‘Clare's Law’ to protect victims of intimate partner violence being considered in Ontario
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‘Clare's Law’ to protect victims of intimate partner violence being considered in Ontario

In February 2009, the remains of Clare Wood’s body were found in her home in Salford, England. The 36-year-old had been raped and strangled to death by her former partner George Appleton before he set fire to her.

The horrifying discovery was the culmination of nearly two years of torment while Appleton harassed Wood after she decided to end the relationship. Wood first met him on a dating website in 2007. When they began their relationship she was not aware of Appleton's criminal background, which included a history of severe violence against women. 

As her own situation worsened and despite several pleas to the police after fearing for her safety, Wood’s cries for help were ignored, leading to her savage death in 2009. 

The brutal news tore through the country, sparking a ground-breaking campaign, spearheaded by Wood’s grieving father, that led to the United Kingdom adopting a law creating “the right to ask” police for information on an individual’s past if a person feels they have been abusive and may pose a risk to them in the future. The landmark UK legislation, ratified in 2014 and known as “Clare’s Law”, has been instrumental in combatting intimate partner violence.

Known formally as Domestic Violence Disclosure Schemes, such laws, which have been passed in more and more jurisdictions, permit individuals to seek, and police to release information about their intimate partners’ past abusive history. Since many violent individuals will often move from one relationship to another, the law is designed to help people make an informed decision about a relationship. Clare’s Law has been proven an effective tool to address intimate partner violence before it happens again, and Saskatchewan, Alberta, Manitoba and Newfoundland have all adopted similar legislation.

But violent crime of this nature, which is too often overlooked by criminal justice systems around the world, continues to devastate communities, including Peel.

(Graphic Alexis Wright-The Pointer/Source Region of Peel)


Three weeks ago, 43-year-old Davinder Kaur was fatally stabbed in a Brampton park after agreeing to meet with her estranged husband, Nav Nishan Singh, who had moved out six months earlier. When he asked to move back with her, Kaur met Singh in Sparrow Park, where she died on scene. Singh has been charged with first-degree murder. In response to this all-too-common type of fatality, the Peel Committee Against Women Abuse wrote in a statement it was “outraged and deeply saddened” by the news, highlighting that “femicide is not an isolated incident.” The committee said it would be bringing forward a motion to regional council requesting Peel declare intimate-partner violence and gender-based violence an epidemic.

In February 2020, 25-year-old Brittney Newman was stabbed to death in her home in Mississauga, while her two young children were present. A friend had confirmed Newman's relationship was abusive and that she tried to escape multiple times but struggled to get into shelters and become financially independent. It took her several attempts before she could get space at a shelter and leave for good, but by then it was too late. 

Later the same year, Darian Henderson-Bellman, a 25-year-old woman, was found fatally shot inside the Brampton home of her on-again-off-again boyfriend Darnell Reid. He was eventually charged with first-degree murder, but the utter failure of the justice system in the case sparked widespread outrage, after court records showed Reid’s history of abuse and four violations of no-contact orders. The Crown was seemingly uninterested in protecting Henderson-Bellman despite her efforts to keep herself safe. Shortly before the shooting, in May of 2020 Reid was inexplicably allowed to walk out of prison after being charged with possession of a loaded weapon and assaulting Henderson-Bellman. Two months later she was found dead, shot five times at close range.

Peel Police Chief Nishan Duraiappah addressed her murder: “The sadness I feel for the victim and her family is mixed with frustration for a complete failure of our justice system to protect her.”

In another case, a Toronto police officer is facing misconduct charges for allegedly failing to investigate a woman’s “repeated pleas” for help about an ex-boyfriend threatening her safety — dismissing the latest call as a “he said, she said” and neglecting to charge the man despite evidence he had committed a crime. Seventy-two hours later, 23-year-old Daniella Mallia was dead. She was allegedly murdered in August by her ex-boyfriend, 33-year-old Dylon Dowman, who was arrested a month later after police issued a nation-wide warrant.

According to a detailed document filed at a tribunal and made public in March, Mallia had gone to police on August 15, three days before her death, complaining that Dowman was harassing and threatening her via text, causing “her to fear for her safety.” Police responded to the call, which had been classified as a domestic incident. No charges were laid against Dowman despite “reasonable and probable grounds” to do so, the police document states, which also alleges officers failed to investigate previous assault allegations by Mallia.

To help fix a broken justice system, Ontario is now considering a law that could protect women in relationships when patterns of behaviour point to the risk of domestic violence.

A new motion approved unanimously Wednesday would enable the Ontario government to bring forward a new way of battling intimate partner violence across the province — Ontario’s own version of “Clare’s Law.” Work on the motion, which was introduced by Etobicoke-Lakeshore MPP Christine Hogarth, will now continue with Brampton MPP Charmaine Williams, associate minister of women’s social and economic opportunity, to create a strategy that would see the province “adopt mechanisms for disclosure” to allow access to violent offender information if a person feels a partner might pose a risk. It would give police the ability to disclose information to those who are considered vulnerable. With approval of the motion Wednesday the process of turning it into legislation will begin. 

