Jo-Anne Dusel & Crystal Giesbrecht, Provincial Association of Transition Houses and Services of Saskatchewan (PATHS)
The Interpersonal Violence Disclosure Protocol Act, better known as Clare’s Law, is provincial legislation that came into force in Saskatchewan on June 29, 2020. Saskatchewan is the first province in Canada to enact Clare’s Law, though other jurisdictions such as Alberta and Newfoundland are also in the process of developing similar legislation. The Act itself is accompanied by the Interpersonal Violence Disclosure (Clare’s Law) Regulations and the Interpersonal Violence Disclosure Protocol. The legislation is designed to facilitate the disclosure of risk information in order to prevent future victimization by legally authorizing police to disclose information to current or potential intimate partners for the purpose of informing and protecting individuals who are at risk.
The Protocol is based on the United Kingdom model but has been adapted to fit the needs of Saskatchewan. The Provincial Association of Transition Houses and Services of Saskatchewan (PATHS) worked on this protocol alongside the Saskatchewan Association of Chiefs of Police, the Ministry of Justice, and the Ministry of Corrections and Policing.
Clare’s Law was first established in the United Kingdom in 2014 and was named after Clare Wood, a woman who was murdered by a former partner. Police were aware that Clare’s former partner had a record of violence, but that information was never disclosed to Clare, despite her seeking help from police for stalking and harassment from the man who would later brutally murder her. Following her death, Clare’s father advocated for this legislation in the United Kingdom, firmly believing that if Clare had known about her partner’s history of violence towards women, she would have made different choices and would still be alive today.
Clare’s Law is meant to be proactive, and not reactive. It grants potential victim’s important information and provides them with an opportunity to make an informed choice—before violence happens. This legislation is not designed for individuals that are already in established relationships where abuse is occurring, as they already know they are at risk. Rather, it serves to interrupt the impact of serial domestic abusers by informing subsequent and/or potential partners of the risk posed by the individual they are becoming involved with. Domestic homicide reviews consistently show that a history of domestic violence and other related criminal activity are major risk factors for re-occurring violence. Therefore, Clare’s Law is an evidence-based approach used to reducing incidents of intimate partner violence and decreasing the risk of intimate partner homicide.
Clare’s Law consist of two pillars, the “right to know”, and, the “right to ask”. The “right to know” comes into play when police officers become aware that an individual is at risk and they initiate the disclosure. An example includes a situation where neighbours hear a dispute and call the police. If there is no evidence that a crime has taken place when the police arrive and the individuals involved choose not to make a statement, there may not be much the police can do. However, if police officers discover that one individual has a history of violence against a previous intimate partner or a history of sexualized violence, Clare’s Law can enable them to share information with the current partner and potentially prevent them from experiencing future violence and abuse.
The second pillar, the “right to ask” allows an individual who feels that they may be at risk to fill out a Clare’s Law application at a municipal police station. The officer or civilian police station member will request some information around the context of the request to ensure that it fits with the intent of Clare’s Law. For example, requests that are seeking information about a former partner or in an attempt to gain information for reasons other than safety may be denied. An initial check will be conducted to ensure that the individual filling out the application is not in immediate danger. If it is determined that the individual is in immediate danger, safeguarding actions will be taken by the police. If the initial discussion with the applicant reveals that a chargeable offense has recently taken place the police must pursue it, but this does not mean that the request for disclosure of past police involvement or convictions cannot move forward.
Professionals who work in specified occupations, such as shelter workers, domestic and family violence counsellors, police officers, lawyers, social workers, psychologists, and nurses may assist or complete an application on behalf of an applicant, with the consent of the applicant. Parents or guardians may also fill-out an application on behalf of an individual under the age of 18 or someone who does not have capacity to fill-out an application on their own. It is important to note that protocol also allows for individuals with a close personal knowledge of someone with a history of using violence in relationships to fill-out an application under Clare’s Law. In other words, former partners of abusers can initiate the process so that a new partner may receive disclosure information, warning them that they may be at risk.
The Clare’s Law protocol, as previously mentioned is a four-part process. The initial process consists of the initiation of the process, either by an individual applicant, or by a police service. Followed by the assessment of risk, which occurs through police record checks and gathering information from the applicant. The third process involves the Multi-Sector Review committee reviewing the available information and making a recommendation. The fourth process involves disclosure to the individual that is at risk.
