Alberta introduces 'Clare's Law' bill in attempt to curb domestic violence

Alberta will follow other jurisdictions and allow police to release a person's violent or abusive past to their intimate partners, if a new domestic-violence bill unveiled by the UCP government Wednesday is passed.

Bill would allow police to disclose a person’s history of domestic violence to their partners

Premier Jason Kenney says new Alberta legislation will help protect people who are vulnerable to domestic violence. (Peter Evans/CBC)

Alberta will follow other jurisdictions and allow police to release a person's violent or abusive past to their intimate partners, if a new domestic-violence bill unveiled by the UCP government Wednesday is passed.

Bill 17, the Disclosure to Protect Against Domestic Violence (Clare's Law) Act, would allow people at risk of domestic violence to apply for information about whether their intimate partner has a history of domestic violence.

The bill would also allow police to proactively provide relevant information about a person's violent history to their partner, if they feel the partner is at risk. 

"Given the ongoing crisis of domestic violence in Alberta, the right to ask — and the right to know — are important preventative measures that will help to keep vulnerable Albertans safer," Premier Jason Kenney said Wednesday at a news conference at Edmonton's WIN House shelter.

During the spring provincial election, Kenney promised a UCP government would introduce the legislation, saying it would better protect those vulnerable to domestic violence — the overwhelming majority of whom are women.

The bill is modelled after U.K. legislation known as Clare's Law, named for a Manchester woman named Clare Wood, who was murdered by her ex-boyfriend in 2009. Saskatchewan was the first province in Canada to pass similar legislation.

Details of how Alberta's legislation would look in practice are scant; Wednesday's bill allows the government to develop regulations for its enforcement.

At the news conference, Community and Social Services Minister Rajan Sawhney said it is too early to tell how it would be determined if an application for disclosure is successful, and who would be part of that process.

"We will be looking at other jurisdictions like Saskatchewan to get a better understanding of what they are doing at the moment," Sawhney said.

"But some of the ideas that have arisen are perhaps putting together a multi-stakeholder panel that would make the ultimate decision to disclose."

Rajan Sawhney, minister of community and social services, said the government will do another round of stakeholder consultations as it develops regulations around the legislation. (Peter Evans/CBC)

The government did a first round of stakeholder consultations before introducing the bill, and Sawhney said it will do another round as it develops the regulations. 

In an email to CBC News, Sawhney's press secretary said those stakeholders include "victim advocate organizations and individuals with lived experience, offender advocates, LGBTQ and multi-cultural organizations, Indigenous communities, academics, Alberta police agencies and the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner."

Sawhney said the government is mindful of privacy considerations and will ensure the bill, if passed, will work in accordance with Alberta's Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.

The government plans to implement the regulations by next spring.

Alberta has third-highest rate of domestic violence

In 2017, intimate partner violence accounted for nearly one-third of all police-reported violent crime in Canada, affecting almost 96,000 victims ranging in age from 15 to 89, Stats Canada data shows. Alberta had the third-highest rate of intimate partner violence by province.

Between 2008 and 2017, there were 166 deaths from domestic violence in Alberta, the province's Family Violence Death Review Committee said in its latest annual report. 

The Alberta Council of Women's Shelters warned in late 2018 that women who use its shelters faced an increased risk of being murdered by their partners. The council uses a danger assessment questionnaire, developed in the United States and used by police forces there, to determine the level of risk their clients face.

Executive director Jan Reimer said women were increasingly responding that their partners had choked them or threatened them with a gun.

Andrea Silverstone is the executive director of the domestic-violence prevention organization Sagesse. She said this legislation is needed to curb Alberta's domestic-violence crisis.

"This is an issue that is too large to be ignored," Silverstone told Radio-Canada in an interview.

"And we need to put as many pieces of legislation, policy, and resources in place to make sure that we are addressing the issue of domestic violence for victims, perpetrators, and communities."


Jennie Russell

Former investigative reporter

Jennie Russell was a reporter with CBC Investigates, the investigative unit of CBC Edmonton, from 2012 until 2021. Russell specialized in accountability journalism. Her work has been widely credited with forcing transparency and democratic change in Alberta.