RCMP opt out as Saskatchewan becomes first province to enact Clare’s Law

On Monday, Saskatchewan became the first jurisdiction in Canada to enact the Interpersonal Violence Disclosure Act (Clare’s Law). Clare’s Law allows police to disclose information that could help protect potential victims of interpersonal violence.

This will allow Saskatchewan residents to apply to their local municipal police station for the release of information on an intimate partner’s past violent or abusive behaviour.

The information can be disclosed to applicants who believe they may be at risk from an intimate partner (“right to ask”), and to persons identified by police to be at risk (“right to know”).

“The Government of Saskatchewan is committed to addressing issues of domestic and interpersonal violence,” Justice Minister and Attorney General Don Morgan said. “We hope that by implementing Clare’s Law, we can inform those at risk and help protect them from potential violence and abuse.”

In a Statistics Canada profile from 2018 of family violence in Canada, Saskatchewan had the highest rate of intimate-partner violence among provinces, with 655 victims per 100,000 people (5,919 victims from 2017 to 2018).

There will be an application process to follow before municipal police services release information on past violent behaviour to a potential victim and the government will train those involved to ensure all regulations are followed.

The Government of Saskatchewan consulted with municipal police services and the Provincial Association of Transition Houses to provide the necessary training for police to process Clare’s Law applications in accordance with legislation. All information released to applicants is subject to a review process to ensure the disclosure of information doesn’t violate privacy legislation, the Ministry of Justice said in a press release.

All municipal police services will be participating in the new protocol, but the RCMP has said they will not participate.

“We have been involved with the planning for Clare’s Law from the very beginning,” the RCMP said in a statement. “We have been, and continue to be, supportive of this initiative. Early on in the discussions and planning for the implementation of Clare’s Law, we identified to our partners that there may be some challenges with our participation because unlike municipal police services, the RCMP is subject to federal privacy legislation. The RCMP is continuing to look into the matter, and considering how best it can support Clare’s Law objectives within its obligation under the federal Privacy Act.”

Legislation was introduced in 2018 and unanimously passed in the Legislative Assembly of Saskatchewan in 2019 and Morgan has said he hopes the RCMP and federal government will work with the province on this issue.

“We are extremely disappointed to have been informally advised this week that the RCMP in Saskatchewan has now indicated its refusal to participate in an important new interpersonal violence protection program,” Morgan said in a letter to federal Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair. “As you know, Clare’s Law is legislation passed in the province of Saskatchewan to protect primarily women from interpersonal violence by authorizing the disclosure of limited risk information to individuals regarding their intimate partners.”

One of the main concerns with the RCMP opting out of participation in Clare’s Law is it will put rural communities without municipal police services in a difficult situation. Communities that don’t have municipal police services will have to request the information from the closest municipal police force who will then need to acquire the information from the RCMP.

Morgan says he has not yet spoken with the RCMP to hash out their issues with Clare’s Law, but will be speaking with them and hopes to resolve the problem.

“I don’t know whether they’re concerned about liability issues or privacy issues,” he said. “We went through the sort of yearlong process of working with municipal police forces and the RCMP and everybody participated to try and develop what we thought was a very good protocol to try and protect privacy and be able to have a meaningful release of information. It came as a bit of a surprise to us to hear (of the RCMP opting out) and I’m hoping that with discussions with Minister Blair and (federal Justice Minister and Attorney General David) Lametti, we’re able to resolve those issues.

“As we were going through the process, we had the justice officials say to the RCMP that if anybody’s got problems, let us know and we’ll work through the legal side of it. That offer stands.”

Clare’s Law is named for Clare Wood, who was murdered in England by her boyfriend, George Appleton, in 2009. Appleton had previously spent six years in prison for holding a woman at knifepoint. Wood’s father, Michael Brown, campaigned to have Clare’s Law enacted to help prevent domestic violence. It was enacted across England and Wales in 2014.

“If you look at Clare’s situation, she had no idea there was an issue there,” Morgan said. “Her dad had a sense that there was a problem with the individual. The protocol as it’s developed identifies if there’s a person that could be at risk and it’s not intended to be going out and saying, ‘You shouldn’t go out with this person because of A, B and C in that persons past.’ What it says is, ‘There’s a risk and there’s an issue you should be aware of’ and leaves it open-ended as to whether the person wants to, but the reason for that is to specifically avoid the issues of privacy and liability.”

