The Alberta government is calling on Ottawa to ensure the RCMP uses a provincial law that allows police to warn those at high risk of intimate-partner violence and to table legislation to expand that system across the country.
Alberta is among several provinces to pass legislation, also known as Clare’s Law, to give police the right to disclose information about someone’s abusive or violent history to an intimate partner. Alberta’s law is set to take effect next April.
Saskatchewan’s version of Clare’s Law took effect almost three months ago, but the RCMP isn’t using it over concerns that it may run afoul of federal privacy legislation. The RCMP polices most areas of both provinces outside of major cities.
Alberta Justice Minister Kaycee Madu says the federal government should move quickly to ensure that the RCMP follows the law when it takes effect.
“My interest is to make sure that this law is enforced,” Mr. Madu, who sent federal Public Safety Minister Bill Blair a letter on Monday outlining his concerns, said in an interview.
“Clare’s Law is an important part of making sure that we don’t have people with violent criminal backgrounds or repeat offenders disturbing the peace and quiet of our citizens.”
Clare’s Law was first implemented in Britain in 2014. It was named for Clare Wood, a British woman murdered in 2009 by her partner who had a violent history that she didn’t know about.
The legislation gives police the right to pro-actively disclose information about someone’s abusive or violent history if they believe that their partner is at high risk. Those partners can also ask for that information themselves if they are concerned.
Mr. Madu said Alberta’s law went through extensive consultation, including with the province’s Privacy Commissioner, who did not raise any concerns.
While he disagrees that privacy legislation could prevent police from following Clare’s Law, he said the province is willing to work with Ottawa to either update the provincial law or identify changes at federal level that could allay those concerns.
Mr. Madu also said the federal government should use its Throne Speech this week to promise to pass its own version of Clare’s Law that would apply across the country.
“I have often heard the federal government talk about all sorts of things to prevent crime. … This is one area where, if they are serious, then this is it,” he said.
Alberta and Saskatchewan have among the highest rates of intimate-partner violence in the country, according to Statistics Canada. Intimate-partner violence represents a third of all violent crime reported in Canada, with women making up nearly 80 per cent of victims.
Mr. Blair was not available for an interview. His office sent a statement that said the RCMP supports Clare’s Law and that the federal government is working to implement it while respecting privacy laws.
The RCMP declined an interview request.
Corporal Caroline Duval, a spokeswoman at the RCMP’s national headquarters in Ottawa, said in an e-mail that the force is examining whether amendments to federal laws or regulations would make it easier to adopt the law.
Cpl. Duval said the force is working on a national approach that will work in all provinces that introduce legislation modelled after Clare’s Law.
In Alberta, the RCMP is participating in a provincial working group that is studying the implementation of the law.
Andrea Silverstone, executive director of Sagesse, a Calgary-based non-profit that helps women experiencing domestic violence, said it’s critical that the RCMP participates in Clare’s Law to ensure everyone in Alberta has access to the same protection.
“If for some reason there was not participation of the RCMP, that would mean that people who live rural and remotely would not have the same access to this intervention, which would be be entirely inequitable,” Ms. Silverstone said.
“Your postal code should not determine the level of service you receive.”
She agreed that Canada needs federal legislation to implement Clare’s Law across the country to ensure the same level of protection everywhere.
Ms. Silverstone said the system in Alberta would ensure that if someone makes a request for information about their partner, they would be connected to supports for people experiencing domestic violence.
“If someone is inquiring that they believe their partner might be violent, that means they’re concerned about their safety,” she said.
“What’s as important as the knowledge of the abusive partner is the ability to hook into social supports.”
Some advocates have noted that Clare’s Law cannot help people whose partners don’t have a criminal record or a history with police, and that improving access to shelters and other supports for victims of domestic violence would have a greater impact.
The Alberta government provided $5-million in pandemic-related funding for women’s emergency shelters.
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