Early warning system to protect Nunavut abuse victims hits a wall
Nunavut’s Justice Department won’t introduce a Clare’s Law
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.