Morgan is hopeful the rift between the provincial government and the RCMP on this issue won’t cause long-term problems and still thinks they can resolve the problem.

“We worry about it,” Morgan said. “We’ve had, over the years, a good relationship with the RCMP and they’re based in Regina, training depot is here, and F Division headquarters is here. We’ve enjoyed a good working relationship with them on a variety of other issues. We’re hoping that we’re able to restore this and get this back.

“I would hate to think that this kind of an issue would give pause to that. I’m hoping this is something we’re able to work through or that if the federal government were willing to meet with our officials and discuss whatever the issues are, we would work that out. Right now, we have a good relationship with the RCMP.

“They do a good job on national policing issues, and in our province, we have a blend here. We’ve got municipal police forces that deal with bylaws and municipal priorities, our conservation officers and highway traffic board officers deal with a lot of other things and we do a lot of partnerships with the RCMP. As we go forward, those are discussions we might want to have, how best to maximize our working relationship, what we do in the future, how we apportion duties and responsibilities, but it’s something that we don’t have under active consideration at this time.”

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If the RCMP continue to be unwilling to participate in Clare’s Law, Morgan says, they will have to work on alternate ways to help communities without municipal police forces.

“I would be deeply troubled, and I said last week, I would be more than disappointed” he said. “I think I would arrange for a meeting with one of the two federal ministers that are involved with the hope that we would be able to persuade them otherwise or allay their concerns. Failing that, we would have to look at saying to people in Saskatchewan that aren’t under the jurisdiction of a municipal police force, can we do something for those people? We would make services available through municipal police forces or look at other options.”

Morgan was surprised the RCMP opted out and never raised concerns during the process of working with the provincial government.

“I wish they would have raised (their issue) a year ago when we started to engage with the RCMP,” he said. “We’ve had ongoing discussions and it’s been fruitful. We’ve worked with them on protocols and we were caught off guard that they went ahead with this a week ago and said, ‘no, we’re not participating’ after a yearlong process where you develop the protocols.

Although Morgan says he hopes either the RCMP will reconsider or the federal government will step in.

“They made it appear that it was closing the door,” he said. “I want to work with both the two federal ministers. We worked well with them as we went through COVID-19 issues, and a number of other issues. This is something I think we can certainly agree the issue of interpersonal violence is important to all Canadians and every time there’s a tool — whether it’s developed at the provincial or national level — all of us should want to use those things and look carefully and see whether we can benefit.”

Cathay Wagantall, MP for Yorkton-Melville, is glad Saskatchewan is taking steps to address the issue of domestic violence.

“We all know Saskatchewan has a high rate of domestic violence,” Wagantall said. “So I’m pleased that the provincial government is looking at various ways, including Clare’s Law, to deal with that issue.”

Wagantall says she’s optimistic the federal government will be able to work with the provincial government on finding a way for the RCMP to participate in Clare’s Law.

“As far as the RCMPs involvement, they have concerns around the privacy issue, the minister in Saskatchewan has said they’ve dealt with that,” she said. “They’ve also mentioned they’ve been researching it further.

“I appreciate all of our police forces and the work they do. I do hope there are ways Minister Blair can take a look at this and see how they could participate without any issues around the fact that they’re a federal entity and the privacy laws impact them differently. I look forward to seeing further discussion and the possibility of working that through.”

With Saskatchewan being the first jurisdiction in Canada to enact Clare’s Law, Wagantall thinks it’s impact could lead to other provinces taking steps toward implementing it.

“I’d assume (other provinces will) be watching for sure, to see if it makes an impact in making relationships safer,” she said. “I really think it’s important that people are aware of circumstances in a relationship and this can be so challenging in extreme circumstances. I hope it will make a difference.

“This is clearly something the provincial government has looked at and see as a way of improving outcomes for individuals. I’m aware of relationships where violence has been a part of relationships and it’s such a disturbing dynamic and I’d be pleased to see this be very successful.”