David Staples: Alberta to ban sex offenders from legally changing their name






Service Alberta Minister Nate Glubish speaks about amendments to the Real Estate Act introduced in the Alberta Legislature in the Legislature media room in Edmonton, on Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2019. Photo by Ian Kucerak/Postmedia


Postmedia

Once they’ve done their jail time, should convicted sex offenders be allowed to change their names?

I’ve been digging into this question since I talked to Nate Glubish, the provincial government’s minister of Service Alberta, which runs our public registries.

Glubish will soon put forward legislation making it illegal for convicted sex offenders, and perhaps other major criminals, to legally change their names, something they are now permitted to do under Alberta law.

“I recently learned that in Alberta sex offenders could change their names and hide from their past, and I found that quite shocking and unacceptable,” Glubish said.

“If they do change their names, it makes it easier for them to hide from their past and to hide in their communities. That makes their communities less safe. I’m not OK with that. I don’t think Albertans would be OK with that.”

Survivors of sexual abuse and trauma have to live with that trauma for the rest of their lives, Glubish says. “I want to make sure that their offenders have to live under their own names… It’s an important step to protect Albertans and an important step to show support for survivors of sexual violence.”

The Alberta government’s plan follows the Saskatchewan government’s move in January 2020 that will require a criminal record check of anyone over the age of 18 seeking a name change, CBC reports. “It would not be in the public interest to register a change of name for a person convicted of specific sexual offences in the past 10 years,” the order reads.

The move in Saskatchewan was spurred on by the case of David Donald Stryker, who moved to Saskatchewan from the U.S. and officially changed his name from David Donald Shumey in December 2019. Stryker, who was seen as an illegal immigrant in the U.S., was convicted in 1999 and sentenced to 20 years to life for sexually assaulting a young girl in Las Vegas and photographing the abuse, reports The Regina Leader Post. He was paroled in 2018 and returned to Canada.

In another case, long-term offender Kevin Daniel Hudec, who changed his name in 2018 to Gabriel Michael Fisher, was charged with making child pornography after he had changed his name.

For a critique of Glubish’s plan, I talked with Chris Hay, executive director of the John Howard Society of Alberta, which works with offenders and advocates on criminal law. Hay teaches criminology at the University of Alberta.

Hay said his society sees sexual offence as a serious crime that hurts people. “It’s a very dangerous form of criminal behaviour.”

But for several reasons Hay doubts this new prohibition will have any positive impact in cutting down on reoffending. “There is no evidence at all that this will actually enhance or lead to community safety,” he said.

Hay pointed out we already have a National Sex Offender Registry to track sexual offenders once they leave prison. Police — though not the public — have ready access to the names, gender, date of birth, height, weight, description, job status, vehicle information and criminal past of convicted sex offenders.

“The dangerous sexual offenders that are out there, we know who they are,” Hay said. “The police know. We know where they are. We keep tabs on them. And if an offender wants to recommit an offence, changing their name or not, they will recommit.”

Hay also said we need to grasp the real motivations of offenders seeking a name change. “I got to assume that the change of the name is the result of moving on in life and not trying to be sinister so that you can start your sexual predation again.”

Offenders want rehabilitation and some can’t do so until they change their name so they can more readily get a job, he said.

Once a criminal has paid their debt in prison, they’ve paid their debt, Hay said, but this ban runs counter to that. “It’s suggesting that you never pay your debt, ever, until you die… We’re not allowing people to have their second opportunity.”

Hay raises several strong arguments around forgiveness and the need for second chances. That said, it strikes me that the proposed prohibition on name changes will do more good than harm.

I’m all for people deciding for their own reasons to forgive offenders. Any of us are free to give offenders a second chance. Many good people do so.

But I’m also for empowering people to protect themselves, and not only relying on the government to do so. Knowing the real names and backgrounds of serious offenders might help the public do just that.

dstaples@postmedia.com