Three months after a law took effect in Saskatchewan that allows police forces to warn those at high risk of intimate-partner violence, the RCMP have still not adopted it, even though they were involved in the drafting of the legislation.
The force argues that federal privacy laws prevent it from disclosing personal information, even in these safety-related circumstances.
The Interpersonal Violence Disclosure Protocol Act – also known as 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, unbeknownst to her, had a violent history. The law was implemented in Saskatchewan in June, two years after the provincial legislature voted unanimously to adopt it.
The measure gives police the right to pro-actively disclose information about someone’s abusive or violent history if they believe that person’s partner to be potentially at high risk. It also gives people the right to ask for this information themselves if they are concerned.
The lack of RCMP participation leaves a significant gap, given that they are contracted to provide the bulk of Saskatchewan’s law enforcement. Municipal police forces have adopted it.
As other provinces look to follow Saskatchewan’s lead, including Alberta, which is similarly predominantly policed by the RCMP, advocates fear this gap will only grow.
“It seems really unbelievable that the RCMP would choose not to participate in something that really has the ability to save lives,” said Jo-Anne Dusel, the executive director of the Provincial Association of Transition Houses and Services of Saskatchewan (PATHS), who helped craft the legislation and also sits on the panel of stakeholders who review applications that come in under Clare’s Law.
The protocol works like this: When an application is made for information about someone’s history, police will provide any relevant files – depersonalized to remove any names or identifying information – to a panel of stakeholders for assessment. Depending on the panel’s findings, police can then verbally relay that risk assessment to the applicant, who is to use that information only for safety planning purposes.
While information about criminal charges or convictions is already public through the courts, panel members are particularly interested in any broader context the police can provide about someone, Ms. Dusel explained.
“Oftentimes, some of the biggest indicators of risk … are not actually criminal. So for example, coercive controlling behaviour … or a history of financial abuse … or ownership of guns,” she said. Yet that is precisely the information the RCMP say they cannot provide.
RCMP spokesperson Corporal Caroline Duval said in an emailed statement that the force is “actively looking into whether any amendments to federal regulations could be proposed that would allow the RCMP to participate in Clare’s Law.”
Saskatchewan MP Jeremy Patzer, who represents Cypress Hill-Grasslands, has launched an e-petition with constituent Anika Henderson to urge the federal government to make the necessary amendments immediately. So far, they have just over 250 signatures. If they reach 500, Mr. Patzer will be able to raise the issue in the House of Commons.
On average, one woman in Canada is killed by an intimate partner every six days. Saskatchewan has the highest rate of incidents of intimate-partner violence among the provinces, according to Statistics Canada. Mr. Patzer says this issue must be a priority, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic when many Canadians have been isolated at home and face economic uncertainty and decreased access to supports.
Saskatchewan Justice Minister Don Morgan said he has been in contact with Public Safety Minister Bill Blair, and says Mr. Blair was “generally supportive of what we were trying to achieve.” But he said the continued holdout is both a loss and a disappointment.
“So today, we’re calling on [the minister] again to make a decision,” Mr. Morgan said. “And I would say to Minister Blair, give your officials direction. Officials don’t give you direction. You’re the minister, you give them direction.”
Through a spokesperson, Mr. Blair declined an interview request from The Globe, but reiterated that he is working “to chart the path forward on how our federal policing services can best support Clare’s Law within its obligations under the Privacy Act.”
While the new law has only led to “a couple” of applications so far, Ms. Dusel said it will be an important tool for people when it comes to safety planning. But as awareness of the law grows, she fears people in jurisdictions policed by the RCMP (often rural areas, where access to supports are already limited) will be discouraged from seeking that information, because they will think incorrectly that they are ineligible.
She too urges the federal government to address this.
“If the thing they’re [citing] as the barrier is the privacy legislation, then let’s do what needs to be done and put in another little bullet point within that legislation to say that there can be exceptions for sharing information [in these cases],” Ms. Dusel said.
David Fraser, a Halifax-based privacy lawyer, said the issue highlights a broader tension that exists across the country when the federal policing agency provides municipal or provincial police services.
That tension was evident earlier this summer when the Nova Scotia government faced calls for an inquiry into the RCMP’s handling of the April mass shooting in the province. The provincial government said that because it did not have jurisdiction over the RCMP, it could not hold such an inquiry (even though the RCMP was acting in a provincial police capacity). In the end, the federal government agreed to hold an inquiry.
In the case of Clare’s Law, Mr. Fraser believes one solution could be that the wording of the law be amended to compel (rather than permit) police to participate. But he thinks the bigger problem here to be remedied is the conflicting privacy rules governing the RCMP and other police.
“Obviously, Clare’s Law raises a [distinct] issue, but I think that it’s connected to a bigger question – and the only provinces in Canada that have their own provincial police forces, and don’t use the RCMP for that, are Ontario and Quebec.”
As other provinces look at potentially implementing a similar law, he says this is a discrepancy that must be addressed once and for all.
“When the RCMP is doing provincial policing Saskatchewan, are they wearing a provincial hat, or a federal hat? And what laws should apply to them?” he said. “Because if Saskatchewan actually had a provincial police force, and booted the RCMP out of there, then there would be no doubt that Clare’s Law would apply.”
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