Thursday • 2012.10.18
How-To: Prevent Your Name Change From Being Published (!) By the Government of Ontario
This article pertains to residents of Ontario, Canada. Note that you do not have to be born in Ontario, or even in Canada, to legally change your name through this process—you just have to be a resident here.
If you’re a Trans* person (my use of “Trans*” explained here), it is very possible that your life journey has or will include a legal name change. Ontario makes this process fairly simple, if somewhat costly; for $137, you will get a snazzy Change of Name certificate, as well as a brand new issued birth certificate under your new name included “free.”
Of course, you will have to send them the original copy of your Birth Certificate, which will not be returned to you… Don’t have yours anymore? You can order a replacement for $35, and wait for it to be delivered to you by mail before immediately surrendering it to the Name Change process. Government efficiency at its finest.
As an aside, since changing legal sex is still done as a separate process from name change, you can expect to pay for your own birth certificate yet another time following this before you get the privilege of finally having your identity officially recognized by the government.
Unfortunately, the relative simplicity and accessibility of the name change process comes at greater cost than just the monetary fees. You see, when you change your legal name in Ontario, the government publishes it in the Ontario Gazette paper, and online.
For those wondering, the Ontario Gazette is the official publication of the government of Ontario, with an endearingly quirky name, and it dates back to 1868; only one year after the British North America Act officially constituted Ontario as a Province.
As indicated on Wikipedia, issues of the Ontario Gazette are available online, in their entirety, dating back to January of 2000.
One might ask, why would they do such a strange thing, which seems to fly in the face of privacy values which many Canadians hold dear? I see two answers.
First, it’s an unintentional anachronism. The Change of Name Act (which legislates publication in the Gazette) came into being before the Internet transmogrified privacy as we know it today. At the time, nobody imagined that the entire contents of each issue of the Gazette (a government publication) would ever be at the fingertips of all humanity via the magic of Google.
Second, the publication rule does have some legitimate justification. For example, the publication rule is there to help keep Stanley Swindler from seamlessly changing into Abraham Honesty, thus avoiding creditors and, let’s say, his many fraud victims.
Here it is spelled out on their website:
All formal and elective name changes registered under Ontario’s Change of Name Act must be published in the Ontario Gazette.
The Attorney General can make exceptions if publishing a name change could cause significant harm to the individual, (…)
Of interest to us today is the second part of that notice, laying out the exceptions to the publication rule. First it says exception is possible in cases where “publishing a name change could cause significant harm to the individual.”
This could arguably apply to some Trans* people, such as those with life circumstances which would motivate them to go stealth (ie. the perceived threat of being outed in a town or environment where that could prove detrimental, or where publication of the “new” name might facilitate being tracked down and suffering violent reprisal from “family”). More generally, however, this exception exists to cover situations where someone is changing their name while fleeing from an abusive former spouse, or because they’ve been placed into a witness protection program, etc.
Now while an argument could be made against the publication of Trans* name changes on this basis alone, it’s not actually required for us to make that kind of appeal… because once upon a time, it already happened, it was refused, and then somebody challenged it.
Consequently, the rules were changed, and Trans* people are now luckily (?) singled out for special exception by a specific regulation made under the Name Change Act. The Privacy notice I snipped above, continues as follows:
(…) or if a person requests that his or her name change not be published because he or she is transgendered [sic] at the time of the application. The Ontario Gazette currently publishes information in paper format and electronically on the internet.
But while this exception is conceded by the Privacy Notice, the actual method of achieving it is decidedly (perhaps even deliberately) unclear.
Back when I filled out my “Application to Change an Adult’s Name” Form, I did indeed find myself to be transgender “at the time of the application,” and I decided to avail myself of my option not to have my name change blasted from the government’s digital rooftops. This turned out to be easier said than done. A special extra form is needed, and it’s not easy to get.
Rather than explain the process clearly, the standard Name Change form itself counsels applicants unhelpfully “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 phone, fax, or email].” This process is further complicated by the fact that the form directs Trans* people to a dead email address.
Nevertheless, upon contacting the office, you would be instructed that an additional form is required. You must ask for it directly, and then wait for it to arrive via Canada Post, prior to submitting it along with the regular Name Change form. As is usually the case for additional hoops required when our governments grudgingly extend their services to include Trans* people,
the special form required is not available online [EDIT: It looks like the government has finally uploaded a copy online as of October 2012]. Post-op Ontarian Trans* people may remember this was also the case for the Registrar’s legal change of sex forms, prior to 2012.
The Special Form You Need
Don’t bother waiting for the government to send you this form, download it here:
Request for Non-Publication in The Ontario Gazette (PDF). Just print, fill, and mail it in along with the normal name change form and the fee. [EDIT: Or if you prefer, you can now get the form at the government’s website as of October 2012]
Special thanks to Catherine Em for providing the scan.
Tip: On the primary name change form, under “Reason for requesting the change,” you don’t have to put “transgender,” unless you want to. I simply wrote “personal preference” on mine, and left it at that… Really, the process is invasive enough as it is, there’s no reason to further compound it by playing into the notion that a name change is somehow required to legitimize one’s gender identity, or is in any way a required part of the process of transition. Regardless what your gate-keepers may have instructed you.