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Sask RCMP to disclose info to potential domestic violence victims under ‘Clare’s Law’

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WATCH: The Saskatchewan RCMP has one more tool in the fight against domestic violence. They are now able to use Clare's Law after initially being concerned about violating federal privacy rules – Apr 1, 2021

The Saskatchewan RCMP has signed on to Clare’s Law after previously saying its participation could risk violating federal privacy rules.

The Interpersonal Violence Disclosure Protocol Act, also known as Clare’s Law, allows police forces in the province to disclose information that could protect potential victims of interpersonal violence.

Read more: Clare’s Law in Saskatchewan used handful of times; RCMP review their role

The law works as a “right to ask, right to know” system, with the goal of protecting anyone who believes an intimate partner may harm them.

Const. Joelle Nieman, Saskatchewan RCMP’s violence relationship co-ordinator, said changes were needed at the federal level to allow the force to participate fully.

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“Once that was identified, we went ahead and accelerated the process to go ahead in getting that regulation amended, so that we here in Saskatchewan can participate,” Neimen told Global News.

“We are 100 per cent committed to safeguarding our communities, and this is just another tool that we are able to participate in to make Saskatchewan safer.”

8 applications so far

Applications to Clare’s Law are considered by a committee consisting of police services, victim services and the Provincial Association of Transition Houses and Services of Saskatchewan (PATHS).

PATHS executive director Jo-Anne Dusel said prior to Mountie participation, people could only apply to Clare’s Law through their nearest municipal police force. As a result, she said the review committee had limited information on cases that fell under RCMP jurisdiction.

Now, the committee can access victim statements, witness reports and other documents that could identify risk factors such as substance abuse, mental health concerns and financial woes, Dusel said.

Read more: Clare’s Law to come into effect in Saskatchewan on June 29

“The RCMP will be free to share that sort of information that goes along with the other information that’s already public record, such as convictions and any pending charges,” she said in an interview on Wednesday.

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Since the legislation came into effect last June, Dusel said the committee has received eight applications.

The pandemic could be to blame for the slow uptake, she said, as fewer people may be getting into new relationships. Dusel also said limited awareness of the law could be a factor.

A win for rural Saskatchewan

People who live in rural and remote areas experience higher rates of domestic violence and intimate-partner homicide, Dusel said.

“Making it more difficult for them to access Clare’s Law was adding an additional burden for people in those areas,” she said.

Louise Schweitzer, executive director of North East Outreach and Support Services in Melfort, Sask., said isolation in rural communities is an additional danger for people in abusive relationships.

“An offender will continue to increase the forms of violence to continue to gain power and control over an individual,” Schweitzer said.

“(Clare’s Law) gives them the opportunity to… remove themselves from a situation before it gets to the full-blown violence.”

The Saskatchewan RCMP said applications under the legislation can be made by anyone who feels they’re at risk of harm from a current or former partner. Third-party individuals with a close personal relationship with someone at risk can apply on their behalf.

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RCMP can also proactively inform people they believe are at risk of victimization.

Clare’s Law started in the United Kingdom in 2014 after a woman named Clare Wood was murdered by a partner, who police knew had a violent record. The information was not disclosed to Wood.

Saskatchewan has high rates of domestic violence. RCMP has tracked reports of intimate-partner violence in its jurisdictions.

From January to September 2019, there were 3,259 reports, according to data previously shared with Global News. From January to September 2020, there were 3,638 — a 12 per cent increase.

Read more: Saskatchewan shelters slash space as domestic violence rises during pandemic

Saskatchewan’s justice minister welcomed Wednesday’s news.

“The RCMP’s participation in Clare’s Law is a significant step forward in our efforts to prevent interpersonal violence,” Gordon Wyant said.

“This change will ensure that everyone in Saskatchewan can take advantage of this legislation and the protection it offers right in their home community.”

Saskatchewan was the first province to implement Clare’s Law. The legislation comes into effect Thursday in Alberta. Newfoundland and Labrador has also introduced Clare’s Law legislation.

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If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, visit PATHS’ website for a full list of support agencies in Saskatchewan.

— with files from Jonathan Guignard and The Canadian Press

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