December 2, 2023

Immigration Marriage

Feel Good With Immigration

Library clinics help trans and two-spirit people navigate name-change process

Transgender and two-spirit people who want to legally change their name or gender marker often face a months-long process that can be difficult to navigate, says a library staff member in Halifax.

It’s why Zso, a branch services lead with the Halifax Central Library, decided to organize free clinics at the library that give people advice on what forms they need, and how to complete them.  Zso uses a single name and the pronoun they. 

As a transgender person, Zso embarked on the process of changing their name during the pandemic and found the process complicated. 

“It occurred to me that people with less access to a car or the funds that are necessary to facilitate this process must have a much harder time, and I wanted to make things easier,” they told CBC Radio’s Information Morning Nova Scotia on Tuesday. 

The Woodlawn Public Library in Dartmouth is holding a clinic Tuesday night and Zso said there will be more clinics at library branches in 2023.

Participants are encouraged to bring documents, such as their birth certificate, proof of residency and immigration papers, and lawyers will be on hand to answer questions. 

Zso’s conversation with Information Morning host Portia Clark has been condensed and edited for clarity. You can listen to the full interview here:

Information Morning – NS7:14Clinic to help people understand how to legally change a name or sex indicator

For trans and two-spirit people, legally changing their name or gender indicator can be a major milestone. But it’s not always easy to figure out how exactly to do it or where to even begin. Hear about a special clinic to help people work through the paperwork and process.

I was just wondering about going into an agency such as Access Nova Scotia and that’s your starting point on this journey, how daunting that must be.

Absolutely. In fact, the process has changed and now, instead of going to Access Nova Scotia, Nova Scotians are encouraged to go to Vital Statistics. However, unless it’s an emergency, they would prefer you navigate this process using the mail. So trying to find someone to ask questions, to sign off on the statutory declaration form, to get legal advice, even to navigate the application itself, is virtually impossible right now.

What about even finding the form?

Some of the forms are available on the Nova Scotia website. Others have to be requested by e-mail and for somebody who’s new to this process or unsure … that itself is a barrier.

And then do you need a lawyer to sign off on all this?

Yes, there is a statutory declaration form that accompanies all of the different [applications] —  and there are three applications that someone can submit to have their name changed, their name and their gender marker changed, or just their gender marker. That [declaration] form is required. You have to fill it out, and only certain people, like the notary public or a lawyer, are able to sign off on that form, and there’s usually a fee.

The Transgender Pride Flag flies outside the P.E.I. Legislature. (Travis Kingdon/CBC)

So part of this clinic is actually having some lawyers on site who know this process in particular for this issue?

Absolutely. We’ve been very fortunate in that our community partners with Dalhousie Legal Aid have been enthusiastically attending each of our sessions to not only sign off on this form at no cost, but also offer legal advice for people who may have unusual situations. There can be complicated immigration situations, for example. They may be newcomers. And this is a wonderful opportunity for them to get the perspective of a lawyer to ensure that there are no bumps along the road.

Can you give us a few examples of things that tend to crop up that might surprise folks who are embarking on this?

In addition to first figuring out which application form you might need and then getting your hands on it, you also have to find out what required documents are necessary, whether they need to be translated into English, what the circumstances are depending on whether you were born in Nova Scotia, outside of Nova Scotia or indeed outside of Canada.

You need to determine whether your marriage might complicate the consents that might be needed in a situation like this. And then you have the choice about what kind of gender marker you want to display on your birth certificate, whether it’s male, female, X, or nothing. 

You have all of those options, but it may not be clear in this long and complicated document … and if you make a mistake this now three-to-five-month process will be further delayed.

What exactly are the forms that are required? You said they come from Vital Statistics?

If you go to the Vital Statistics website for the province of Nova Scotia, there is information on the change of name, application form, change of sex indicator form if you just want to change your gender marker on your birth certificate if you’re born in Nova Scotia, or the change of name and sex indicator form, which can be completed all at the same time. However, not all of them are immediately available on the website. Sometimes you have to ask to have it sent to you.

Is fingerprinting part of this process?

Yes, that’s another complicated aspect. It’s laid out in the application form, but for people who may be intimidated by this process, they may not realize that they can actually go to the Commissionaires [for digital fingerprinting services]. You do have to pay, but it’s perhaps a little less intimidating than, say, going to a police department and having your fingerprints taken.