Saskatchewan

Groups question impact new Clare's Law will have on domestic violence rates in Sask.

As she was being hit with an aluminum baseball bat, Lani Elliott saw flashes of her little boy's future that she feared she wouldn't live to see, such as his graduation and wedding day.

Legislation that allows police to warn of a partner's abusive history passed 3rd reading Thursday

Lani Elliott is a survivor and advocate for victims of domestic violence. (Michael Bell/The Canadian Press)

As she was being hit with an aluminum baseball bat, Lani Elliott saw flashes of her little boy's future she feared she wouldn't live to see, such as his graduation and wedding day.

"I remember saying a prayer," she recalls about the 1993 beating that she says happened at the hands of her husband.

The couple had been travelling from their home on a First Nation into nearby Regina. He grew agitated, parked their vehicle, chased her down and began swinging the bat.

"The weird part was that as we started to drive again, he started to talk about what we were going to buy at the grocery store."

Elliott has since left the relationship and advocates for domestic violence victims.

She's also one of many people questioning the legislation in Saskatchewan that will allow police to verbally warn people about a partner's abusive history.

Elliott at her home in Regina, on Friday, April 26. (Michael Bell/The Canadian Press)

The legislation, dubbed Clare's Law, would not have helped her, says Elliott. Her husband had no prior criminal record.

What she needed as a woman living in a rural area were resources to get out, she says.

What is Clare's Law?

Clare's Law started in the United Kingdom in 2014 after a woman named Clare Wood was murdered by a partner who police knew had a violent record, but the information was not disclosed to her.

Saskatchewan, which struggles with high rates of domestic violence, is the first province in Canada to adopt Clare's Law. It passed third reading in the legislature Thursday and is to be in place later this year.

Alberta has indicated it could be next. Premier Jason Kenney promised before he was elected last month that he would table similar legislation.

While advocates believe Clare's Law is another tool to protect victims, others cast doubt on its potential to reduce overall domestic violence rates and are concerned about the role police will play.

"I don't think it's going to be the answer that we need," says Hillary Aitken, senior director of housing and domestic violence shelters with YWCA Regina.

"I don't think what the majority of people are missing is information."

She says victims lack proper resources to safely leave dangerous relationships and must overcome barriers such as finding housing and what to do if they have children.

In more complex scenarios, there can be addictions and mental-health issues.

71 victims of domestic homicide since 2005

Saskatchewan Minister of Justice Don Morgan says Clare's Law is meant to be preventative and to apply to those who are early on in their relationships before violence escalates.

Jo-Anne Dusel, executive director of the Provincial Association of Transition Houses, an umbrella organization of women's shelters and support services, has been consulting with Saskatchewan on the legislation.

She says Clare's Law is likely to help only a small number of victims.

A small portion of the U.K. population has so far used the law, she says, and police there disclosed information in about half the cases.

Dusel expects the numbers will translate in Saskatchewan to about 82 cases each year, with less than half receiving information from police.

The Saskatchewan Coroners Service says 71 people were victims of domestic homicide between 2005 and 2019.

Dusel's group wants the province to ensure workers are present when disclosures are made to help victims navigate next steps instead of just receiving a referral.

Front-line officers dealing with victims also need training, Dusel says. As it is written, the law requires a person to make a request directly to a police officer. Dusel worries that could lead to a request being denied if the officer isn't knowledgeable about domestic violence.

"Maybe they're not actually looking concerned. Maybe they're coming across as a little bit angry or aggressive," she says.

Aitken adds that Indigenous women, who data suggests are three times more likely to be victims of domestic violence, may be even more unwilling to turn to police for help.

But Darlene Okemaysim-Sicotte, a Saskatoon activist for missing and murdered Indigenous women, says Clare's Law could give police an opportunity to build trust with Indigenous women.

"This is a time for them not to turn their eyes away," she says.

"There might become a point where the police say, you know, if the abused is not going to do something, they're in a position where they can."

About the Author

Stephanie Taylor

Reporter/The Canadian Press

Stephanie Taylor is a Canadian Press reporter based in Saskatchewan.

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