REGINA — The Saskatchewan government says it’s disappointed the RCMP has declined to participate in a new measure aimed at preventing people from becoming victims of domestic violence.
The province said legislation, dubbed Clare’s Law, will come into effect next week allowing police services to warn someone about a partner’s abusive past. Partners will be able to request this information from police and officers will also be permitted to share it with someone they deem to be at risk.
But the Saskatchewan Ministry of Justice said the RCMP, which handles policing in most of rural Saskatchewan, won’t be participating.
Justice Minister Don Morgan wrote a letter to the federal minister of public safety expressing his disappointment and asking Ottawa review the decision.
He said representatives from the RCMP have been involved in developing the legislation for a year and it wasn’t until last week government officials were informed of the national force’s position.
“We were caught off guard,” Morgan said on Monday. ”We don’t know what their issue is. But I wish they would have raised it a year ago.”
In a news release, the Saskatchewan RCMP said it continues to be supportive of the new law, but identified early on that there could be some problems for the force.
“Unlike municipal police services, the RCMP is subject to federal privacy legislation,” the RCMP said. “The RCMP is continuing to look into the matter, and considering how best it can support Clare’s Law objectives within its obligations under the federal Privacy Act.”
The legislation is modelled after Clare’s Law in the United Kingdom, which was developed after Clare Wood was murdered by a partner who police knew had a violent record.
Saskatchewan struggles with high rates of interpersonal violence. Alberta and Newfoundland and Labrador have also introduced similar legislation.
Jo-Anne Dusel, executive director of the Provincial Association of Transition Houses and Services of Saskatchewan, said the law is intended for people at the beginning of a relationship who see red flags or hear concerns about their new partner’s reputation.
Dusel, who worked on how Clare’s Law could be implemented in Saskatchewan, said the RCMP’s decision could create barriers for people living in rural areas.
Those living in rural communities already face higher rates of intimate partner violence and homicide, as well less access to shelters, she said.
“I understand that the RCMP is under a lot of pressure right now with other things that they are being questioned on including systematic racism, including their response to the Nova Scotia killer,” Dusel said.
“Turning down an opportunity to support individuals at-risk to share vital information that can be used for safety planning is the wrong decision.”
Without RCMP participation, Dusel said municipal police services could face pressure responding to rural requests.
Dusel’s association will be part of the committee that is to recommend to police whether a disclosure should be made, but police services will retain the ultimate authority around releasing any information.
She said the information could include someone’s prior violent convictions or past police reports when officers responded to a disturbance, but no charges were filed.
The at-risk individual would have to sign a confidentiality agreement to only use the information for their own safety, and the information will only be communicated verbally, said Dusel.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 22, 2020
Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press