Clare’s Law and domestic violence

You come home, pour yourself a drink, beat your partner and kids, make supper, watch TV… Right? Wrong!

Domestic violence has been one of humanity’s diseases through its history. And as sad as it is, by the 21st century we still haven’t found a cure or a way to protect those at risk. Envision and other organizations have done a lot to help for the victims of domestic abuse in Saskatchewan that struggles with one of the highest rates of domestic assault in Canada. Now there is more work and money going towards education aimed at preventing the issue. But the problem is still there.

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However, it seems like Sask. government is making another attempt to improve the situation.

Clare’s Law, officially known as the Domestic Violence Disclosure Protocol, started in 2014 in the United Kingdom. Then, a woman named Clare Woods was murdered by her boyfriend who had a record of violence, which the police was aware of but didn’t disclose to Woods.

Five years later, this act is making its way into Canada. And Saskatchewan, where the law has recently received a third reading in the legislature, might become the first province to adopt and implement it.

Clare’s Law may become a reality after the disclosure protocol and regulations will be established. And when or if it comes in place, it will allow the police to disclose the data about one’s record of abuse to an applicant who thinks they might be at risk from the partner or to those who police believe might be at risk. 

The idea behind the law is great. We all, men, women, people of any gender, have a right to know if we are to start dating a maniac or a psycho with a record of violence in the past (especially if there are warning signs, but we are not sure how to read them).

When I just started dating my farmer, together we watched a documentary on Robert Pickton (that serial killer from B.C. with a pig farm). After the movie, he made a joke about how you never know what kind of person is next to you and mentioned their pigs at the farm. We were out of town, with no neighbours anywhere close. I tried to keep calm, but that comment actually made me sweat. And it took some time when I was somewhat alert about the person before I could get rid of the aftertaste of that joke and become confident that he was trustworthy. Was the law in place, I probably would go and check before proceeding with the relationship. Or wouldn’t I?

Statistics show that in the U.K. since 2014 the law was hardly used and half of the times the police didn’t disclose the information. A lot of it has to do with the low awareness about it in general; the other problem is the level of trust between citizens and law enforcement.

Besides, people don’t report domestic abuse every time. Unfortunately, these numbers are still quite low, which in the case of Clare’s Law may create a false sense of security, if the record check comes clean only because the victim of that person's abuse never said anything.  

However, I feel that in the time of online dating (and Clare Wood actually met her future murderer on a social network), when people can develop any kind of image and biography while chatting on the web and physically being on the opposite side of the country, this law can actually prevent a lot of ugly situations and just save time in some cases.

Some believe that when implemented in Canada Clare’s Law may help to protect possible victims. Others are skeptical saying it lacks potential to drive the rate of domestic violence down, but are worried about the role the police will play in this case.

A lot will depend on each particular officer, handing the information to the applicant, on their personal judgments and ability to assess the level of risk in every particular situation, on their training and on their presence at all when the applicant receives the results of the criminal check.

There is another controversy with Clare’s Law. When talking about domestic violence we traditionally imagine women and kids struggling because of abusive men, however by no means it’s always the case. Men find themselves in abusive relations as well, but the stigma around masculinity prevents many of them from reaching out for help. And this law, named after a female victim of abuse, may leave a lot of men out.

At large, there are still a lot of details that need to be clarified and more work needs to be done to adjust and implement the law to make it work for us. Awareness about it should be raised. But the bottom line, this law is needed at least to start a usually uncomfortable but always needed conversation about the past. A criminal record doesn’t have to destroy relationships, but it should be addressed before it’s too late.

So hopefully, the Clare’s Law (or a renamed version of it) will soon come into play in Saskatchewan, and other provinces will follow as well.

© Copyright Estevan Mercury

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