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During the third reading of Bill 17 Disclosure to Protect Against Domestic Violence (Claire’s Law) Act, the honourable Rajan Sawhney, Minister of Community and Social Services, shared a personal story of a friend who experienced domestic violence.
Sawhney stated that domestic violence is not usually reported to the police and that “the prevalence of this issue is way more common than we think it is.”
She said that this law is relevant because “when you have this information, people can make informed decisions about their relationships as to whether they could be harmful to them.”
Premier Jason Kenney also spoke of a recent example in Alberta where Claire’s Law may have been effective in preventing domestic abuse. In this example, the woman was brutally beaten by a boyfriend who had a history of violence.
However, it’s far from enough. Jonathan Denis, Alberta’s former Attorney General, said there is “no one solution”. Instead, this is “a step forward”.
Minister Sawhney and Premier Kenney both believe that this new law can both save lives and prevent further domestic violence.
The provincial government of Newfoundland and Labrador has made similar efforts to develop a procedure curbing domestic violence. It recently passed its second reading.
Alberta, like it’s Prairie counterparts, suffer from high rates of domestic violence
According to a Stats Canada report report, 75,399 of 166,928 (45 percent) female victims nationwide were victims of intimate partner violence. On page 26 of the same report, women aged 25 to 34 years and 35 to 44 years were predominantly impacted, accounting for 56 and 52 percent of violence towards those respective age groups.
3,642 of said 75,399 women experienced sexual assault, accounting for 4.83 percent of all intimate partner violence towards that particular gender, the Stats Canada report states.
Alberta, like it’s prairie counterparts in Saskatchewan and Manitoba, is subject to some of the highest rates nationwide according to the report. The third-highest rate, which is exacerbated in rural areas because of “justice by geography.”
Throughout 2018, about a quarter of homicides committed in Alberta were documented cases of domestic violence.
Claire’s Law is “a step forward”, but more can be done to curb domestic violence
Despite the continued shortage of Crown prosecutors, which the UCP has committed $10 million to alleviate for rural concerns, gaps in policy still remain.
Notably, budget cuts to the specialized electronic monitoring of domestic violence perpetrators serving their sentence in the community were taken off the table.
However, individuals can find out if their partner has a history of violence by requesting records from the police, but that’s only if their history violence has been reported. The police are then able to inform that individual of their partner’s criminal history if they determine that it is necessary to ensure an individual’s safety.
Bill 17 was passed into law on Nov. 1 with unanimous support from both the NDP and the UCP. It is not with any coincidence that this law passed on the first day of November as this month is Family Violence Prevention Month.
Saskatchewan was the first province to adopt Claire’s Law. Claire’s Law is named after Claire Wood, who was murdered by her ex-boyfriend George Appleton in Manchester, England. After Claire’s murder, her family found out that Appleton had spent six years in prison for a previous domestic violence assault.
Had this law existed before Wood’s murder, the police could have notified Wood on her boyfriend’s violent history.
Hopefully, this law will entice further dialogue and encourage the reduction of domestic abuse in Alberta.
If you or someone you know are experiencing family or spousal violence in Alberta (and it is not urgent), please call the Family Violence Info Line at 310-1818. For more information, click on the following link: https://www.alberta.ca/family-violence-prevention-month.aspx