Manitoba bill would let people get information on partner’s violent past

Manitoba may be the next province to let people learn whether their partner has a history of domestic or sexual violence.

Families Minister Rochelle Squires introduced a bill in the legislature Monday that is similar to what is commonly called Clare’s Law.

First enacted in the United Kingdom where a woman named Clare Wood was killed by her partner — and later adopted in Saskatchewan and Alberta — the law is aimed at preventing violence before it starts.

It allows people to find out whether their partner has a history or abuse or violence, even if some information might normally be deemed personal and beyond publicly available court records.

“We … are working in conjunction with privacy experts to ensure that we are doing the right thing, creating that path forward for people to access the information that they need in a way that is conducive,” Squires said.

The government has not yet worked out what level of detail would be provided. Squires said the law would only come into effect one year after it is approved in the legislature, in order to have time to strike the right balance.

The bill would let a person apply online for information about their partner. If police and a director in the Families Department jointly believe there is information that warrants sharing, they could disclose it to the individual, who would be required to keep it confidential except in some circumstances.

The Manitoba bill, if it becomes law, would go further than those in other provinces, Squires said, because it would allow for the disclosure of more types of prior violence. It would also require authorities to develop a safety plan for the person at risk and provide information on help available to them.

‘Knowledge is power,’ family resource centre head says 

One important aspect of the plan is a fast turnaround time so that people are not waiting for information that could protect them, said Diane Redsky, executive director of Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre, an Indigenous-led family resource centre in Winnipeg.

“We all know that knowledge is power,” Redsky said.

“It needs to be easy and timely … and I’m really glad to hear that there will be efforts made to ensure that that is quick and timely.”

Opposition justice critic Nahanni Fontaine of the NDP said in a statement the government needs to move faster to implement the legislation. 

“This bill is needed for women, gender-diverse Manitobans and families, but it won’t take effect for a year and many important details are unclear,” she said. “Vulnerable Manitobans need access to information immediately. And they need to be made aware of this Legislation so they can access it.”