N.L. takes steps to prevent sex offenders from changing their names

Adam Budgell has several convictions for assaulting women in Newfoundland and Ontario. (Submitted — Name withheld - image credit)
Adam Budgell has several convictions for assaulting women in Newfoundland and Ontario. (Submitted — Name withheld - image credit)

Newfoundland and Labrador is looking to join two other provinces in preventing convicted sex offenders from being able to legally change their names.

The proposed amendments were introduced last week in the House of Assembly, one year after CBC News reported on the case of a serial domestic abuser who legally changed his name from Adam Budgell to Adam Penney.

One of his past victims is pleased to see the provincial government taking steps to prevent other sex offenders from doing the same.

"I think it's an absolute amazing thing that, heaven forbid, the next [abuser] won't be able to do it," said "Jenny Smith," whose real name is covered by a publication ban. "I think it's wonderful."

Budgell has at least a dozen convictions in Newfoundland and Ontario dating back to 2007. He was convicted of sexual assault, choking and forcible confinement for the attack on the woman who spoke with CBC News.

He was still on court conditions when he changed his last name in October 2022. Smith got a letter from the Parole Board of Canada notifying her of the change.

Her immediate concern was that Budgell could escape recognition, since his new name wouldn't be attached to social media posts or news articles about his convictions.

She began advocating for the province to change its laws so other people couldn't do the same.

"It makes me feel like I was heard, like I wasn't just a victim," Smith said. "Someone heard what I was saying and looked at it and went, 'Maybe this isn't right and we should look into it more.'"

Seven months after changing his name, Budgell was charged with attempted murder, aggravated assault and 12 other charges related to an alleged attack on a woman. He's remained in custody ever since, but is due in court Wednesday for a bail hearing.

His name on the court docket is Adam Penney.

Minister will have final say

The proposed amendments include a mandatory criminal record check submitted for every adult attempting to change their name.

If the record turns up a prior conviction for a sexual offence — such as sexual assault, child pornography, luring a child, or human trafficking — then it gets flagged for the minister of Service N.L.

The minister would then make a decision on whether the name change will be granted.

Digital Government and Service N.L. Minister Sarah Stoodley says she doesn't know when MyGovNL will be available again.
Digital Government and Service N.L. Minister Sarah Stoodley says she doesn't know when MyGovNL will be available again.

The proposed amendments include a mandatory criminal record check submitted for every adult attempting to change their name. Checks that turn up criminal records would be flagged for the provincial Service N.L. minister, currently Sarah Stoodley. (Mark Quinn/CBC)

The amended bill went through a first reading on Tuesday. It could receive royal assent during this sitting of the House of Assembly.

If the legislation passes, it would bring Newfoundland and Labrador more in line with the rest of the country on name change legislation. Alberta and Saskatchewan do not allow convicted sex offenders to change their names, while other provinces require applicants to submit fingerprints or criminal record checks with their applications.

Newfoundland and Labrador did not require any of those measures.

More measures needed, survivor says

The amendment is a great start, says Smith, but she's discovered more "loopholes" since becoming a victim of crime.

For example, Smith assumed she'd be notified of Budgell's whereabouts while he was on the national sex offender registry for 25 years. Those rights ended, however, when Budgell's sentence came to a close in 2022.

If he is convicted of his latest charges, Smith — who resides in Ontario — can register with victim services again and be notified of his whereabouts during his subsequent sentence.

Right now, she feels like she's in a grey area.

"He could suddenly show up in Ontario and I would never know. Nobody has to tell me that."

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