Criminal Law

Public fear over criminals changing their name 'overblown'

By AdvocateDaily.com Staff

Even the rarest combination of a name and sex change will not provide anonymity to notorious offenders in Canada, Toronto criminal lawyer Laurelly Dale tells The Lawyer’s Daily.

Dale, principal of Dale Legal Firm, writes in the online legal publication that the case of Madilyn Harks illustrates that point.

Earlier this year, Peel Regional Police advised the public that Harks, who has multiple convictions for sex offences, would be living in Brampton. Dale says in The Lawyer’s Daily that Harks underwent gender reassignment surgery and was formerly known as Matthew Harks, whose record includes three separate convictions for sexual assault against those under 16 in breach-of-trust positions.

“In reaction to the Harks story, some in the media and Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown demanded public input before a name change can be granted. What would that even look like? Would the public be assembled through a process such as jury panelling or would a notice be published in the paper?” Dale asks in The Lawyer’s Daily opinion piece.

Could only those without a criminal record sit on this panel?”

She says these kinds of articles often reference Karla Homolka, another convicted criminal who has changed names and now goes by Leanne Teale. Dale tells the online publication that although Homolka was never convicted of any sex crimes (and thus not mandated to register under the Sex Offender Information Registry Act), both she and Harks are notorious.

She says a name change doesn’t erase convictions, nor would it prevent the public from finding these individuals, noting that a reporter travelled to Guadeloupe to expose Homolka.

“As a guest on Mark Towhey’s show on radio station Newstalk-1010 recently, I was asked why it is fair that these offenders can change their names, 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,” Dale says in The Lawyer’s Daily.

We were discussing both offenders in their former and new names in a published forum. Harks’ new name is still registered in the Sex Offender Information Registry and the Canadian Police Information Centre (CPIC) and she is still bound by terms of a long-term supervision order restricting her movements.”

Dale says the public perception that sex offenders can obtain a clean new identity is “overblown.” Changing one’s name is not a “rubber-stamp” process, and convicts simply aren’t running to have their names changed, she says.

“In 2013, roughly 9,200 name changes were listed in the Ontario Gazette. Most are for marriage or immigration. I’ve been practising law for 12 years and to my knowledge have not had any clients apply to change their name,” Dale says.

She says that in Ontario a criminal records check must be included in all name-change applications and that the names and birthdates of all applicants are submitted to the Ministry of Community Safety and Corrections to check against CPIC.

Dale writes in The Lawyer’s Daily that approving a name change is discretionary. She says the Registrar of Vital Statistics decides if it is being made for an “improper purpose” and whether a name change would be “contrary to the public’s interest.”

Dale adds that Homolka was denied a name-change application in 2006 when she applied to have her last name changed to Tremblay and that the province reviews applications on a case-by-case basis.

She says that all notorious offenders will eventually be released from custody, with the exception of those designated dangerous offenders, and that 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 neighbourhood,” Dale says.

According to the principle 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.”

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