Critics are urging the Ontario government to tighten the rules for name changes to prevent people with criminal records from hiding their pasts.
In Ontario, a person who changes his or her name is required by law to disclose if they have a criminal record that has not been expunged, as well as whether they face outstanding or pending charges or court orders.
Hundreds of name changes are granted every month. In 2013, more than 9,200 name changes were listed in the Ontario Gazette, the government publication in which most, but not all, are printed.
Applicants are supposed to disclose the details of their criminal records, charges and orders on a form they fill out, when seeking a name change.
The form indicates that people who disclose criminal records will be required to provide a police record check with their application.
Garry Clement, a retired RCMP superintendent, told CBC News he was surprised to learn that a police record check is not a mandatory part of the process for all name changes in Ontario.
"Whenever you are dealing with names and name changes today and what all that brings in society, we’ve got to put all the controls on it that are necessary," he said in a recent interview.
In Clement’s mind, that process should include a mandatory criminal record check or the provision of a certificate of no criminal conviction, as well as a fingerprint record and possibly a credit check.
John Milloy, the minister of government services, declined to do an interview on Ontario’s name-change system.
Progressive Conservative critic Steve Clark told CBC News he believes that the Ontario government needs to take a look at the name-change process to ensure that any potential loopholes are closed.
"Public safety needs to be paramount in a system like this and we can’t have someone with a significant criminal record trying to change their identity. We can’t have a system that makes it easy for them," he said in an interview.
Duty to disclose
The Ontario name-change form does not make it clear what happens if a person does not disclose their record, other than warning the applicant that handing in a signed and sworn version of the form with a false statement is "a serious crime under the Criminal Code of Canada."
Clement said that while he is not aware of the internal vetting process that accompanies a name change in Ontario, he believes the province needs to plug a major loophole — if it is relying on the honour system.
"If you’re dealing with somebody with a criminal propensity, what’s going to make them disclose it?" he said. "And if they don’t disclose it, is it being captured? And those are the questions that beg to be answered."
Christian Hasse, a spokesperson for Ontario’s Ministry of Government Services, told CBC News in an email that "ServiceOntario works with the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services to determine if a police records check is required."
A criminal record is also not necessarily a barrier to changing one’s name in Ontario.
Hasse said that all name change requests are reviewed on a case by case basis. And while there is discretion for the registrar to reject a name change request if it is believed to be for an "improper purpose," it is not clear what the criteria is for such cases.
Through a cursory review of a single month of Ontario name changes, CBC News has identified at least two cases in which the province allowed individuals with criminal records from outside the country to change their names. But because the documents the applicants submit are not made public, it’s impossible to know what the government knew when it approved their requests.
No fingerprint requirement
In Ontario, there is no component of the name-change process that directly involves mandatory fingerprinting, even though several other provinces — including British Columbia and Alberta — have made this part of their name-change requirements.
Clement said that a fingerprint ensures that a government is dealing with the correct person who is seeking a name change. And with Ontario failing to collect this information, the province is falling behind.
"I believe as a province, we should be taking the lead," he said. "We are the largest province and we should be using all safeguards that are available to the government."
Under Ontario’s name change law, a person is supposed to have been "ordinarily resident" in the province for a year at the time that a name change is requested.
The same form that a person fills out for a name change asks the individual to say whether he or she has "lived in Ontario for the past 12 months."
Hasse said that if that ‘no’ box is checked, or if the residency is unclear, the application for a name change will be returned to the person making the name-change request.
CBC News has learned of the case of an Ottawa man who changed his name within five months of returning home from a U.S. prison where he served time for fraud.
Joseph Hokai Tang was deported to Canada on Aug. 1, 2011, after spending 33 months behind bars in the U.S.
The Ontario Gazette listed Tang as having changed his name to Hao Ji Tang on Dec. 24, 2011.
CBC News contacted Ontario’s Ministry of Government Services to ask how Tang could receive a name change five months after his deportation from the United States. In the wake of CBC’s inquiries, the provincial government told CBC News that provincial offences officers "are currently investigating this specific matter."
Tang's lawyer told CBC News that he advised his client not to comment on this story.