Alberta introduces legislation allowing access to partner’s criminal records

EDMONTON — Alberta is introducing legislation first developed in Britain that allows people in abusive relationships to request information about a partner’s criminal record.

Premier Jason Kenney said Wednesday that the bill, modelled after Clare’s Law in the United Kingdom, could save lives if it is passed.

“There is still a crisis of domestic violence against women in Alberta,” Kenney said. “Our province’s domestic violence rate is the third highest in Canada.”

Figures from Alberta’s Family Violence Death Review Committee show there were more than 160 deaths between 2008 and 2017 in the province due to domestic violence. The committee was established in 2013 by the Alberta government to analyze cases where family violence results in death and identify trends and risk factors.

Clare’s Law started in the U.K. in 2014 after a woman named Clare Wood was murdered by a partner who police knew had a violent record. That information was not disclosed to Wood.

After Wood’s death, her father advocated for more disclosure from police.

Saskatchewan, which struggles with high rates of domestic violence, was the first province in Canada to adopt the law in the spring.

“This is a barrier in the law that should not exist,” Kenney said.

“The right to ask and the right to know are important preventative measures that will help to keep vulnerable Albertans safer.”

Raja Sawhney, minister of community and social services, said the province will continue to consult with police and other jurisdictions that have the law.

“We received valuable input and diverse perspectives from the experts and stakeholders in the field of domestic violence, which will inform the bill’s regulations,” she said.

The government is planning to implement the legislation by the spring, Sawhney added.

Critics of Clare’s Law have cast doubt on its potential to reduce overall domestic violence rates, saying victims often face barriers such as finding housing and what to do if they have children.

Marie Renaud, the NDP community and social services critic, said Wednesday the legislation is a positive step, but the government should also focus on programs to keep people safe.

“We have to wait and see how the government rolls this out,” Renaud said. “But are they going to back this up with also funding essential services on the ground in community?”

Kenney said his United Conservative government has committed to providing rape kits to hospitals and police stations across the province and establishing a single 24-hour helpline for women who have been victims of sexual violence.

“We will be maintaining the recent, significant increase in funding for women’s shelters,” he said.

“The criminal law authority belongs at the federal Parliament and I would strongly support it if the federal Parliament were to pass more stringent mandatory minimum penal sentences for people convicted of serious domestic assault.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on Oct. 16, 2019.

Daniela Germano, The Canadian Press

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