Standing Committee doesn’t recommend judges have ability to consider FASD a ‘mitigating factor’
CBC: Mar 11, 2015
The Standing committee for Justice on FASD has recommended more training on FASD in the RCMP and Correctional Service. (CBC)
A parliamentary committee has dropped recommendations proposed by Yukon MP Ryan Leef, which relate to how people with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder should be treated by the criminal justice system.
In 2013 Yukon MP Ryan Leef brought forward a private members’ bill called C-583 that would have allowed judges to order that people accused be assessed for FASD. The bill would have legally defined the condition within the Criminal Code and would have allowed judges to consider FASD a mitigating factor in sentencing.
Leef withdrew his private member’s bill last November in return for a government promise to study the issue in more depth.
That committee has now issued its final recommendations. They do not include the measures called for in Leef’s bill.
Committee recommends changes to RCMP ‘standard training.’
The federal standing committee recommends better training for RCMP and staff at Correctional Service Canada.
It says an understanding of FASD must be taught “as part of their standard training.”
It also recommends that “more resources be allocated to crime prevention and diversion programs” to help people with the condition.
Another recommendation is that people be screened for FASD upon entering prisons. It urges Correctional Service Canada to “consider strategies to help the integration and rehabilitation of individuals with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder,” who are sentenced to two years or more in prison.
The committee also calls for more research on FASD and more public awareness campaigns in Canada.
Yukon advocacy group wanted Leef’s proposals adopted by government
Wenda Bradley, the Executive Director of the Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Society Yukon, is disappointed by the report.
She says the recommendations are not new and little has been done to implement them on past occasions.
Bradley says the society was hoping Ryan Leef’s proposals would go forward. She says they were concrete ideas that would have made a difference for people with FASD.
Bradley says the one good thing to come out of Leef’s discarded private members bill is that the issues he raised are now part of a national conversation.
Liberal MPs say Leef’s proposals were left out at the insistence of the Conservative majority on the committee. NDP and Liberal MPs on the committee supported the proposals.
Leef, however, says he’s pleased with the final report. He says advocacy groups have made these recommendations before, but this is a step up
“They’ve never really had a true opportunity to make these recommendations to Parliament, have Parliament then draft them condense them and make them into a report and forward those recommendations in an obligatory manner for the government to respond to,” Leef says.
He says if the government doesn’t respond with legislation he’ll look at introducing what he calls an improved version of his private members bill.
The standing committee heard from people familiar with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder from across Canada, many of whom supported Leef’s ideas.
Victims of FASD disproportionately involved in crime
Amy Salmon, the Executive Director of Canada FASD Research Network, says victims of FASD are disproportionately involved in crime. They are also much more likely to become homeless, develop addictions or become victims of abuse.
FASD causes behavioural symptoms such as poor impulse control, a propensity to explosive rage and a poor understanding of consequences.
“Research shows that people with FASD have a disproportionate level of contact with the justice system, both as victims and offenders. It is essential that FASD is recognized as a life-long, brain-based disability,” Salmon wrote.
Recommendations of a standing committee do not automatically mean changes in policy. They will be sent to the government in power for consideration.