Two Swift Current residents are hoping there will be sufficient support for their petition to the federal government, which will allow the RCMP to disclose information that can prevent people in Saskatchewan from becoming victims of domestic violence.
The electronic petition (e-petition) by Anika Henderson is sponsored by Cypress Hills-Grasslands Member of Parliament Jeremy Patzer.
It is calling on the federal justice minister to amend a clause under the Privacy Act that will make it possible for the RCMP to participate in the implementation of Clare’s Law in Saskatchewan.
“My hope is to be able to get as many signatures as we can so at least there's sort of a shot at having this change made,” Henderson said.
This matter is very close to her heart, because she lost a family member to domestic violence, and she feels Clare’s Law can save lives.
“Myself, like so many other families out there, have lost someone so special as a result of domestic violence and it just needs to stop,” she said. “If this is the one piece of legislation that really does have potential to disrupt that pattern, it just seems like we need to do everything that we can to try to give that legislation teeth and make it actually effective so that it really can make a difference.”
The Interpersonal Violence Disclosure Protocol (Clare’s Law) Act came into effect in Saskatchewan on June 29. The law provides a procedure that allows police to inform an individual at risk about the violent past or abusive behaviour of an intimate partner.
Saskatchewan is the first jurisdiction in Canada to implement Clare’s Law, which is named in honour of Clare Wood. She was murdered in 2009 by a former partner with a violent past that was known to local police. Her death resulted in the creation of the original Clare’s Law, which was implemented in England and Wales in 2014.
“I just feel the law has the potential to really save lives,” Henderson said. “I'm not an expert on domestic violence, but it feels like there's often a pattern with domestic abuse and offenders might go from one partner to the next, and this law in my opinion has the potential to disrupt that pattern by giving intimate partners the opportunity to learn about that violent history before they get too far along or too hooked into that relationship.”
Municipal police services in Saskatchewan are taking part in the implementation of the law, but the RCMP announced shortly before the law came into effect that it cannot participate. The Saskatchewan RCMP indicated its support for the law, but it is subject to federal privacy legislation.
The petition is requesting the federal justice minister to amend section 8(2) of the Privacy Act to allow the disclosure of personal information under the control of a federal institution to a third party for the purpose of protecting an individual from interpersonal and domestic violence.
Henderson said she never intended to petition the federal government and she only posted some remarks about the situation on Facebook after Clare’s Law came into effect in Saskatchewan.
“Jeremy Patzer reached out and asked if I wanted to work with him on a petition about this matter, because he also felt really strongly about it and felt it was really important,” she recalled. “So he really was the driving force behind the petition. … He just took the lead on that, which was pretty awesome.”
Saskatchewan has the highest rate of domestic violence among all provinces, and Patzer therefore felt it was essential to work on this issue.
“Domestic violence is a huge issue all across Canada but particularly in Saskatchewan,” he said. “There's a lot of people that have done a lot of great work on it, in particular the province decided to implement Clare's Law, but it's a federal law that prevents the RCMP from being able to use the program. So it just seemed like a no-brainer to me to be able to support doing whatever I could to advocate for the changes in the federal legislation.”
Partisanship is a regular part of the political deliberations in the House of Commons, but he anticipates all parties will be able to support this amendment to the Privacy Act.
“I don't think there'll be any resistance from the other political parties,” he said. “It's something that affects people all across this country. It doesn't matter where you're from, what province you live in. This is an issue that impacts Canadians. So anything that we can do to prevent the next case from happening is another tool in the toolbox to fight domestic violence.”
This proposed change to the Privacy Act will also be a potential benefit to other jurisdictions in Canada that are considering the implementation of a Clare’s Law.
“It's not just a Saskatchewan thing,” he said. “It's targeted at Saskatchewan, because the law exists in Saskatchewan, but this will have an impact on any other province that decided to go forward with a similar law.”
