Clare's Law will offer 'meaningful support' to people in risky relationships: Regina police chief

Clare’s Law comes into effect Monday in Saskatchewan — the first jurisdiction in Canada to implement it.

Interpersonal Violence Disclosure Protocol Act can warn people about a partner's violent past

Clare's Law, which takes effect in Saskatchewan Monday, will allow police to warn people about a partner's violent past. (Getty Images)

Clare's Law comes into effect Monday in Saskatchewan — the first jurisdiction in Canada to implement it.

With the new legislation, police can warn people about a partner's violent past, though the RCMP has declined to participate for now, citing federal privacy laws and saying they are still trying to figure out how they can implement it. In the meantime, people in rural communities will have to apply to municipal police for information.

Regina police Chief Evan Bray said he would like to see the RCMP participate so everyone in the province can access the legislation from their hometown, but in the meantime no one will be turned away from municipal police.

"At the end of the day, we're in the business of helping people," Bray said. "We don't close our doors to people because they don't live in our city or they happen to be a visitor in our city or whatever the case may be. If someone reaches out for help, we're going to do everything we can to help them."

Under the Interpersonal Violence Disclosure Protocol Act — a.k.a. Clare's Law — when someone applies to find out information about a partner, the request will go to a review committee that will look at prior interactions with police and whether there is a pattern of behaviour. 

Applicants will be told whether they are at high risk, medium risk, or low risk in terms of the relationship. Unless a person is in immediate danger, Bray said the review committee will return its assessment within about 30 days.

Even if the risk is low, police will still offer options for support.

"[The person] still made the application for a reason, they still had a concern, and so it's important that that follow up conversation happened to help them understand what options they have to stay safe," Bray said.

He said he expects 30 to 40 applications province-wide in a year.

Regina police have been offering training to front-line workers who would take the application as well as general training for all officers so they know the legislation exists, Bray said.

"Oftentimes, when our officers are responding to a domestic dispute or out in the community, it's important that they know what pieces of legislation are out there that could help people potentially keep themselves safe."

'Meaningful support'

Bray also said he can think of times in his career where legislation would have allowed him to share information. In a recent case, he said a woman voluntarily told the police she was in a new relationship with someone who was "very well known" to the police.

"[The person] had a long history of serious domestic abuse and assaults," he said. "Having a piece of legislation that backs up our ability to tell someone, here's some things that we think you need to do to proactively stay safe ... that can really provide some meaningful support."

Municipal police services fall under Saskatchewan privacy legislation. Bray said the committee that developed the protocols worked with the provincial privacy commissioner and ensured it was compliant with provincial laws.

He believes the RCMP are working toward common ground to make it possible to participate in the legislation.

"I can only appreciate that that must look a little different when you're looking at it on a national level," Bray said. 

Privacy commissioner 'disappointed' by RCMP decision

Ron Kruzeniski, Saskatchewan's information and privacy commissioner, said he initially had concerns about how much information would be shared, but that he's happy with the final protocol.

"When I found out that the information would either say it is a low risk, medium risk or high risk, I think a good number of my concerns basically evaporated."

Kruzeniski said he doesn't understand why the RCMP won't participate.

"People have been working on this legislation for two years and I would hope that would have given them ample time to determine whether they're going to work with this legislation or not," he said. 

"Like the justice minister, I'm disappointed. One of my reasons for being disappointed is since we have this protocol, I would like to think that every citizen is entitled to use it, not just those in Regina, Saskatoon, Prince Albert, Moose Jaw and others who have municipal police forces. That's extremely disappointing."

If someone reaches out for help, we're going to do everything we can to help them.- Regina police Chief Evan Bray

He said he will be watching as the legislation is put into action. One concern he has is too much personal information getting into the wrong hands. The person applying for the information has to sign a confidentiality agreement, but what if that person breaks the agreement?

"If there were deviations by the applicant on that, that would be extremely disappointing," he said.

"Telling people that are going to help you get to a safe place is probably important. Broadcasting it would be breaching a confidentiality agreement."

Bray hopes Clare's Law will help start conversations about domestic abuse and give people another tool to protect themselves.

"Ultimately I feel like this is a real positive thing for our province," Bray said. "We have a very high, in fact it's one of the highest in Canada, rates of domestic violence. And so I think we need to show that we're going to be proactive in any way possible to try to deal with this problem."


Ashleigh Mattern is a reporter with CBC Saskatoon and CBC Saskatchewan.

With files from Bonnie Allen


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