Yukon MP Ryan Leef says 20 years spent working in law enforcement and corrections inspired him to table Bill C-583.
The private members bill proposes two things: It puts Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) in the Criminal Code, and it gives instruction to the court to order an assessment on individuals where FASD is suspected to have played a role in his or her crime.
FASD is a developmental disorder caused by fetal exposure to alcohol. Common symptoms include poor judgement skills, learning disorders, problems with behavior control and trouble with social situations. Leef says people with FASD become familiar faces in the court system, especially in the North.
“Courts that are very well educated in FASD, and very well educated with the clients they are dealing with, and sadly because of the revolving door, you see the same clients over and over again,” said Leef.
“You see a real established pattern of behavior, and you see physical symptoms, and you say, “OK, beyond any reason I’m pretty certain this person has FASD and I’m going to take it into account. The road there is very slow and it’s a patchwork guessing to a degree.”
Canadian Bar Association (CBA) Criminal Justice Chair, Caroline Wawzonek, says the CBA has advocated for this sort of legislation for years.
“It’s pervasive. It’s always under the current of the vast majority of offenders who wind up before the courts here,” she said.
“So this is a great opportunity for the territories to really start to work some of those issues, and hopefully provide some of the structure that somebody with FASD needs, so they are not just in a recurrent cycle of criminality.”
Northwest Territories and Yukon legislative assemblies have both passed symbolic motions to support the bill, and Nunavut has expressed interest.
Leef says such broad support will only strengthen his case in parliament.
“It is a bit of sad reality, but the one thing I think we can celebrate is a motion like that,” he said.
“And I certainly commend the NWT legislative assembly in doing that because one of the real challenges with the social support of FASD is that it is still in the shadows in some parts of our country.”
The bill passed first reading in Parliament in May. Lawmakers will open the bill up for the second hour of debate in the fall. Leef says the Liberal, NDP and Bloc Quebecois have indicated they will support the bill.