Albertans can check intimate partners' domestic violence records starting Thursday under Clare's Law

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Passed by the Alberta legislature in October 2019, Clare's Law comes into effect on April 1. (Getty Images - image credit)
Passed by the Alberta legislature in October 2019, Clare's Law comes into effect on April 1. (Getty Images - image credit)

Albertans who suspect their intimate partner has a violent history will be able to find out about past criminal charges when new provincial legislation comes into effect on Thursday.

Clare's Law — legislation named after a woman in the United Kingdom who was murdered by an ex-boyfriend — was passed by the Alberta legislature in October 2019.

The government on Tuesday outlined how someone who feels they are at risk could learn more about their intimate partner's violent past with others.

The legislation also allows another individual to make an application as long as they have consent from the person at risk. There is no cost to ask for a background check.

Forms will be available on the Alberta government website on April 1.

The application process "provides a crucial window of opportunity for violence prevention," said Andrea Silverstone, executive director of the Sagesse Domestice Violence Prevention Society in Calgary.

"The bottom line is: if you're worried enough to fill out a Clare's Law application, you can benefit from social service support."

Once a check is run, staff at the Integrated Threat, Risk and Assessment Centre (ITRAC), which is part of the Alberta Law Enforcement Response Teams (ALERT), will determine the risk level, using a scale ranging from "insufficient information" to "high risk."

Information isn't limited to past criminal convictions. It can include past calls to police, non-compliance with court orders and restraining orders.

If the risk is determined to be moderate or high, police must disclose the information to the applicant in person, who will be offered help and counselled on ways to ensure their personal safety.

The individual who is the subject of the disclosure will not know an application has been made about their past.

Supports will be offered to applicants at every step of the process, regardless of the threat level.

This is an important measure for victims of abuse, Silverstone said.

"When social services support is added to the mix, positive outcome is more likely."

Police can initiate applications

Police can also initiate their own Clare's Law application in order to provide information to an individual they believe is at risk of intimate-partner violence. Police are only required to disclose a potential threat if the risk assessment is moderate or high.

The government says the information obtained via a Clare's Law application can't be used in a child custody dispute, divorce proceedings or posted on social media.

Disclosures are made under Alberta's Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.

After the bill was proclaimed into law in 2019, the province consulted with Alberta police services, organizations that help victims of domestic violence, and people who have suffered abuse at the hands of an intimate partner.

Justice Minister Kaycee Madu said the government will ensure ITRAC gets the resources it requires to handle an increase in the number of risk assessments.