Suffering from domestic abuse is a traumatic experience.
But imagine what it must be like if it’s so extreme that the person has to enter an identity change programme, say goodbye to friends and family members and start all over again somewhere else.
That’s exactly what happened to one Canadian woman and her daughter – known as Jane and Janet Doe. But the nightmare didn’t end there. After going through The New Identities for Victims of Abuse program (NIVA) in 2001, the Does discovered in 2004 that the Alberta government had published their new and old identities in print and online for the world, and possibly her former attacker, to see (see WVoN story).
Although it’s not clear how the mistake was made, Jane and Janet Doe are now suing the government for damages and demanding legislative changes to protect the lives of future potential victims. Heather Klimchuk, the government minister responsible, has acknowledged that her department was at fault and made a public apology, but for the Does, things can’t end there.
“Someone, somewhere needs to and must be held accountable for the turmoil that these two ladies have been through and been required to tolerate through no fault of their own”, says Nigel Empett, an advocate working with the Does. He has contacted more than 300 elected and appointed government officials, candidates and senators over the past two years, and sent more than 850 letters, faxes, emails and telephone calls.
In all that time, only one MP – Liberal Democrat Raj Sherman – offered any hope. After reading an online blog about the Does’ story, he gave his contact details to Empett so that Ms Doe could speak to him personally. However, someone seems to have got to him in the interim as he has since ignored all her calls and voicemails.
When Empett finally managed to get hold of Sherman, he said he had been unavailable when she rang because of a packed diary. So WVoN sent Sherman an e-mail to facilitate contact with Ms Doe, but strangely, he didn’t answer that either. Then Empett was told by Vitor Marciano of the Wildrose Alliance Party of Alberta that the government ‘s hope seemed to be that, if it shuffled Jane and Janet Doe from one department to another for long enough, they might disappear.
Sadly, Marciano’s press office again failed to respond to our e-mails. At the heart of all this mess is Heather Klimchuk, who made a public apology on behalf of the Alberta Province to Jane and Janet Doe in 2010 but won’t discuss any form of compensation. She is quoted in the Alberta Hansard on November 15, 2010, as saying:“We have worked together with the individual in question to make sure of her security and that she is safe.”
“Minister Klimchuk at no time whatsoever has ever spoken to us personally”, says Empett. These examples go on and on and the Does’ case seems unable to get any support from anywhere. “A range of excuses are given as to why counsellors, women’s shelters and charity organisations won’t get involved with this issue, most of which state the Does are not in their mandate, which may seem baffling when coming from Amnesty Canada”.
So WVoN approached Amnesty International Canada and got this response from women’s rights campaigner, Lindsay Mossman: “I have contacted my colleagues at AI Canada and this is not a case that has been raised with our office – any details you could provide regarding this would be most appreciated.
“Certainly the issues raised are very concerning to our organisation. Because the individual involved is currently in the midst of a legal claim against the Government of Alberta, and a legal process is available and being pursued, it is not a case we would get involved with at this time.
“If there was a problem with the legal proceedings, or if access to legal processes was unavailable, it is more likely that Amnesty International would look into the case.” Although positive, their response contradicts Mischa Ahonkova, another advocate working with the Does, who said: “Jane was told that Amnesty’s focus was Indigenous people for the next six years but they were kicked to the curb when they asked for help and told that they did not fit the [Amnesty] mandate”.
For its part, the government denies all allegations of negligence, breach of duty, breach of contract (to name but a few), as set out by Ms Doe in her statement of defence. Amazingly, it also denies that Jane and Janet Doe are Canadian Métis Indian although both women can produce Métis ID cards.Unable to get legal representation, the Does eventually gave up any hope of finding a lawyer willing to support them so Jane decided to go it alone.
So what do the Does hope to gain from taking legal action? For starters, they want the Alberta Government to accept responsibility for their mistakes and admit that they are liable for the loss and damages incurred by the Does as a result of their identities being exposed. “Essentially they are saying they are not responsible”, says Jane, “and that we caused it ourselves or other people caused it.” Jane Doe is also pushing for a change in the law to help prevent their nightmare from happening to someone else: “We just want our lives back, they [the Alberta Government] are not helping the victims, no one is listening or being held accountable”.
She wants a new programme put into place whereby staff complete a rigorous, six-month, specialised training course to enable them to deal with sensitive issues and ensure they understand how to deal with the resulting paperwork correctly.
Jane is now asking other victims of the NIVA program to come forward by emailing email@example.com to talk in confidence about their own accounts and any problems they have faced.
She has also written to Prince William and Kate Middleton, who recently visited Alberta, to ask for help and support in her legal fight against the Alberta Province. So what happens now? Basically the matter is in the hands of the court which will decide in due course whether the Does should receive compensation from the Alberta government. If there is any justice, the answer should be obvious.