to legally change their names.
The province has released details about an order of council passed by cabinet that says anyone 18 years or older requesting a name change will be required to undergo a criminal record check.
The government says convictions from a list more than 20 sexual offences — ranging from those committed against children to sexual assault and incest — will disqualify a person from a name change, as it's not in the public interest.
Criminal defence lawyer Aaron Fox said sex offenders are already tracked under Canada's national sex offender registry, so the legislative change is mostly window-dressing on the province's part.
The change does, however, open the door to a debate around who should be tracked and for how long, he said.
"If I have someone who's committed a million-dollar fraud on a bunch of elderly people, should that person be able to change their name?" Fox said in an interview Tuesday.
"Maybe from a societal point of view, I need to track that person just as much."
The Justice Ministry said Saskatchewan would be the first province to refuse a name-change request because of a criminal record. Alberta announced last week that it is eyeing a similar move.
Saskatchewan Justice Minister Don Morgan said sex offenders should not be able to change their names to avoid public scrutiny, and the change is being made to protect vulnerable people.
"The goal of this was not to be punitive. The goal of this was protection of children and that's why we didn't spread it out across a lot of other offences," he said.
Morgan also said a sex offender seeking a name change would be automatically rejected based on their criminal record.
A department spokeswoman said someone refused a name change can appeal the decision to a Court of Queen's Bench judge within 30 days.
Those changing their names because of marriage or divorce don't need to apply for a legal name change.
Zachary Miller, who was 10 years old when he was abducted and sexually assaulted by notorious pedophile Peter Whitmore in Saskatchewan in 2006, said the idea is a step in the right direction, as it takes away the ability of a predator to hide behind an alias.
"But it's not the right place we should be at."
Miller had a publication ban lifted on his name in 2015 so he could share his story. Now 25, he said he wants to see more focus on preventing child abuse through education in schools, as well as imposing stricter release conditions on sex offenders.
Niki Filippatou works with sex offenders and doesn't believe they should be denied a name change without a look at other factors, such as their risk of re-offending and community support.
As a co-ordinator at Circles of Support and Accountability South Saskatchewan, which helps offenders re-integrate into the community, she said most want a name change because of employment issues.
"We had a few individuals laid off four times last year, within the three-month probation period, because the employers did a Google search and found out who they really were," Filippatou said.
Another reason is because some offenders attend church and can be ostracized, and that prevents them from making a return to regular society, she said.
Andrew Mason, president of the Saskatoon Criminal Defence Lawyers Association, said discretion should be used when it comes to denying a name change.
"If you make laws too inflexible, you always create injustices," he said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 18, 2020