A similar private member’s Bill brought forward by St. Catharines NDP MPP Jennie Stevens, was defeated by the PCs in 2021, despite pandemic dynamics that caused a rise in intimate partner violence across the province due to lockdowns that forced victims to remain in close quarters with an abusive partner.

“Police-reported data show that women are overrepresented among those who experience [intimate partner violence], including among victims of intimate partner homicides. As is the case with many forms of violence, those who experience IPV often do not to report it to the police for a variety of reasons, including: fear of stigma/shame, the belief that abuse is a private matter, fear of court system intervention, or lack of trust in the criminal justice system,” an information page from the federal government on intimate partner violence explains.

According to the Canadian Femicide Observatory for Justice and Accountability’s 2018-2022 #CallItFemicide report, of the 150 women and girls who were killed in Canada by a male-accused in 2022, the type of relationship they shared was known for 89 individuals (59 percent), of which 52 victims (58 percent) were killed by a current or former intimate partner.

“Too many women in Ontario are suffering at the hands of ex-partners who are known to the police as having a violent past. On their behalf, we need to look to other jurisdictions for innovative ways to help,” Hogarth stated in a press release on her motion. “To help deal with these kinds of tragedies in Ontario, my proposal would make information relating to intimate partner violence convictions available to those at risk on a confidential basis.”

Etobicoke-Lakeshore PC MPP Christine Hogarth has introduced a motion to help Ontarians protect themselves from intimate partner violence.



A 2022 Coroner’s Inquest into the murders of three women in Renfrew County in 2015 recommended Ontario enact its own version of Clare’s Law. The inquest was held in Pembroke last June, nearly seven years after the three women were murdered in Renfrew in September 2015. The review resulted in 86 recommendations following the three-week investigation. As of February, the provincial government was working to address roughly half of the recommendations. Declaring intimate partner violence an epidemic is one of the suggestions the Ontario government has yet to act on.

Stevens’ proposed private member’s Bill in 2021, labeled the Intimate Partner Violence Disclosure Act, would have allowed, in defined circumstances, people at risk of domestic violence, or a third party with intimate knowledge, to obtain information on a partner’s history of violence, helping people “make informed choices about potentially harmful relationships” to protect the community from intimate partner and gender-based violence. 

“At the end of the day, it is important to have a tool like this,” Stevens told The Pointer. “It's all about getting it out there and making sure [we do everything] we can do to protect women in our communities.

“I was so proud to be able to be the first to introduce it. Within my community I had personal friends that lost their daughter to intimate partner violence, and that's why it's so near and dear to me, and that's why I brought it forward.”

Stevens said she often wonders if Clare’s Law had been enacted sooner, maybe her friends’ daughter’s life wouldn’t have been taken at the hands of an intimate partner. That’s why she decided to bring the legislation forward as a private member's bill so the province could do more to empower women to protect themselves.

Her proposed legislation was shot down in its second reading, with many elected officials concerned about its execution, citing unanswered questions on how it would impact minority and low-income communities, a lack of sufficient consultation with key organizations and privacy concerns over who information could be disclosed to. Questions also swirled around whether there was consultation with the Information and Privacy Commissioner, which did not appear to be the case. Without proper consultation, officials feared the proposed legislation, as presented, could have been problematic for some residents. 

With the revised motion from a PC MPP, the first step, Stevens explained, will be to officially put the motion on the floor to become binding with the Attorney General so the province can begin “extensive consultation” with the community, which she said will be crucial to establishing an intimate partner violence Act. 

She said there needs to be funding to support the new law, if it passes.

“When I put it as a bill, obviously base funding was not there. So this government has to do that, and it has to have an open ended conversation with the community and community advisors so that intimate partner violence does not take the lives or contribute to ending the lives of women and family members. We have to make sure that the communication is there and the tools are there.

“It's moving the dial forward in a positive direction to end gender-based violence and to end intimate partner violence. This is really something that we all know is needed.”

According to data from the Region of Peel, between 2016 and 2021, there was a 3.5 percent increase in the rate of intimate partner disputes reported to Peel Regional Police. In 2021, there were three family and intimate partner homicides reported in the region. In the same year, Peel police responded to more than 17,000 incidents of family and intimate partner violence, averaging nearly 45 disputes each day or roughly two every hour. Those are only reported numbers; countless incidents are not. Of the charges that were laid for intimate partner violence related incidents in 2021, 78 percent of the victims were women.  