E-petition e-2767 is available on the House of Commons website and can be signed by Canadian citizens and residents. Public support for the petition will not only help to add pressure on the federal government to make the legal changes, but it will also allow Patzer to bring up the petition in the House of Commons.
An e-petition requires at least 500 signatures to be presented in the House of Commons. Patzer noted an e-petition can only be presented once, regardless of how many signatures it receives beyond the minimum required number.
However, the situation is different with paper petitions. It can be presented in the House of Commons for every 25 signatures received in support of the petition.
“I have paper petitions with me, there's some in my office to be signed,” he said. “Anika have a few with her to be signed as well. So we're trying to get people to sign paper petitions and then also work on getting the e-petition done as well. That way it provides more coverage for it, and it provides awareness across the country when you have an online petition as well, because quite frankly there are other provincial jurisdictions that are looking to implement similar laws to Clare's Law and this will be an issue to them as well. So if we can get the change done now, it will open the door for other provinces to have a similar program in place.”
Jo-Anne Dusel, the executive director of the Provincial Association of Transition Houses and Services of Saskatchewan (PATHS), was closely involved with the process to create Clare’s Law. She is a member of the review committee that was created under the terms of this law to consider requests for disclosure of information.
“If it is successful in allowing the RCMP to participate in Clare's Law, it will be very impactful,” she said about the petition.
The current situation has various implications for any request under Clare’s Law in Saskatchewan. The RCMP’s decision not to participate means a request for disclosure of information will have to be submitted with a municipal police force.
“They would still be able to access Clare's Law, but the difference is those municipal police forces might not have access to information that wasn't part of criminal convictions in the same way that a police force in a small community would be,” she explained. “So if there are police occurrence reports that never resulted in charges, that wouldn't necessarily show up.”
Clare’s Law allows disclosure of information through the right to ask, which happens when an application is made to a police service. The law also contains the right to know principle, which will happen when a police service makes a proactive decision to disclose information to protect a potential victim. Her concern is that the non-participation of the RCMP means this will also not happen.
The non-participation of the RCMP might have various other implications for the effectiveness of Clare’s Law. It can create a barrier for people in rural and remote areas, who might not be able to travel to a municipal police force to make an application.
“There is a provision to make the application by phone, but our fear is that people will just think that there are too many barriers and not proceed if they are not in an area served by municipal police,” she said.
Dusel’s past work experience includes 20 years as a frontline women’s shelter staff member and she believes Clare’s Law can be a preventative measure to avoid situations where an individual lives with an abusive partner.
“For many, many years the shelter movement has been there and it's been a necessary thing, but it's also after the fact,” she said. “It's reactive, not proactive, and the beauty of Clare's Law is it can actually prevent people from getting in that situation in the first place.”
Different agencies are represented on the Clare’s Law review committee, which carried out its first review a few weeks ago in August. She felt the different perspectives offered by the committee members will be of real benefit to police services.
“At the end of the review one of the police officers said it's really helpful to have people with the domestic violence advocacy experience, because we saw it in a different way and we were able to provide information that goes into the recommendation that the police officer would not have thought of,” she said.
She views Clare’s Law as an essential piece of the puzzle to reduce the high rates of domestic violence in Saskatchewan.
“It's not going to do the job all by itself,” she said. “We need to do other things in terms of changing people's attitudes towards violence, more public education, what are the risk factors. Various systems, not just police, but health care, mental health, schools, businesses, everybody needs to be working together to be able to identify and then know how to effectively respond when they see that intimate partner violence is taking place.”
She urged anyone who is experiencing violence or abuse to get help through the Saskatchewan 211 confidential referral and information system. Information about shelters and domestic violence services are also available on the PATHS website (www.pathssk.org).
E-petition e-2767 is open for signature until Nov. 5. The petition is available online for signing on the House of Commons website (https://petitions.ourcommons.ca/en/Petition/Sign/e-2767)
For information about signing a paper petition, contact Patzer’s constituency office in Swift Current at 306-778-4480 or call Henderson at 306-750-1101.