Canada: British Columbia to Bar Those Convicted of Serious Crimes from Changing Names

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BC's Health Minister Adrian Dix says the proposed law would amend the province's Name Act to ensure people convicted of dangerous offences cannot change their name.

Canada’s westernmost province has said people convicted of serious Criminal Code offences will no longer be permitted to legally change their names, following revelations that a child-killer tried to keep his new identity secret.

British Columbia’s health minister Adrian Dix said Monday that his government would introduce legislation to amend the province’s Name Act to ensure that people guilty of dangerous crimes cannot change their name.

“What this legislation does is it says that people who have been found guilty of very serious offences – violence against other people, acts against children – will not be permitted to change their name,” Dix said following introduction of the bill in the legislature.

“The focus here is the offence and not the verdict,” he added. “What it ensures really is more safety and reflects the views of families who are facing these circumstances.”

The legislation comes after reporting that Allan Schoenborn, who killed his three children in 2008, had legally changed his name to Ken John Johnson and had applied for a publication ban on his new identity. That ban was rejected by British Colombia’s review board.

Schoenborn was found guilty of three counts of first-degree murder for the deaths of his own children – aged five, eight, and 10 – whose bodies were found in the family’s Merritt home in BC in 2008. 

Following the verdict, the child-killer was found not criminally responsible in 2010 because of a delusional disorder and was placed at a psychiatric hospital in the city of Port Coquitlam. The amendment tabled by Dix would still apply to people found not criminally responsible.

“Allowing these individuals to hide their identity through a name change is extremely troubling to victims and their families and can result in safety concerns for members of the public,” Dix said. The new prohibition would apply to adults, as well as offenders under 18 but who are convicted and sentenced as adults.

In April, conservative opposition leader Kevin Falcon proposed a private member’s bill that included similar provisions to the legislation introduced by BC’s New Democratic party-led government.

He said permitting Schoenborn to change his name is “not acceptable”.

“This is a huge problem for the safety of communities,” he told reporters. “When government balances competing interests, I put the interests of community safety well above the interest of Allan Schoenborn to have his name changed so that he can move around the community unnoticed.”

Prominent Canadian killers Vince LiKarla Homolka, and Kelly Ellard have all legally changed their names, but those names are known to the public.

“It’s obvious to all British Columbians that nobody should be able to evade accountability for their criminal activities by changing their name in this province,” BC’s Premier David Eby said in April.