A name change is key step in shedding an identity. Transitioning into a new and exiting life. Marrying the love of your life. Moving to a new country full of opportunities. Transitioning to your true gender. What about changing your name after being released from prison for molesting children? What if you also happen to identify as the opposite gender and have undergone gender reassignment surgery? Even the rarest combination of a name and sex change will not provide anonymity to notorious offenders in Canada.

Last week Peel Regional Police advised the public that Madilyn Harks, a woman with numerous convictions for sex offences, will be living in Brampton. Madilyn underwent gender reassignment surgery as she was formerly known as Matthew Harks. His record includes three separate convictions for sex assault against those under 16 in breach of trust positions.

As a guest on Towhey’s show on Newstalk1010 this past Sunday I was asked why it is fair that these offenders can change their name, allowing them to escape the shame that should follow them. My response was that the shame will continue to follow them regardless of the name change. We were discussing both offenders in their former and new names in a published forum. Harks new name is still registered in SOIRA, CPIC, and he is still bound by terms of a long-term supervision order restricting his movements.

The public’s fear that all sex offenders can obtain a clean new identity is overblown. The name change process is not a rubber stamp- particularly if you have a criminal record. Convicts aren’t running to the registry to change their name. In 2013 roughly 9,200 name changes were listed in the Ontario Gazette. Most are for marriage or immigration. I’ve been practicing for 12 years and to my knowledge have not had any clients apply to change their name.

Canada is a bifurcated system. Name change is an area that falls under provincial powers. BC and Alberta are the only provinces that require fingerprinting. In Ontario a criminal records check must be attached to the application. The names and birthdates of all applicants are then submitted to the Ministry of Community safety and Corrections to check their names against CPIC. Granting a name change is a discretionary process. The Registrar of Vital Statistics determines if it is being made for an ‘improper purpose’ and whether the change would be ‘contrary to the public’s interest’. In the case of Homolka, she was denied a name change application in 2006 when she applied to have her last name changed to Trembley. The province reviews applications on a case by case basis.

When it comes to the future of notorious offenders, the public has strong opinions. All but a very, and I mean very small % of offenders will be eventually released. Society needs to deal with them. To reduce recidivism society needs to focus its energy on rehabilitation and reintegration into society. Pounding fists at a name-change application hearing does nothing to reduce risk in the neighborhood. According to the principal of res judicata, there has to be finality in sentencing. The public will ensure that the stigma follows the notorious offenders. For the rest, they should be encouraged to shed their criminal past for a law-abiding future.

Originally published in the Lawyer’s Daily March 25th, 2019: https://www.thelawyersdaily.ca/articles/11152/nowhere-to-hide-for-notorious-offenders

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