The Multi-Sector Review committee is made up of representatives from community (PATHS), Victims Services, and law enforcement and have access to anonymized information, including: relevant criminal convictions; relevant criminal charges; diversions (charges dealt with by an alternative process, such as domestic violence court); police warnings; and other concerning behavior known to the police. The committee may receive the text of complainants’ statements in police records, if available, which can help to flag risk factors that are not criminal in nature such as coercive controlling behavior and mental health or substance abuse issues. Unfortunately, at times the amount of information available may be negatively impacted by the RCMP’s decision not to participate in Clare’s Law. The Multi-Sector Review committee reviews the information provided and collectively determines the level of risk, if a disclosure is recommended, and who should receive the disclosure. The final decision on whether to disclose rests with the police service that initially received the application, as the information legally belongs to the police.
Even cases where no risk information is found, the individual making the application will be told that this is no guarantee that they are not at risk and they will be provided with referrals for risk assessment and safety planning. If there is an imminent risk of harm, the process can quickly accelerate, directly from initiation or assessment of risk to disclosure. Protocols are in place to ensure the safety of the applicants including ensuring that a safe contact number is obtained and that the disclosure meeting is held at a location that is deemed safe by the applicant.
The disclosure information will include the Multi-Sector Review committee’s determination of level of risk: high, medium or low. While no personal information or specifics from the police file will be disclosed, relevant criminal convictions and pending charges are public record and will likely be shared. Additional relevant information may include whether the individual has access to weapons, as well as a listing of risk factors that may not be criminal but demonstrate increased risk and information about support services. Efforts will be made to have violence against women advocates or victim services present to provide safety planning and risk assessment after the disclosure. At a minimum, referral information will be provided.
Individuals who receive a disclosure under Clare’s Law must sign a confidentiality agreement in which they agree that they commit to only using the information provided within their circle of care to keep themselves and others, including children, safe; to ask what support is available and who to contact if they believe they or others are at risk; and to ask for advice on how to keep themselves and others safe. The disclosure is verbal, nothing concerning the disclosure is given in print.
As mentioned, the RCMP has, so far, declined to participate in Clare’s Law despite provinces such as Alberta and Newfoundland moving forward with similar legislation. A Saskatchewan resident, Anika Henderson, who lost a family member to intimate partner homicide, has initiated a petition, Petition e-2767, to the Federal Minister of Justice, which calls upon the Federal Government to amend the current Federal Privacy Act to allow for an exemption to the Act, for the purposes of sharing information in the interests of protecting individuals from risk related to intimate partner violence. The petition is open until November 5th. As a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Protocol was amended to allow municipal police to take applications over the phone as opposed to requiring in-person requests. This has the advantage of also allowing individuals who live in rural and remote areas served by the RCMP to access Clare’s Law by contacting the municipal police by phone.
Only a small number of applications have been submitted and reviewed to date, but in each of these cases the Multi-Sector Review committee had made a recommendation to disclose. As the cases are being reviewed, it has become even more clear that Clare’s Law has the ability to proactively protect individuals from risk of harm or death from serial perpetrators of violence.
Shaylyn White, RESOLVE Saskatchewan
Researchers in the area of interpersonal and family violence typically hope that their work will have a positive impact, yet the change that research can bring about isn’t always beneficial. There’s a legacy in North America of research being used to regulate and categorize, deeming certain knowledge as legitimate and other knowledge as in need of fixing or replacing. Consequently, there’s a legacy in North America of research serving as a tool of colonialism. For an organization such as RESOLVE that aspires to the discovery of solutions to violence and abuse, it is critical that this legacy be challenged, and spaces be retrieved in which Indigenous voices can thrive in the fields of research.
This summer RESOLVE SK embarked on the beginnings of a process to work towards the realignment of existing practices and protocols to further RESOLVE’s commitment to building stronger relationships with Saskatchewan’s Indigenous communities. The project involved holding a series of consultations with Indigenous Elders and community members throughout the province with the intention of hearing a variety of perspectives on building better relationships and meanings of reconciliation.
