Early warning system to protect Nunavut abuse victims hits a wall

Nunavut’s Justice Department won’t introduce a Clare’s Law

The Nunavut Department of Justice has no plan to introduce a Nunavut version of Clare’s Law right now. (File photo)

By Jim Bell

Iqaluit-Manirajak MLA Adam Arreak Lightstone’s work to create an early warning system to protect potential victims of sexual abuse and domestic violence in Nunavut has run into a wall.

Since last February, Lightstone has pushed for the creation of what’s called a “Clare’s Law” for Nunavut.

It’s named after a 36-year-old British woman named Clare Wood, who was killed in 2009 by a man with a criminal record for violent crimes that she didn’t know about.

In response to a national campaign led by Wood’s father, the British parliament passed a bill, called Clare’s Law, to give people in England and Wales the right to ask about an intimate partner’s criminal history. Soon after, Scotland and Northern Ireland rolled out similar measures.

That prompted provincial legislatures in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland and Labrador to bring in their own versions of Clare’s Law.

And now Lightstone wants one for Nunavut.

“What I am proposing is information sharing, giving police and other authorities the ability to share information with potential victims to prevent future harm,” Lightstone said in the assembly this past February.

Given Nunavut’s staggering rates of child sexual abuse, that would include information about whether an intimate partner is a sex offender.

“I pointed out the high rates of child sexual abuse, and the fact that nearly half of all of the individuals on the registered sexual offenders list have been charged with offences against children,” Lightstone said in the legislative assembly last week, on Sept. 24.

Federal privacy rules a big barrier

But there’s a big problem: federal privacy rules would prevent the RCMP from implementing such a law, if it were passed in Nunavut.

“As the RCMP is the only provider of policing services in Nunavut, their inability to provide information due to federal statutes would be a major barrier to implementing this legislation,” Justice Minister Jeannie Ehaloak said in a letter to Lightstone this past July 21.

The Government of Saskatchewan ran into that barrier last June, when they learned the RCMP has refused to participate in Saskatchewan’s version of Claire’s Law.

In Saskatchewan, provincial MLAs from all parties passed such a bill unanimously last October, but it can’t be implemented in places that are policed by the RCMP.

“It is unclear why the RCMP is refusing to protect potential victims of interpersonal violence through Clare’s Law,” Saskatchewan Justice Minister Dan Morgan said in a letter to federal Public Safety Minister Bill Blair, telling Blair that the Saskatchewan government is “extremely disappointed.”

Cities and towns in Saskatchewan with their own municipal police forces are able to follow Clare’s Law, but not rural and remote areas policed by the RCMP.

And in Nunavut, of course, no one could benefit from a territorial Clare’s Law unless the RCMP were able to implement it.

There is strength in numbers

Lightstone wants the Nunavut legislature to pass its own Clare’s Law anyway, and then join with Saskatchewan, Alberta and other jurisdictions to push Ottawa into amending federal privacy legislation.

“Mr. Speaker, there is strength in numbers, so I would like to urge the minister to work with her provincial colleagues to ensure that Ottawa responds to our concerns,” Lightstone said last week.

Ehaloak rejected that idea and replied to Lightstone’s questions by saying the Government of Nunavut’s Department of Justice has no plans for creating a Clare’s Law for Nunavut right now.

That’s because the Justice Department prefers to focus on “support and forgiveness” for offenders through various programs.

Ehaloak said the department believes that people in Nunavut know all about each other anyway.

Ehaloak also didn’t answer a question from Lightstone that proposed an expanded Clare’s Law that would give authorities the ability to disclose information about sexual abusers, to protect vulnerable children.

“Given the size of our communities and our close relationships with our community, it is likely not the lack of information that is the principle risk to the individuals,” Ehaloak said in response.

However, Ehaloak left the door open just a crack, suggesting there’s a possibility that Nunavut’s Justice Department would look into a Clare’s Law after Blair replies to a letter that Lightstone sent to him on the issue.

“At this time the Department of Justice will not be doing any more research on Clare’s Law until we hear back from the federal minister on your letter,” Ehaloak said.

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(3) Comments:

  1. Posted by JE on

    I have to say that not everyone ever knows a person’s background. Sometimes it is such a well kept secret that some people only find out after the fact and sometimes not even. Somehow the message is often vague and not really discussed unless that person is really close to the person and there is not very much of that around some families. Sorry guys but the truth has to be told. Because not everyone knows and sometimes we humans are like ‘he/she can change’ but not always.

  2. Posted by Choosing to ignore on

    While such a system would be useful in some cases, Nunavut is a very small population and most people know who went to jail and for what.
    The problem is that too many people choose to ignore serious offenders and welcome them back in their homes (with kids!), hoping they don’t reoffend. Some might say that it shows how capable Nunavummiut are when it comes to forgiveness (which is a true strength). But in order to forgive someone you actually have to address it and not pretend everything is back to normal.
    Not being able to implement Clares Law is a minor setback. The real messy work is getting people to stop giving free passes to people who’ve done serious crimes unless they’ve proven they’ve learned from their mistakes. And also to make sure prisoners come out of jail better than they were, not worse (which is often the case).

  3. Posted by Admirable but unlikely on

    The RCMP in Nunavut already has a very dicey reputation when it comes to being involved in cases of spousal/child abuse and it would be easier for them to understand and follow their existing guidelines and powers in such situations before trying to pass territorial laws which would require a federal overhaul of RCMP procedures to even be effective.

    And like other comment stated, in the territory it’s not that hard to hear who did what when. Adding the RCMP into the mix of personal relationships even further doesn’t seem like much of a solution. They should tighten up their ability to exercise their current powers and follow current procedures before giving them a whole new avenue of power and new procedure to follow for involving themselves in the personal relationships of others, especially if such a law would require action on the federal level to even be more than words on paper.

    The spirit of the law is admirable and necessary. It’s application at this moment in Nunavut would be time-consuming, messy and likely not have the intended effects or efficacy to provide actual protection.

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