Can you name a convicted sex offender? You can probably name more than one. Some of the worst ones garnered widespread notoriety at the time of their arrests and convictions. Everyone knew their names and many of those names are remembered years later.
Certainly if you met a new neighbour and the neighbour had the name of one of those notorious sex offenders, it would give you pause, to say the least. If you have children and the new neighbour that moved in next door had the name of a famous child sex killer, you would be alarmed and would want to act to protect your children.
But what if that child sex killer had legally changed their name?
You probably know that in many North American jurisdictions, convicted sex offers may have to register in a convicted sex offenders’ registry upon their release from prison, so that the authorities can keep tabs on them. The idea is that you should be protected from potential future harm from these former offenders should they move into your neighbourhood. If you’ve seen the movie The Big Lebowski, you’ll remember the scene in which the character named Jesus, who is a convicted pederast, had to, when he moved to Hollywood, go door to door to tell everyone in the neighbourhood that he was a pederast.
In Ontario, sex offenders, including child sex offenders, may have to register and comply with the Christopher’s Law Sex Offender Registry as well as with the National Sex Offender Registry (usually referred to as SOIRA, which stands for the Sex Offender Information Registries Act, the act under which the registry was created). Note however, that while the authorities know that the convicted sex offender lives in your neighbourhood and presumably are protecting you, only the police agencies can access the registry; you can’t. (By contract, in the U.S., the government makes all their sex registry information available to the public on a searchable website.)
In Canada, convicted sex offenders who move in to your neighbourhood have no obligation to tell you who they are or what they did. In other words, unlike in The Big Lebowski, the former sex offenders are not going to come to your door to inform you of their presence and their offences. And, they can go under a new name.
In some jurisdictions, including for the moment, Ontario, sex offenders can get a legal name change. A name change doesn’t affect the authorities’ ability to track the convicted offender, as offenders are required to report any name changes to the registries. But you, as a regular person, maybe a parent, who is not someone who has access to the information in the Canadian provincial and national sex offender registries, have no way of knowing that your new neighbour is a convicted sex offender who has changed their name.
The notorious sadistic child sex offender and serial killer Karla Homolka, released from prison in 2005, who along with her husband Paul Bernardo, participated in the sexual assaults and murders of at least three young girls, one of which was her own younger sister, now lives in Quebec under the name Leanne Teale. (It’s not clear if she got a legal name change or if she just goes by the alternate name as she had previously lost legal battles to legally change her name to Emily Chiara Tremblay.)
Bill 138, the Change of Name Amendment Act, 2023, which passed first reading in the Ontario legislature on October 18, 2023, amends Ontario’s Change of Name Act to provide that certain offenders are ineligible to apply to change their name. The offenders who are ineligible are those who are required to comply with Christopher’s Law (Sex Offender Registry), 2000. The two PC MPPs who introduced the change, are quoted in a Toronto Star article as saying “We felt the pressure to stop the Karla Homolkas of the world from making applications to become Leanne Teales.” The bill is supported by the Progressive Conservatives who currently hold a majority in the Ontario legislature.
Newfoundland is also taking steps to prevent convicted sex offenders from legally changing their names in that province. In a news release, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador announced that it is proposing legislation to provide the Minister of Digital Government Service NL discretionary authority to prohibit sex offenders from legally changing their names. The proposed legislation identifies 16 sex offences from the Criminal Code, a record for which would allow the minister to refuse a name change request.
Saskatchewan was the first province to enact legislation to prevent convicted sex offenders from legally changing their names. Alberta was the second province. According to the Saskatchewan government’s website: “Under the Regulation changes implemented in Saskatchewan in February, more than 20 different offences prohibit someone from changing their name in Saskatchewan, including sexual assault and incest. The designated offences are set out in subsection 490.011(1) of the Criminal Code, and are the same offences that would require registration in the National Sex Offender Registry.”
Take note however, as is pointed out on Saskatchewan’s website: “While these changes prevent sex offenders from changing their name in Saskatchewan and now Alberta, they don’t prevent someone from moving to another jurisdiction and changing their name, or changing their name in another jurisdiction and moving to Saskatchewan or Alberta.”
As Karla Homolka AKA Leanne Teale apparently currently lives in Quebec, the new Ontario law will have no effect on her.