Alberta presses Canada to enforce domestic violence law

CALGARY — Police can warn people at high-risk of violence from their partner under legislation set to take effect in Alberta next year, but the province is urging Ottawa to ensure it will be enforced.

Alberta Justice Minister Kaycee Madu wants the federal government make sure the RCMP follows the legislation known as Clare’s Law, which gives police the right to disclose information to someone about their intimate partner’s abusive or violent history.

“Alberta has got the third highest incident of domestic violence, so it’s a real problem here for us and we want to make sure to work with the federal government to solve this problem,” said Madu.

Alberta’s law is set to take effect in April 2021. Saskatchewan’s law took effect earlier this year but has not been enforced by RCMP who have brought up concerns about infringing federal privacy legislation.

“I think it’s disappointing,” said Madu who sent a letter to federal Public Safety Minister Bill Blair, urging the federal government to resolve issues quickly.

“I expect them to identify for me what their privacy concern is. I can tell you at this point in time I have not had any specifics.”

Madu said Alberta’s privacy commissioner did not raise any concerns prior to passing the legislation, but he is willing to do whatever work is necessary with Ottawa to ensure Clare’s Law will be enforced. 

Blair’s office sent a statement saying the federal government is looking into any legislation changes that could help.

“The RCMP has been supportive of Clare’s Law from the beginning, and is actively looking into whether any amendments to federal regulations could be proposed that would allow them to participate in Clare’s Law,” states Mary-Liz Power, press secretary for the minister of public safety and emergency preparedness.

“Minister Blair continues to engage with his provincial counterparts on the work we’re doing across government and with the Privacy commissioner to bring our federal policing services into line with Clare’s Law, while respecting their obligations under the Privacy Act.”

RCMP issued a statement, saying “the type of information disclosed under Clare’s Law could be considered personal information.

“We are considering whether amendments to federal regulations under section 8(2)(b) of the Privacy Act would authorize such disclosure,” it read.

“Legislation similar to Clare’s Law is pending in a number of provinces where the RCMP is contracted to provide provincial policing services. This makes it important for the RCMP, as a federal institution, to ensure that its approach is well-considered and nationwide, and that it harmonizes various provincial Clare’s Law frameworks with the overarching federal privacy regime.”

RCMP added it is looking at how to achieve the Clare’s Law objective of informing potential victims, while still following legislation.

“For example, Saskatchewan RCMP has implemented a new, enhanced process that will ensure anyone who comes forward with concerns and is identified by the RCMP as being at risk will be provided access to Victim’s Services, relevant information, and other resources to enhance their safety,” read the statement.

“The RCMP remains committed to helping any individual with concerns about domestic violence through its established processes. In some provinces and territories, members of the public can also access information relating to criminal matters.”

Clare’s Law was first implemented in Britain in 2014 and is named after Clare Wood, who was murdered by her boyfriend but unaware of his violent history.

Alberta adopted similar legislation after Krista Boechler sent a petition to the province on behalf of her friend, Dianne Denovan, who was nearly beaten to death by a boyfriend. Denovan later found out he had a violent past.

The enforcement issues are concerning to the women who helped bring the law to Alberta.

“It was certainly a disappointment considering the RCMP were on board with Saskatchewan when they were first looking at bringing Clare’s Law into effect,” said Boechler.

Both women are pleased the province is pressing the federal government to ensure Clare’s Law will be enforced.

“It’s very important, it’s going to save lives. And such a time like this with so much isolation, I think it’s the most important time ever,” said Denovan.

Madu said municipal police services have not raised any concerns about enforcement.

“We are anticipating everything will be good to go by spring 2021,” said Calgary Police Chief Mark Neufeld.

“But there’s still a lot of work to do around some process, technology, how people are going to apply and how we are going to track the requests.”

Agencies that work with victims of domestic violence look forward to the legislation taking effect in Alberta.

“I think Clare’s Law is just one of those tools that puts some of the power back in victim’s hands to actually take some steps to keep themselves safe,” said Kim Ruse, CEO of Calgary Women’s Emergency Shelter.

The legislation not only allows people to ask police if their partner has a violent or abusive past, it also gives police the right to pro-actively disclose that information.

Madu has also asked the federal government to make the legislation federal.

“Whatever we can do to prevent one occurrence of domestic violence I think it’s something we should take very seriously,” said Madu.

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