Between 2015 and 2020, Peel Regional Police noticed an alarming trend: over that period, the number of domestic violence calls went up by 74 percent. To address the disturbing rise, In April 2021, Peel police launched an intimate-partner-violence unit — a dedicated team of 40 constables and eight detectives. When there's a domestic violence call, frontline officers reach out to the unit if there are grounds for criminal charges. The unit assists the victim, bringing them to the William G. Davis Centre for Families in Brampton, also known as the Safe Centre of Peel. 

Femicide continues to plague Canada as domestic violence stretches to all corners of communities, including in Peel. 

Stakeholders want to see any new legislation followed by proper support to ensure change will actually happen.

Sandra Rupnarain, executive director of Family Services of Peel, said one problem, even with the ability to obtain background information on a partner, is that oftentimes there is no way of knowing that somebody has a history of violence or might be prone to dangerous behaviour in a relationship.

“I think more research is needed to fully understand it. I think it has pros and cons,” she told The Pointer. “I think anything that will facilitate sharing information is always helpful. But I think if you don't create a structure or framework for that to happen and take into [consideration] equity and taking in the pieces of those who need it most, how are you creating a pathway for them to access it? I think you will land in the same situation again and you're making vulnerable people even more vulnerable.

“It's a first jump to kind of say, we're trying to pass this; I think that's great. But I think as we all know, getting the legislation to pass is one piece and enacting [effective] legislation is another piece.”

Rupnarain said the organization, which provides family and community support services across Peel, works alongside the police, but that with so many protocols and limitations around what can be shared, it is the “toughest place” to get information. Knowing Clare’s Law has already been implemented in the UK and other jurisdictions including in Canada, she said Ontario’s approach to the legislation could be worth examining in Peel to reduce the rates of intimate partner violence by giving people more access to information.

“Everything can be abused, everything that's a benefit can also become a disadvantage too, so then there's also that piece. Who qualifies? What is risk related information? And that's always a challenge, how we categorize what's high risk, and what's low risk,” she explained. “So I think as much as you're happy to hear that we are considering that there should be some freedom of information act when it comes to sharing information with law enforcement and social service sector, you're still thinking that perhaps there's some hurdles that definitely would be there.”

Rupnarain said she’s also concerned that when women obtain the information that would be made available through the legislation, with the current housing crisis and an already exhausted shelter system, what would they do with information that showed a partner might become violent.  

“Where would they go? A shelter. But do we have enough shelter systems in Peel? Right now, we're sending women outside of Peel, so there is that issue as well,” she said. “The big thing will be the increased strain on the shelter system that I'm seeing and already shelter systems are stretched. They probably need to expand our services or need to accommodate the increased demand, which will be additional funding and support.” 

The motion comes as women’s shelters are seeing slashes to vital funding needed to sustain operations. Since April 2020, the federal government has provided $300 million in emergency pandemic funding to organizations that combat violence against women. Nearly half of that amount, approximately $145 million, went to women's shelters. On average, each shelter received nearly $130,000 extra a year under the pandemic program — a funding stream that is now set to expire in September. 

Rupnarain said the proposed legislation raises concern about putting vulnerable people at risk. For example, she explained, if a partner catches wind that their partner has access to their information around a history of violence, would it expose them to more risk? Then it comes down to prevention, which the social service sector is hard pressed to help with. 

“I think more work would need to be done around pathways to access frameworks — people having that information earlier, how do they get information earlier when you're in an abusive relationship already and are disempowered to even be able to have access to get information and support. So I’ll be curious to see more research on its effectiveness.”

A lot of people don’t access services not because they don’t exist, but because they don’t know about them. 

A 2021 report from a group of researchers in the UK found that a key issue identified by female victims was a lack of awareness that legislation like Clare’s Law existed or how it could be used to help them. Women that were interviewed also described feeling too afraid to access the scheme when they were in an abusive relationship because they feared the consequences for themselves and, in some cases, their children, bringing into question “the preventive value of the [Domestic Violence Disclosure Schemes], either because of the barriers in accessing the scheme or at least having access before their partner turns abusive.”

Critics have pointed out that once women are advised by the police of their partner's violent history, legislation like Clare’s Law does not guarantee they will receive any extra protection. Creating a false sense of safety for a woman after seeking information on their partner is another concern. What if they have never been reported before (which is sometimes the case) but have a long history of violence?

“We don't have enough preventive measures for people as a society, not just in Peel, but even outside of Peel, we're more reactive,”  Rupnarain said. “There's so many huge gaps, and while if Clare’s Law passes, I think it is a step up, I think the implementation of it would not be that easy, because we don't have a system in place structured enough to facilitate that.

“It's too early, I think, to assess the long-term impact of Clare’s Law on intimate partner violence. I think a lot of work needs to be done in terms of educating people even before we try to pass it.”


Email: [email protected] 

Twitter: @mcpaigepeacock 

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