Is a Longstanding Name a Legal Name?

Authority Insurance Corporation of British Columbia

Executive Summary

The Office of the Ombudsperson has received and investigated multiple complaints regarding ICBC’s naming protocol for B.C. driver’s licences. Our investigations into these various naming concerns highlight the importance of recognizing when an individual has unique circumstances that warrant deviating from a strict application of the rules set out in a policy or procedure manual. Often, there is good and equitable reason to make an exception to the rules or standard practice. As a result of our investigations, ICBC agreed to modify its process to allow flexibility and accommodate individuals including those who wished to keep their longstanding English names.

The Investigations

Complaints about names on driver’s licences that we investigated include ICBC disallowing the English names some immigrants had previously used for decades on previous ICBC-issued licences, not allowing drivers to use their full legal names on licences, and requiring a person to adopt their spouse’s generational suffix after marriage.

This extended summary looks at four of the English name complaints and one full legal name complaint. For our investigation into the use of a spouse’s generational suffix, see Jr. by Marriage at page 34 in our 2015/2016 Annual Report.

Sam, Ross and Laurie all immigrated to Canada 30 to 50 years ago and adopted English given names. These names were put on the back of their Canadian citizenship cards, or on their commemorative citizenship certificate. On the front of their Canadian citizenship cards were the names from their countries of origin. Alice immigrated to Canada as an infant and her Canadian citizenship card showed Alìz "Alice" Kovacs.

The use of these English given names was not merely a preference by Sam, Ross, Laurie and Alice. When they began living in Canada, their ability to adopt a different English given name was supported by various institutions. ICBC and other government bodies accepted their English names and issued identification cards under that name.

Sam had gone to ICBC to renew his licence and wanted ICBC to change the order of the names on his licence from Yong Sam Wu to Sam Yong Wu to have his English name first and to match up with his name with Health Insurance BC for the new B.C. Services Card. After reviewing Sam’s Canadian citizenship card, ICBC refused to change the order of Sam’s name and would only issue a driver’s licence in the name Yong Wu.

Ross, Laurie and Alice had also gone to ICBC to renew their driver’s licences and were told that ICBC would no longer allow them to show their longstanding English names either. They didn’t understand why ICBC was now refusing to let them use a name which ICBC had used for several decades. Their English names were on their pensions, SIN cards, bank accounts, and other property and memberships. This was going to lead to great confusion and headaches, especially because of the recent changes to the B.C. Services Card.

For Alice, ICBC now wanted to use only the Hungarian form of her given name, Aliz, on the Canadian citizenship cards. For Sam, Ross and Laurie, ICBC wanted to use the names from their birth countries as shown on the front of their Canadian citizenship cards and ignore the English name Citizenship and

Immigration Canada used on the back of the cards or on commemorative certificates.

ICBC told Sam, Ross, Laurie and Alice that if they wanted to keep using their English names on their licences that they’d each have to pay to get legal name changes done. Ross was particularly worried about the cost of legal name changes because he had several family members in the same circumstances.

Sophie experienced a different problem with her driver’s licence. While her birth certificate showed her name as Marie Thérèse Annick Sophie Bellem, she had always been known by her fourth given name. No one in her community knew her by a name other than Sophie.

When she moved to B.C. from Quebec several decades ago, her driver’s licence had always shown Sophie as one of her given names if not the only given name shown. ICBC would now only show Marie Therese Annick Bellem on her licence. ICBC told her its computer system had two limitations regarding name length: The system could only accommodate three given names, and the total number of characters could not exceed 35. While Sophie’s names were under 35 characters, the fourth name – Sophie – would not be included.

Sophie had the same worries and headaches as Sam, Ross, Laurie, and Alice with property, pharmacy and health care records being in the name ICBC would no longer show on her licence.

Sam, Ross, Laurie, Alice and Sophie contacted our office with their concerns about ICBC changing the names that appeared on their driver’s licences.

ICBC has legislative discretion to determine what it considers satisfactory proof of identity. Using this discretion, it has decided to use either Canadian Birth Certificates or certain documents issued by Citizenship and Immigration Canada, for example, Canadian citizenship cards. These documents are a good start to figuring out what a person’s legal name is.

Considering that B.C. driver’s licences and photo B.C. Services Cards are now primary identification documents, it is reasonable for ICBC to want to make sure that the name on those cards is a person’s legal name. It is also reasonable for ICBC to want to list a person’s given names in the order that they appear on these foundation documents.

ICBC made the decision to change its practice for what name would appear on B.C. driver’s licences when it helped to develop an inter-agency policy document that tried to standardize legal naming conventions across provincial government authorities. One of the reasons for the move to standardization was to reduce the opportunity for someone to maintain multiple identities. ICBC changed its practice to enforce a "one person, one identity" mandate. It claimed the stricter identification measures reinforced the integrity of the B.C. driver’s licence as a means of confirming a person’s identity.

We were concerned that by removing Sam, Ross, Laurie, and Alice’s English names from their licences, and by removing Sophie, it appeared ICBC’s practice may have an effect opposite to the purpose for which it was established. ICBC was now providing Sam, Ross, Laurie, Alice and Sophie with identity cards in a name that did not exist on their

other cards or Canadian passports. ICBC also didn’t seem to consider that the names Sam, Ross, Laurie and Alice appeared on their Canadian citizenship cards.


ICBC agreed to amend its processes to allow a subset of existing ICBC customers to keep their longstanding names as they appear in ICBC’s historical database where the English name also appeared on Canadian Citizenship Cards.

For Sam, the new process meant ICBC would continue to issue a licence showing his name as Yong Sam Wu. ICBC’s new process applied to Ross and Laurie, had similar results.

For Alice, ICBC considered her unique circumstances and slightly altered the new process to allow her licence to show the names on her Canadian citizenship card without the quotation marks, Aliz Alice Kovacs. Recognizing the unique circumstances of an individual and modifying a standard process for a good reason is also part of a reasonable process.

Sam, Ross, Laurie, Alice, and their family members, were happy that their English names would still appear on their B.C. driver’s licences under ICBC’s new process. In addition to helping Sam, Ross, Laurie and Alice, ICBC implemented the new process province-wide a few weeks later.

ICBC also agreed to develop a special process to consider B.C. citizens with more than three given names who are known by a given name after the third. Recognizing Sophie’s special cultural circumstances and the hardship of removing the one legal given name she used in the community, ICBC allowed an exception to their policy for names to be in the same order as on a birth certificate. Sophie’s licence would show Marie Therese Sophie Bellem, and ICBC dropped her third given name. About a month after this new process was brought into effect, ICBC reported to us that it was used for another person with similar circumstances.

Thanks to Sam, Ross, Laurie and Alice having brought their complaints to us, other ICBC customers who have longstanding English names in ICBC’s licensing database will be able to keep that name on their B.C. driver’s licence so long as the name is supported by certain Citizenship and Immigration Canada documents. Thanks to Sophie, other ICBC customers with more than three given names and who don’t use the first three names can ask ICBC if they meet the criteria to have an exception and show the legal given name that they do use appear on their licence.

Anyone who has found themselves in the same situation as Sam, Ross, Laurie, Alice or Sophie in the recent past is now able to attend an ICBC office to ask to have their licence changed.

Names in our case summaries have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals. This case study can also be found in the 2016-2017 Annual Report.

Category Driving and Transportation
Type Case Summary
Fiscal Year 2016
Location City of Vancouver