Manitoba praised for proposing ‘Clare’s Law’ in bid to fight intimate partner violence

By Terry Davidson

Law360 Canada (June 8, 2022, 11:05 AM EDT) -- An advocate for eradicating intimate partner violence is lauding Manitoba’s tabling of “Clare’s Law” and is confident more jurisdictions across Canada will eventually follow suit.

On May 30, Manitoba’s government introduced the Disclosure to Protect Against Intimate Partner Violence Act, a legislative mechanism that would alert people whether they are at risk based on an examination of prior instances of violence or abuse on the part of their significant other or prospective partner.

The legislation, already enacted in Saskatchewan and Alberta, is more commonly known as Clare’s Law and based on a similar initiative launched in Britain following the murder of Clare Wood, a 36-year-old woman killed by an ex-boyfriend who, unbeknownst to Wood, had a history of violence.

Manitoba families minister Rochelle Squires said in a recent news release that her province “has some of the highest rates of intimate partner violence and family violence in Canada,” particularly when it comes to vulnerable communities.

“The purpose of Clare’s Law is to provide Manitobans with access to information on whether their partner has a documented history of violence, as well as access to public and community-based supports to promote safety and end the cycle of violence,” said Squires in a government news release.

The release goes on to state that the legislation’s “design team” continues its work with privacy experts to ensure Manitoba’s approach to Clare’s Law is “appropriately respectful of the privacy of the person whose information is being disclosed.”

Saskatchewan enacted Clare’s Law in June 2020 — the first province in Canada to do so. Formally known there as the Interpersonal Violence Disclosure Protocol Act, it allows residents to apply for disclosure related to any history of violent or abusive behaviour known to police.  

It also allows for concerned third parties to apply, as well.

The information, which can include prior convictions, charges and police incident reports, is gathered, anonymized and given to the province’s Multi-Sector Review Committee, which is made up of police, victims’ services officials and advocates.

Based on that historical information, the committee assesses the level of risk posed to the applicant. The applicant is then notified of that risk level and given any information that is already public record, such as past convictions or charges.

Jo-Anne Dusel, executive director of the Provincial Association of Transition Houses and Services of Saskatchewan (PATHS) and member of the Multi-Sector Review Committee, had positive things to say about Manitoba’s move.

Jo-Anne Dusel, executive director of the Provincial Association of Transition Houses and Services of Saskatchewan

“I feel good about it,” said Dusel, who reflected on the success of Clare’s Law in her own province. “Now that Saskatchewan has been actually processing the applications for some time, we have begun to see … the benefits of being able to share this information with individuals who might be at risk. And the fact that we have more jurisdictions implementing this legislation just underlines the value of Clare’s Law, so I’m really happy to see it spread to other regions.”

Dusel was asked if even more jurisdictions will implement similar legislation.  

“I’m reasonably optimistic that that will happen. When you think about it, it has only been a couple of years … since Saskatchewan introduced the legislation, and … we know that government and bureaucracy move slowly, and people have been very cautious in implementing Clare’s Law particularly because some people did have privacy concerns. I know in Saskatchewan the privacy commissioner here took quite a bit of time to go through the procedures and be convinced that this was a good balance of providing privacy for the individual.”

A similar bill was introduced in Newfoundland and Labrador in late 2019. There have also been attempts at legislation in Ontario and British Columbia.

When The Lawyer’s Daily asked Ontario’s Office of the Solicitor General where that province currently stood with its own version of Clare’s Law, junior press secretary and communications adviser Hannah Jensen fell short of providing a direct answer.

“Violence against women and girls are heinous crimes that have devastating impacts,” Jensen said in an e-mail. “Our government condemns crimes of this nature and understands actions need to be taken to find a better way to support and protect victims of intimate partner violence.”

Jensen went on to list the millions of dollars Ontario has invested in victim support, policing and “public safety initiatives including sexual violence and harassment and intimate partner violence.”

“We will continue to work to protect and ensure that survivors and at-risk individuals get the supports they need when they need them most,” she said.

However, Dusel said she has been in contact with a police officer from Ontario who “was really interested in bringing it there” and had been “doing some advocating on behalf of the issue and the legislation.”

Questions about Clare’s Law posed to officials in British Columbia and Newfoundland and Labrador were not returned by press time.

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