Last April, we wrote about the enactment of Clare’s Law, otherwise known by the name the Disclosure to Protect Against Domestic Violence Act, in Alberta. Clare’s Law is a piece of legislation with its origins in the United Kingdom, named for a woman who was killed by her partner, who, unbeknownst to her, had a criminal history relating to domestic assault. The purpose of the law is to provide those who feel they may be at risk of domestic violence to enquire about their partner’s criminal history and obtain information to help them assess their potential risk level. In addition to providing the applicant with this information, any person deemed to be at some level of risk will be asked more than once if they would like additional assistance to help them avoid or escape a potentially violent relationship.

The program has been in place for nearly a year now, and recently, the CBC released a report detailing how the program has been performing since it came into force. The results indicate that there are gaps in the system which may prevent some from using the program or may fail to provide adequate information or support to those who do. On the other hand, some domestic violence experts say that while the program may not be perfect, it is a key step forward in empowering those who may be at risk of intimate partner violence to connect more quickly with organizations that can support them.

Using Clare’s Law in Alberta

To apply for information under the law, an applicant can complete an online request form, or take a completed form to a police station. An applicant must demonstrate they are in an intimate partner relationship with the subject of the application to proceed. From there, Alberta’s Integrated Threat and Risk Assessment Centre will review court documents and police records about the subject, and determine the level of threat they pose based on the following scale:

  • High risk
  • Moderate risk
  • Insufficient information to determine risk

Once the risk level has been assessed, the information is communicated verbally to the applicant. If the risk is assessed to be moderate or high level, the applicant must meet with a police officer in person to receive the information. In that meeting, the officer will communicate information that could be pertinent to domestic violence, including the frequency, severity, and recentness of the subject’s history. During this meeting, the applicant is not permitted to take notes or record the conversation. Further, they must sign a confidentiality agreement before receiving any information in which they promise not to share the information with family or friends or use it as part of a family law proceeding. It takes approximately four weeks from the date of the application for the applicant to receive a response.

Since coming into effect in April 2021, there were 372 requests for information as of January 18, 2022. Of those requests, only 159 applicants had received information in response.

As highlighted by a commentary on the program in the National Post, there are some challenges to the program which may impact its success, or even prevent some from taking advantage of it in the first place. In particular,

  • Applicants must provide extensive personal information as part of the application. This could be a deterrent for those with their own legal challenges, or outstanding issues such as unpaid fines.
  • Requiring applicants to meet face to face with a police officer may deter those in marginalized communities from engaging in the process. If there is a lack of trust in the police in general, a meeting with an officer at a police station may not be considered a “safe space” by all potential applicants.
  • The inability to share details with family or friends may keep the applicant feeling isolated or unable to make use of any information they receive.
  • If someone is feeling at immediate risk, the four-week waiting period for information may seem too far away to be useful.

Woman abandons application after encountering obstacles

The author of the CBC report spoke with one woman, Sarah, who had been assaulted by her partner and wanted to find out if he had a history of domestic violence or if it was an isolated incident. Sarah considered, but ultimately opted not to take advantage of the program after she attended a police information centre in Edmonton with a completed application. There, she was told, incorrectly, that there would be a $25 fee to process the application, that results could take up to four weeks and that she would not receive any printed documentation. She decided that there was little point in continuing. Her partner had been arrested for his assault on her, and so she withdrew her application.

A couple of months later, her partner was released on bail, but Sarah was not informed. One day, he appeared at her home and sexually assaulted her and attacked her with a metal water bottle, causing damage to her skull. She is now pregnant with his child. He was arrested for the attack and is currently awaiting sentencing.

Had Sarah proceeded with her initial application, she may have learned that he had an extensive history of abusing women dating back at least six years. However, she remains of the opinion that she likely would not have learned about his history in time to prevent further attacks, or even if she had, he would likely have moved on to a new victim.

Clare’s Law is a Step in the Right Direction

Despite its shortcomings, some experts in domestic violence say that Clare’s Law is already helping victims in Alberta. In another opinion piece for the Edmonton Journal, the Executive Director of Be the VOICE, an organization aimed at reducing gender-based violence, agreed that the system could use improvement, but said it has had a net positive impact so far. The author points out that Alberta has the third-highest rate of domestic violence in the country, and that the issue is complex. It cannot be solved by a single piece of legislation. She believes passing Clare’s Law is a step in the right direction by providing an additional tool in the overall fight to reduce the risk of intimate partner violence in the province. A key benefit of the program is the access to follow-up services offered to all applicants deemed to be at some level of risk, which is helping to introduce and connect women with resources they otherwise would not have known about.

Contact Mincher Koeman for Advice Regarding Emergency Protection Orders

If you are looking to initiate a separation from a spouse or common-law partner out of fear of violence, Mincher Koeman can assist you. Our family lawyers will work with you to help ensure you remain safe throughout your family dispute. We have considerable experience working with clients in need of protection through restraining orders or emergency protection orders. Contact our office for an urgent consultation by calling us at 403-910-3000 or by contacting us online.

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