November 5, 2018 4:09 pm
Updated: November 7, 2018 5:29 am

Sask. government introduces domestic violence police disclosure legislation

WATCH ABOVE: New legislation aims to give potential domestic violence victims the ability to ask police if their partner has a past history of domestic violence. David Baxter reports.

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The Saskatchewan government has been discussing a localized version of United Kingdoms “Clare’s Law” for almost a year, and now it’s coming into effect.

This is legislation that allows police to release information about someone’s violent or abusive past to intimate partners who may be at risk.

Justice Minister Don Morgan introduced The Interpersonal Violence Disclosure Protocol (Clare’s Law) Tuesday, making Saskatchewan the first Canadian jurisdiction to introduce such legislation.

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READ MORE: Opposition and government continue to debate best steps to help domestic violence victims

The bill will provide the framework for police services to disclose relevant information to people at risk of intimate partner violence., done through a “right to know” and “right to ask” process.

A release of information can be triggered by a potential domestic violence victim making a request, or if police are called to a disturbance linked to domestic abuse. A loved one can make a request on a potential victim’s behalf.

Irrelevant past charges, like shoplifting or driving while impaired, would not be disclosed.

“We have seen too many cases of interpersonal, domestic and sexual violence in our province,” Morgan said.

“If we are able to identify risk and inform those at risk, we hope to help protect people in Saskatchewan from violent and abusive behaviour by a partner.”

Justice critic Nicole Sarauer said she will be watching the disclosure rules closely.

“Research I was doing in how this legislation was working in England showed that some detachments were refusing to disclose at a rate much higher than other detachments,” Sarauer said.

“So it’s definitely an education piece that I think needs to be a part of the rollout of this legislation.”

The move is welcomed by Jo-Anne Dusel, executive director for the Provincial Association of Transition Houses and Services of Saskatchewan (PATHS).

She said it can be a valuable tool in helping prevent “trauma and tragedy” if someone, or their loved ones, are seeing signs of abuse in a new relationship.

However, this is not the main prevention or support measure PATHS wants to see to address domestic violence in Saskatchewan.

“I think public awareness campaigns, I think mandatory education on healthy relationships within the school system from K-12 would also be very helpful in preventing this sort of violence from occurring,” Dusel said.

“We haven’t made any decisions to make anything mandatory. Right now, we’re focusing on doing things at a counsellor level, or counselling level,” Morgan said in response.

Community stakeholders, like PATHS, will be meeting with provincial officials on Wednesday to further discuss violence prevention strategies.

Work will continue on this legislation over the coming months, including establishing the protocols for when and how police release information. This will be determined through further discussion with law enforcement and groups like PATHS.

Saskatchewan routinely has some of the highest rates of intimate partner violence in Canada, often topping annual statistics.

“Clare’s Law” was passed in the United Kingdom in 2009 and is named after Clare Wood. She was murdered by her partner and unaware of his violent past. Clare’s father was a key advocate in pushing for more police disclosure to protect domestic violence victims.

There is not concrete date on when this legislation is expected to be passed. Morgan hopes it can be passed before the Christmas break. Sarauer said she wants to review the legislation first before saying whether or not the NDP will help it pass quickly.

READ MORE: Saskatchewan explores new law that could warn victims of partners’ violent past

Warning signs of a potentially abusive relationship include a partner isolating someone from friends and family, extreme jealousy and a need to know where you are at all times.

“Another thing that often happens is they will say their previous partner was “crazy” or was “abusive”. So they’ll deflect the behaviour they actually had on to someone else,” Dusel said.

This is the latest step in legislation involving protecting victims of domestic violence. Other measures introduced include allowing people to break a lease penalty free if fleeing violence and unpaid days off work to deal with the fallout (court, counselling, police, etc).

The province says that $20 million has been set aside in the 2018-19 provincial budget for domestic violence support and prevention.

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