The RCMP says it will now observe a law implemented in Saskatchewan last year that allows police to warn people who are at high risk of intimate partner violence, just as a similar law comes into force in Alberta.
The measure enacted last June, the first of its kind in Canada, gave police the right to disclose information about someone’s abusive or violent history if they believe the person’s partner is potentially at high risk. Under the legislation – also known as Clare’s Law – people have the right to ask for this information themselves if they are concerned.
Until now, the RCMP had refrained from participating, arguing that disclosing personal information, even in safety-related circumstances, could contravene federal privacy laws. With the RCMP contracted to provide the bulk of policing in Saskatchewan, this left a significant gap in the application of the law. This would have posed similar challenges in Alberta, where the RCMP also holds a strong policing presence.
Clare’s Law was first implemented in Britain in 2014 and was named for Clare Wood, who was killed in 2009 by her partner who had a violent history that she didn’t know about.
In its first nine months, Saskatchewan had eight applications made under Clare’s Law, said Jo-Anne Dusel, the executive director of the Provincial Association of Transition Houses and Services of Saskatchewan. She helped craft the legislation and also sits on the panel of stakeholders who review applications that come in under Clare’s Law.
In addition to the RCMP hurdle, she said the low uptake could be partly attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has resulted in fewer people entering into new relationships. But she also believes that the law has not been advertised enough, and questions whether many people even know it exists.
The RCMP have faced criticism for their reluctance to participate in Saskatchewan. On Wednesday, one day before the law was set to take effect in Alberta, the force announced that after consultations with the federal privacy commissioner, they will now observe the law.
“With the completion of this important work, the RCMP will be able to fully support these important intimate partner violence initiatives where the legislation is enacted and the RCMP is the police of jurisdiction,” the force said in a press release Wednesday.
Ms. Dusel is hopeful that this will mean that “more people take advantage of [the law].”
“With every case we review, I become more and more convinced of the value of Clare’s Law,” she said. “People who use violence in relationships are following a pattern – most likely one that they observed as children growing up. And they perpetuate that pattern with partner after partner, with the difference being that the violence tends to escalate over time.”
Of the eight Saskatchewan cases reviewed so far, “only one was medium – the others were all high-risk, and in some cases the level of violence was astounding,” she said. “It is making a difference. It may take a long time … for it to show statistically. But for that one individual, it changed her life path.”
In Alberta, applications made under Clare’s Law must be submitted online. Alberta Minister of Community and Social Services Rajan Sawhney acknowledged that this can be a barrier, particularly for women in rural or remote communities, but she said she’s hopeful that community supports such as women’s shelters will be able to assist when needed.
“We are going to go hard, making sure that all of our women’s shelters and social service agencies have a full package to understand what this legislation entails.”
According to the Canadian Femicide Observatory for Justice and Accountability, which tracks femicide cases on a national scale, at least 160 women and girls were killed across the country last year – at least 128 of them by men. The relationship between the victim and her killer was not discernable in every case, but in cases where that information was available, at least half were killed by the victim’s current or former partner. Another 26 per cent of perpetrators were family members.
Ms. Sawhney described the rates of violence in Canada as “disturbing,” particularly considering that these crimes are often underreported. She hopes Clare’s Law will help to reduce the stigma around intimate partner violence.
“There are a lot of reasons as to why intimate partner violence is underreported … whether it’s financial commitments ... or ethno-cultural issues or just plain stigma,” she said.
“To get to those reasons, understand why they exist and tackle them head-on … that’s going to be part of the solution as to how we bring down the rates of domestic violence – getting more people to speak up, and not just the victims, but families and communities as well.”
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