author: elisabeth sahlmueller | contributor
Violence between intimate partners is a serious issue, one that happens around us much more often than we realize. While this is considered a worldwide problem, it also severely hurts people within our province. Unfortunately, Saskatchewan has the highest rate of domestic violence in all of Canada, as demonstrated by over 5,976 reported cases in 2015. This is roughly 666 cases per 100,000 people, an amount which is well over the national average of around 309 cases per 100,000.
Despite this horrible reality, there is a great chance that this number can be significantly decreased with the implementation of Clare’s Law. With this law, Saskatchewan police will be allowed to disclose personal and private information regarding an individual’s violent past to their partner, whose safety is potentially at risk.
This law was originally considered after a woman named Clare Woods was killed in Manchester, England, by George Appleton, her ex-boyfriend of fifteen months. Although George had a record of violence that the police were aware of, because of British legal conventions and privacy concerns they were unable to convey this information to Clare. Unfortunately, this lack of knowledge cost Clare her life.
As a result, both Clare’s father, Michael Brown, and brother, Adam
Brown-Wilkinson, urged the British government to eliminate restrictions that prevent the police from disclosing such information. Finally, in 2014, the U.K. government passed this proposed policy. Now, with “Clare’s Law,” police are able to provide information about an individual’s violent past if they are asked, and even when they are not, they may still do so if they are concerned about the individual’s health and safety.
Three and a half years after the first implementation of Clare’s Law, the Saskatchewan government is considering implementing it here. If passed, it will come into effect early next year, making Saskatchewan the first Canadian province to adopt this law.
I strongly believe that Clare’s Law should be passed because this would
prevent people from becoming too involved with someone who may put their
own life at risk. No one has the right to abuse their partner in any way, and any law, policy, or method that could stop this from happening is worth implementing.
Despite the benefits Clare’s Law will bring, there are still some concerns connected to this policy. First is the violation of individual privacy. Disclosing such personal information does go against people’s privacy rights. However, according to Saskatchewan privacy and information commissioner Ron Kruzeniski, it has to a “balancing act of people’s rights.” This means that when “there is a risk of physical or mental harm…there are exceptions to the rules when personal information can be provided.” If there is a concern that an individual may experience violence from their partner, that individual has a right to be informed. This awareness can prevent their own future hurt and may even save their life.
Saskatchewan Justice Minister Don Morgan also agrees that it is fair to waive privacy rights in this situation because it gives “a possible victim [a chance] to get out of the cycle of violence they are in.” Also, if someone is worried about privacy, then they must have something they wish to keep hidden, otherwise they would not have anything to worry about. Additionally, only relevant information regarding an individual’s previous violent acts will be disclosed, not just any type of criminal acts.
The second concern about Clare’s Law is the concept of available access. Once this information is released, it becomes harder to control where it goes and who ends up seeing it. In just a short amount of time, it can be spread to people everywhere. Not only would this be unfair for the person attached to the information, but it would also be a major abuse of the purpose of disclosing this
information in the first place. This information is supposed to prevent people from getting hurt, not to be used as blackmail or for any type of vengeful purpose; we need to make sure it is used properly. For this reason, it is important to decide upon the proper consequences for people who take and spread this information.
Thirdly, people should not necessarily take these past records of an individual and attribute them to the individual in the present. People do change and violent actions in the past do not mean they are still a violent person. However, it is just as likely that they have not changed, and it is good to be aware of these instances early on. Early awareness allows an individual to notice any warning signs when they occur and get out of the relationship before it
gets worse, rather than shrugging them off or making up an excuse to
justify their partner’s hurtful actions or behaviors.
Early recognition is always better, as Crystal Giesbrecht, the provincial associate of Transition Houses and Services (PATHS) believes. This is because violence starts once people have been together for a while, when it becomes
“really difficult to leave.”
Lastly in terms of concerns, there is a slight problem with who has access to this information. Although individuals at risk, their family members, medical professionals and shelter workers can apply to the police for information regarding someone‘s violent past, only the individual who is at risk is allowed to see it. I think this requirement should be modified so that the person who asks for the information should be allowed to see it as well. What happens if someone does not believe or accept that their partner may act violently toward them based on events of the past, and they don’t tell anyone else about the potential harm they may encounter? If other people are aware, they can provide additional help and support for the individual before a horrible or dangerous situation develops.
While Clare’s Law will help keep people within our province safer, it is extremely unfortunate that it took a woman’s death in the U.K. for such a policy to be implemented. Hopefully, the Saskatchewan government will quickly push Clare’s Law forward to prevent any others here from experiencing a similar tragedy.