Christin Milloy:

Rise up and seize equality

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contains the passage “If you are applying for a change of name, and you wish to request that notice of the name change not be published in The Ontario Gazette because you are a transgendered (sic) individual, please contact our office… by email at infoMGS@ontario.ca.”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 Most probably, either the form is wrong or out of date, or the email account has failed because of a technical error and nobody has noticed due to a lack of quality control.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 email) and the applicant must then wait for the government to process the request and mail them the form, hard-copy, which of course comes at a greater expense to the taxpayer. This is in stark contrast to the standard name change form, which is made available online to the general public with no fuss.

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. )

15 Comments

  1. Thursday, 2012.07.19 at 08:57

    The good news is that if ze checked the box that ze doesn’t want the name change published, the registrar will mail hir back a consent form to make the change stay unpublished. This is what happened to me, and it went fine.

    A nit pick, but “begs the question” was used inappropriately. I’m a philosopher: it means to assume the point that one is trying to demonstrate. It’s a logical fallacy. You meant, “it raises the question.”

    Fun link: http://grammar.quickanddirtytips.com/begs-the-question.aspx

    • Christin Scarlett Milloy
      Thursday, 2012.07.19 at 23:39

      I, too, have a grammar gremlin living on my shoulder. But I had no idea that “begs the question” was an expression that would trigger it. I shall read your link.

      Christin

  2. Jade
    Thursday, 2012.07.19 at 09:38

    Huh, there’s a special form? When I called them last year a rather annoyed sounding person said I should “just include a letter” explaining my request.

    • Christin Scarlett Milloy
      Thursday, 2012.07.19 at 23:40

      Yes, they are inconsistent. I sent a letter with mine, and they sent me the form back.

      I think the core problem here is that they don’t have any clarity or consistency.

      Christin

  3. Dana
    Thursday, 2012.07.19 at 12:01

    The likelihood here is that MGS has no idea it doesn’t work. Even more likely is that the email address is info@mgs.ontario.ca (I’m familiar with their standards for email addresses). Someone could just call the MGS folks and let them know that the email address doesn’t work and ask them to replace it with one that does. Has anyone tried to take such action?

    Dana

    • Christin Scarlett Milloy
      Thursday, 2012.07.19 at 23:41

      I included the proper email address at the bottom of my article… and the one I found was slightly different from yours. There was a “gov” in there.

      Hopefully they will fix it and make it accessible soon.

      Christin

  4. Thursday, 2012.07.19 at 12:37

    Somebody should write a bot, which finds dead government e-mail addresses still showing on their websites. No doubt, there are more than the one you found.

    And…regarding the forms online, you maybe can find comfort in the fact that it’s not a matter of equity. I would probably admit that it’s not even something they strive for. They simply don’t post 100% of forms. They post, only the popular forms. If they posted them all, it would be one more place where revisions would need to be tracked, and conflicts would need to be fixed. Same applies to some fringe tax forms. It’s a matter of numbers, technology, budget and efficiency.

    The debate becomes…fair vs. feasible…often; you can have one or the other.

  5. John Torrance
    Saturday, 2012.07.21 at 13:47

    I didn’t even try the e-mail address, I just enclosed a letter with my name change documents stating that I did not wish to have my name published in the Ontario Gazette because I was Transgender. I never had any response positive or negative, so I don’t k ow whether it was published or not. Until the issue is addressed, I’d recommend my Trans brothers and sisters do the same as I did.

    • Christin Scarlett Milloy
      Tuesday, 2012.07.24 at 04:00

      I did the same as you, and they called me to inform me I needed to fill out a special form before I could continue (they then mailed me the form). In the end, it delayed my name change by about two weeks.

      Christin

  6. Monday, 2012.07.23 at 06:46

    I emailed and faxed my request in. I had the same problem. In my fax, I also deliberately pointed out that the online e-mail was not working. I never got a reply either. :/

    • Monday, 2012.07.23 at 10:56

      “Request for Non-publication in the Ontario Gazette. If you are applying for a change of name and wyou wish to request that notice of the name change not be published in The Ontario Gazette because you are a transgendered individual, please contact our office by delephone at 1 800 461 2156 or 416 325 8305 {from Toronto}, by fax at 807 343-7459 or by email at infoMGS@ontario.ca

      At least in the application it does have a TELEPHONE NUMBER and FAX. So if more people relied on phones and not computers, it would be a more efficient system.

      • Christin Scarlett Milloy
        Tuesday, 2012.07.24 at 04:01

        Not all trans people have access to fax, or feel safe on the phone with (government) strangers. Regardless, ease of accessibility should be the same for us as for everyone else, and it’s not right now.

        Christin

  7. Thursday, 2012.07.26 at 18:35

    I’ve got a reply from them. The email address is now fixed.

  8. Tuesday, 2012.07.31 at 20:23

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