Domestic violence calls in Fort McMurray dropping to pre-pandemic levels

People in Wood Buffalo have started using Clare's Law, but it is still a largely under-utilized resource, police say. (Steven Silcox/CBC - image credit)
People in Wood Buffalo have started using Clare's Law, but it is still a largely under-utilized resource, police say. (Steven Silcox/CBC - image credit)

The number of calls for domestic violence is dropping in Fort McMurray to pre-pandemic levels.

Wood Buffalo RCMP Cpl. Miranda Williams said she observed an increase in family violence calls in Fort McMurray since 2020, with the most calls being seen in 2021.

In 2019 there were 1,177 calls about domestic violence to the RCMP. In 2021, that number jumped to 1,502 calls. But so far this year there have been 1,006 calls.

Domestic Violence calls, Fort McMurray

"People getting back to work and out of the house is a significant contributor," Williams said.

Williams says those in a violent situation or those who may know someone in a violent situation should call the RCMP.

November is Family Violence Prevention Month in Alberta. Williams says RCMP have introduced several programs to help decrease family violence, and assist those in dangerous situations.

She pointed to a website started by the Family Violence Coordinating Council, which has consolidated information on the resources available in Wood Buffalo.

"There is help available," Williams said. "It does not mean you have to call the police if that's not what works for you at that time."

Williams said that calls do not always involve alleged criminal offences, they can include parenting issues, custody battles and harassment. Williams believes that during the pandemic, the police were called to homes that wouldn't typically call.

"Sometimes, these families were simply reaching out for supports and resources and the activity that precipitated the call was not criminal in nature," Williams said.

Jamie Malbeuf/CBC
Jamie Malbeuf/CBC

Williams said it can be difficult for people to seek help, as they may fear stigma, losing their children or financial barriers.

People who believe they are at risk of family violence can also use Clare's Law.

Clare's Law was introduced to Alberta in April 2021. It's a way for people to get information about their partner's criminal history without their partner knowing, in order to prevent domestic violence.

In 2021 there were three people who used the service in Wood Buffalo, and so far this year there have been six applications with more on the way, said Const. Ninna Briscoe.

It takes about a month to complete the files, Briscoe said.

"It's definitely a good tool that needs to be more accessed," Briscoe said.

Jennifer Lagace, outreach manager for Waypoints, a social profit organization working to end domestic-family violence, sexual assault, abuse and homelessness in the Fort McMurray region, said there are several events going on to promote the organization during Family Violence Prevention Month.

There's a colouring contest in the rural communities, self-care bingos and a wrap-up breakfast on Nov. 30.

Waypoints will also have information booths, an open house and events in the rural communities.

"The goal is just to bring awareness about domestic violence into the communities" Lagace said.

Lagace said Waypoints has seen a rise in the number of people on its waitlist over the last couple of years.

"I think a lot of times it does have to do with COVID," Legacy said. "They're financially stressed…there's been a lot more substance use… and those things definitely have an impact on the rise in the cases that we've seen."

Part of the goal this month is to share information about the types of violence that people may not be aware of, like verbal, emotional and financial violence, Lagace said.

"It's important to get the word out there and start having these conversations."

Anyone experiencing family violence in Wood Buffalo can call Waypoints' Family Crisis Line at (780)743-1190.