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Trans people win privacy victory

New regulations came into force Jul 3 allowing trans-identified people to legally change their names without having the change published in the Ontario Gazette.

Under the old system, the old and new names of anyone who legally changed identities were published in the province’s weekly newsletter of notices and regulations.

The idea is to alert the public and to keep an open record of changed identities in the event of fraud or other criminal activity. But for those who take new names to adjust their gender identities, unwanted publicity could expose them to discrimination.

As part of the omnibus Ministry Of Government Services Consumer Protection And Service Modernization Act, which received royal assent last December, the Change Of Name Act was amended to give the ministry the power to designate circumstances where name change didn’t need to be publicized.

Both human rights commissioner Barbara Hall and information and privacy commissioner Ann Cavoukian argued before the Standing Committee On Social Policy in favour of exempting trans people from the publication requirement.

“Having heard from many in the trans community, we advised the Ministry Of Government Services regarding the discriminatory impact of the public disclosure requirements,” says Hall.

Trans people wishing to keep their name change private have to submit a signed letter to the Office Of The Registrar General (ORG) indicating that they are trans, and that they don’t want their name published. Each request will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

Trans folks whose name changes are already in process but have not yet had their names published can contact the ORG by phone, fax or e-mail to request nonpublication.

Some trans activists, however, say the publication issue barely affects them and that the government needs to address larger trans issues.

“I didn’t know that my name was published when I changed it, so it came as a surprise,” says Susan Gapka of the Trans Human Rights Campaign. “I think the most important piece is that people in the bureaucracy are starting to address the needs of trans people. It’s a small thing in a much bigger picture.”

For example, Gapka wants the Ontario Health Insurance Plan to start paying for sex reassignment surgeries again. Since the province delisted the procedures in 1998, transitioning people have had to pay for them out of their own pockets.

Gapka also want the government to change the Vital Statistics Act so that trans people can change their genders on their birth certificates even if they choose not to undergo sex reassignment surgery.

“Once you change your birth certificate, then you can change all your other documentation,” says Gapka.