The dangers faced by those violent relationships are far too well-known. So much so that the provincial government established Alberta’s Family Violence Death Review Committee in 2013 to study the trends and risk factors when domestic violence leads to death. In a study, the Committee found that there were over 160 deaths in the province between 2008 and 2017 due to domestic violence.
While Canada has legal protection options in place for those who feel they are at risk due to intimate partner violence, such as emergency protection orders, these options are often engaged as a reaction in an urgent and potentially dangerous situation. What would be helpful to those who find themselves in a potentially abusive relationship would be the ability to know whether their partner had a criminal background relating to domestic violence. This is exactly what “Clare’s Law” sets out to do: empower those who need it with the ability to seek and obtain information on their partner’s violent history if it exists.
Clare’s Law originated in the U.K. in 2014. It was named for Clare Wood, who was murdered by her partner. Police knew her partner had a history of domestic violence, but this was not known to Ms. Wood. After her death, Ms. Wood’s father advocated for greater transparency between law enforcement and potential victims of domestic abuse. The purpose of Clare’s Law is twofold:
As of April 1st, the law, titled the Disclosure to Protect Against Domestic Violence (Clare’s Law) Act, came into force in Alberta. Alberta is the second province to adopt the law in Canada after Saskatchewan implemented it in the spring of 2020. Social Services Minister Rajan Sawhney said that Alberta had the fourth-highest rate of police-reported intimate partner violence in Canada in citing the importance of the new law.
The law sets out specifics of who is entitled to request information on a person’s background, and how the process will work.
A “person at risk of domestic violence” or their representative (who can be any person), may request information on a person’s criminal history regarding the following:
The person making the request must satisfy the following conditions before they will be entitled to receive information:
A third party may also make a request on behalf of a person at risk, however they must have that person’s consent (or legal authority over the person at risk). Further, the person at risk must still meet with police in person to receive the information. Any information provided under a request will be verbal only.
Applications for information can be submitted online by completing a form that takes approximately thirty minutes. From the date of the application, it will take approximately four weeks to obtain the information. The “person of disclosure” (i.e. the person subjected to the search) will not be told about the request. Throughout the process, the applicant will be asked on multiple occasions whether they require assistance. For full details on the program and how it works, see the Alberta government’s page here.
Critics say the law is a positive step to protect the vulnerable, however, it does not go far enough. Without supports for practical matters such as housing and finances, information alone may not be sufficient, particularly for those with children to consider. While access to past criminal records is important to ensure a person understands the risks they may face, increased social supports will be necessary to provide potential victims with the tools they need to leave a violent relationship.
If you are looking to initiate a separation out of fear of violence, Mincher Koeman can assist you. We will work with you to help ensure you remain safe throughout the duration of your family dispute. Contact our office for an emergency consultation today by calling us at 403-910-3000 or by contacting us online.
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