Wednesday • 2012.07.18
Ontario Name Change Form Directs Trans People to a Dead Email Address
It came to light this afternoon that the Ontario Registrar General is directing transgender applicants to a dead email address. The problem is on the form for requesting a name change. The error on this form only affects trans people, due to the context in which it appears.
Normally, by law all name changes must be published in the Ontario Gazzette. Trans people, however, are excused from this requirement in recognition of the fact that the publication of a trans person’s name change exposes their status in a permanent public record, violating their future privacy and putting them at risk.
Page 16 of the provincial government’s form, titled “Request to change an adult’s name,” contains the passage “If you are applying for a change of name, and you wish to request that notice of the name change not be published in The Ontario Gazette because you are a transgendered (sic) individual, please contact our office… by email at infoMGS@ontario.ca.”
The problem? That email address is dead. This was brought to my attention today by a person in my life who wishes to remain anonymous. Ze originally emailed the Registrar General on July 5th (two weeks ago), only to receive an “undeliverable” error message in response: “550 Mailbox unavailable or access denied.” I confirmed these results this afternoon. The error code means either that the account does not exist, or that the server itself is misconfigured. Technical note: testing from multiple domains has ruled out the (unlikely) possibility that Ontario government servers could have spam-blacklisted gmail.
It’s unlikely that this was a deliberate act by the government to sabotage the lives of trans people. Rather, incompetence is a far more likely explanation than malevolence. Most probably, either the form is wrong or out of date, or the email account has failed because of a technical error and nobody has noticed due to a lack of quality control.
Regardless, due to the negligence of management staff working for the Province of Ontario, the error has gone uncorrected for at least
14 days in excess of three years (confirmed), probably even longer.
It is important to note that while this failure of government bureaucracy might seem like nothing more than a minor inconvenience to most trans folk, in fact it would impact basic availability of the service to some of the most vulnerable members of the trans community. For as long as this form continues to link to a dead email address, any persons without access to fax and who can’t (or don’t want to) speak to the Registrar General’s office directly via a telephone will be left with no way of receiving the necessary special form, and may therefore be unable to change their names for fear of public exposure in the Ontario Gazette.
There is of course another possible solution the government could implement (aside from fixing the form, or doing away with the privacy-invading practice of publishing name changes altogether). They could simply publish the trans-related forms online.
Presently, the special form trans people are required to fill out is only obtainable by special request (by fax, phone, or
It doesn’t end with name changes, either. A similar roadblock prevents access to the form package “Request to change sex designation on birth registration,” a transgender-related form package also administrated by the Registrar General. You may remember this form package from such human rights complaints as XY v. Minister of Government and Consumer Services.
As an aside relating to that package, I have recently learned that in light of the XY ruling, and perhaps in retaliation for it, the provincial government has begun much more severely (and on occasion, scandalously) withholding access to it, a practice which I will be exposing in great detail very soon in an upcoming article.
It all begs the question, why not simply put the forms online? Why is it that all of the forms which are only specifically required if you are a trans person are only available by special request, whereas forms that service the general public are distributed freely online? Is that equitable? I think not.
Perhaps some day soon the provincial government will consider extending an equal level of transparency, convenience, and accessibilty for services related to the trans experience as they do for services designed for the general public… rather than making us jump through extra hoops like circus animals, or trapping us like rats in dead-end bureaucratic mazes, as in the case of this careless dead email blunder.
A cursory google search for the bad email address reveals it is present on a smattering of other government forms and websites, so it may also be at least a minor inconvenience for seekers of other Registrar General services too. Hopefully, we’ll see them fix the problem soon.
If you’d like to help, you can let the government know what you think by contacting the Ministry of Government Services and the Office of the Registrar General at their actual working email address here: InfoMGS@mgs.gov.on.ca.
( UPDATE – A reader just sent me this livejournal post, showing that the email address has been dead since at least as far back as March 25, 2009. Minor edits above to reflect this. )