A reason for joy

The federal government’s announcement that the RCMP can now participate in Clare’s Law in Saskatchewan and Alberta came as welcoming news to two Swift Current residents.

Cypress Hills-Grasslands Member of Parliament Jeremy Patzer sponsored a petition last summer by Swift Current resident Anika Henderson that called on the federal justice minister to amend a clause under the Privacy Act to make it possible for the RCMP to participate in the implementation of Clare’s Law in Saskatchewan.

The federal government announced on March 31 that amendments were made to the RCMP Regulations, 2014 to allow the full participation of the national police service in Clare’s Law legislation across Canada while at the same time respecting the RCMP’s obligations under the federal Privacy Act.

“It's a great announcement,” Patzer said. “It's great to hear that they're able to make the changes necessarily internally for them to be able to fully use Clare's Law. It's great to see that they took this matter seriously. … They obviously realize and know how serious domestic violence is and as a result of the pandemic as well. We've seen calls double to crisis lines over the past year. So it's really important to know that the timing couldn't have been any better for them to be able to do this.”

The Interpersonal Violence Disclosure Protocol (Clare’s Law) Act came into effect in Saskatchewan on June 29, 2020. 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 was the first jurisdiction in Canada to implement Clare’s Law. The Government of Alberta created similar legislation, and Clare’s Law came into effect in Alberta on April 1, 2021.

Clare’s Law 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.

The federal government’s announcement of the RCMP’s participation in Clare’s Law came as a pleasant surprise to Henderson.

“I really wasn't aware that any decisions like that would be happening so immediately,” she said. “What I was aware of is that there were lots of conversations happening behind the scenes and working groups at different government levels, but it came as a real surprise to me. So the initial reaction was surprise and then obviously really, really happy to hear that the RCMP were finally able to participate in Clare's Law.”

Clare’s Law and this announcement about the RCMP’s participation is significant to her on a personal level.

“I lost a really close family member who died as a result of interpersonal domestic violence,” she said. “This legislation that's been enacted last year in June 2020 finally will have the teeth that will allow it to become effective and will allow it to be accessible to everyone in the province. … I really can see that this has the potential to make a big difference for people if it becomes normalized and used as a tool.”

Patzer also felt the participation of the RCMP will ensure Clare’s Law can be used more effectively in Saskatchewan, because it will allow the sharing of information between police forces.

“That was one of the main concerns,” he said. “Those forces in Regina and Saskatoon weren't able to access information from somebody who wasn't in their local database. So this should hopefully help address that concern as well.”

Henderson’s petition to the House of Commons called 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.

The electronic version of the petition received a total of 680 signatures from Canadians across the country, including 449 signatures from Saskatchewan. This exceeded the requirement of at least 500 signatures to be presented in the House of Commons.

Patzer presented the petition to the House of Commons on Nov. 17, 2020 and the federal government’s response was tabled on Jan. 25, 2021. The response by Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada David Lametti indicated the government’s commitment to preventing and stopping all forms of violence in Canada, including domestic violence. It also stated the government’s commitment to review the federal Privacy Act to ensure that it keeps pace with the effects of technological change and evolving Canadian values.

According to Patzer there was a positive response to his presentation of the petition in the House of Commons.

“I was actually able to talk to Minister Lametti,” Patzer noted. “We had a really good conversation with him about it and also some of my colleagues. I've got members from the Status of Women Committee who have reached out and talked to me about it, members of the Justice Committee who have reached out and talked to me about it. So there's definitely a lot more awareness to the issue and the more parliamentarians obviously are aware of it the better.”

He thanked Henderson for her advocacy on this issue and for bringing it to his attention, which resulted in the creation of the petition to the House of Commons.

“I'm doing everything I can to continue to raise awareness on this issue, and I feel like I'm just continuing the work that Anika Henderson has done locally here in Swift Current,” Patzer said. “She was the one who wanted the petition and I was able to sponsor it. So it was great to be able to work with her on this.”

Henderson started to have conversations on social media about Clare’s Law after it was enacted in Saskatchewan, and as a result Patzer reached out to her.

“So with the help and support of Jeremy we put together a petition and then just did what we could to try to promote it and try to get a little bit of traction with the petition,” she recalled.

She appreciated everyone who supported the electronic and paper petitions, which made it possible for Patzer to present it in the House of Commons.

“We did work hard and I'm super grateful for the people in our community and my friends and family,” Henderson said. “Everyone really jumped on board and shared the heck out of those Facebook posts. I’m sure I probably annoyed everyone with them at some point, but really people got behind it and were super supportive.”

She felt her own role was only a small contribution, and many other organizations and people were working on this issue before she became involved. She is not even sure what impact the petition had on the process that resulted in the changes to allow the RCMP’s participation in Clare’s Law, but she is just happy with the outcome.

“I have no idea if it helped or didn't do anything at all, but if we were able to play even the smallest of roles in that, it's amazing and it's really, really exciting, regardless of how it came about,” she said. “The outcome is just incredible for me.”

The felt the petition had a broader benefit to help raise awareness about Clare’s Law and the issue of domestic violence.

“Even if the petition had nothing to do with this change, I think the cool part is what maybe it did is that it just gave us the opportunity to be talking about this,” she said. “People that signed the petition or read the Facebook post or the articles that were published maybe had the opportunity to learn about this. I think it's that education piece that is going to make Clare's Law effective, because it's only effective if people use it and it's only going to be used if people know about it.”

Patzer felt this announcement about the RCMP’s involvement with Clare’s Law in Saskatchewan and Alberta is an important step, but more work still needs to be done to get similar legislation in place in other jurisdictions.

“So we're going to continue to work to make sure that people feel safe and that we can protect women and we can protect people from domestic abuse, because it's not acceptable and we need to do everything that we can to continue to combat it,” he said.

He also believes there is still a need for the federal government to consider changes to the Privacy Act to support the use of Clare’s Law in accordance with that act. He already presented three paper versions of Henderson’s petition in the House of Commons, for which the requirement is only 25 signatures per petition, and he is also considering tabling the outstanding ones.

“I've got others that I could still table, because the petition that we were presenting was to have a change to the federal Privacy Act,” he explained. “The announcement today is the RCMP have made the necessary changes with their own regulations to put it in compliance with this. So there is still room at the federal side just to make sure the Privacy Act includes language that will incorporate this as well.”

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