Victims or potential victims of domestic violence in Alberta can start asking for information about a partner’s history and risk of violence beginning April 1.
The Disclosure to Protect Against Domestic Violence Act, also known as Clare’s Law, passed in the legislative assembly in 2019 and will now allow Albertans to apply to find out if their partner has a violent or abusive past and get a risk assessment done without them knowing.
The law also allows the police to proactively provide relevant information to someone if they have reason to suspect domestic violence is likely to occur.
The law defines domestic violence as the actual or threatened use of force in an intimate partner relationship such as: physical, sexual, emotional, or psychological abuse, criminal harassment, threats to harm children, other family members or pets, property damage or exerting control over movements, communications or finances.
Under Clare’s Law, anyone can apply for free for information regarding their current or former intimate partner’s potential risk for domestic violence so long as they have met in person and have reason to be afraid or concerned. A person can also apply on behalf of someone else if they have their consent or are that person’s legal guardian.
If an application is approved, police will run background checks followed by a comprehensive risk assessment conducted by trained government employees.
The assessment would not only look at someone’s criminal history but also other context such as whether they have a pattern of ignoring court orders.
Depending on the level of risk found, the applicant will be informed either over the phone or in person.
Police can also instigate a risk assessment under Clare’s Law if they think violence is reasonably likely to occur in a relationship. Officers can then share the assessment with potential victims.
Applicants will have to sign confidentiality agreements and the information provided in the assessments will not be disclosed if it is for the purpose of legal proceedings such as child custody hearings or divorce or for any other reason other than for the applicant’s own safety.
Alberta’s law comes after similar legislation enacted in Saskatchewan and New Brunswick over the last two years.
From 2008 to 2019, there were 204 deaths in Alberta due to domestic and family violence, according to the Family Violence Death Review Committee.
Domestic assault calls skyrocketed in Edmonton in 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic took hold, increasing by 15 per cent compared to 2019. There were four domestic homicides last year, whereas there were two in 2019; the number of sexual assaults in 2020 increased by 32 per cent.
Clare’s Law applications will be available online at www.alberta.ca/clares-law starting Thursday.
Alberta’s Family Violence Info Line is available 24-7 toll-free and in more than 170 languages, at 310-1818.
– With files from Dylan Short
More to come