Although RESOLVE SK purposefully sought a range of voices, there was a consistent message across these consultations, which was a need for commitment. More than any grand demonstration of goodwill, what appeared to be desired was a demonstration of investment. In other words, for researchers to approach communities first and foremost as individuals and to cultivate ongoing reciprocal relationships in lieu of temporary partnerships that are discarded once the work is done. This would require a major shift away from western notions of professionalism, raising the question of how researchers might ethically go about obtaining the information and data required. Possible directions will be discussed with the RESOLVE SK Steering Committee in a future meeting.
RESOLVE SK staff, students, Steering Committee members and partners continue to work together to address issues related to interpersonal violence and abuse in Saskatchewan.
RESOLVE SK is also pleased to provide some background information on Clare’s Law that came into force in Saskatchewan on June 29, 2020 with thanks to the efforts of PATHS; to provide a summary of the work RESOLVE SK Research Assistant Shaylyn White has done to help build stronger relationships with Saskatchewan’s Indigenous communities; and to invite individuals in getting involved with STOPS to Violence.
RESOLVE SK has been active in other ways as well. Research Assistant Morgana Machea has continued the work of engaging community partners and researchers in the work of RESOLVE SK. On behalf of RESOLVE SK, Dr. Karen Wood participated in an engagement session titled Feasibility Study for Research on Gender-Based Violence (GBV) among First Nations through Women and Gender Equality Canada (WAGE). Dr. Karen Wood had also presented during a webinar with the assistance of Jo-Anne Dusel (PATHS) for the Division of Social Accountability in the College of Medicine, University of Saskatchewan titled, COVID-19, gender-based violence and health equity: Responding to the needs of individuals experiencing intimate partner violence in the context of a pandemic.
RESOLVE SK continues to collaborate with RESOLVE SK Steering Committee member, Dr. Carrie Bourassa and her team at Morningstar Lodge to support the development of information sheets around IPV/Family violence, COVID-19 & safety.
This summer RESOLVE SK accepted a contract to perform an Environmental Scan of “Equality-Seeking” organizations in Saskatchewan for WAGE. RESOLVE SK is fortunate to have engaged Dr. Meridith Burles and Shaylyn to do the research for this very important work; and the Prairieaction Foundation tri-provincial research projects Examining the Nature & Context of IPV in the 2SLGBTQ Community and Responding to Women Who Experience IPV in Rural Municipalities Across the Prairies are in the final ethics review. RESOLVE SK is fortunate to have OUTSaskatoon and PATHS as community partners in these projects.
Saskatchewan Towards Offering Partnership Solutions (STOPS) to Violence, is an invaluable member of the RESOLVE Saskatchewan Steering Committee, and RESOLVE Saskatchewan is privileged to be a member of the STOPS to Violence Network. The STOPS to Violence network is a provincial network that aims at building on partnerships, educating the community and sharing information to promote healthy relationships and build strong, peaceful communities where all people can feel safe, valued and empowered. The STOPS to Violence network is made up of a broad range of community partners including government, policing, business, sport and culture from across the province of Saskatchewan. If interested in becoming involved through community partnerships or to take part in the most recent initiative to strengthen natural supports for survivors of violence and their families, contact STOPS to Violence through email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
STOPS to Violence will be hosting this year’s Saskatchewan Violence Prevention Week (SVPW) during the week of November 30th-December 6th, 2020. Through the Saskatchewan Violence Prevention Week, STOPS to Violence will strive to raise awareness of domestic violence in the province of Saskatchewan as domestic violence is a highly prevalent issue affecting many individuals. Visit the STOPs to Violence webpage to learn more or become involved and help reduce the rates of domestic violence in the province of Saskatchewan.
RESOLVE SK is delighted to welcome Sheri Watkins, Saskatoon Police Service Victim Services Coordinator to the RESOLVE SK Steering Committee. RESOLVE SK sends out a hearty thank-you and farewell to Marilyn Andrews, a long-serving Steering Committee member. Marilyn Andrews had recently retired from the University of Regina and yet had generously agreed to continue with RESOLVE SK through to this year to support the transition into the new office. On behalf of everyone at the RESOLVE Network, thank you Marilyn for your years of dedication to this line of work!