Speech in Support of Bill C-235

To amend the Criminal Code to establish a procedure for assessing individuals who are involved in the criminal justice system and who may suffer from a fetal alcohol disorder

I have had the privilege over the past year since my election as the member for Saskatoon West to meet with a wide range of groups and individuals in my community. One meeting which stood out for me was the one with representatives from the FASD Network in Saskatoon.

I am in full agreement with FASD Saskatoon when it says, “It is imperative for Canada to recognize FASD as cognitive disability that reduces moral culpability and thus be a mitigating factor during sentencing. FASD is brain damage”.

While Bill C-235 should not eliminate culpability, the courts need to question the ethics and fairness around proposing sentences without accounting for organic brain damage which could result in charges that the person does not understand that stems from their actions.

It is essential to have mandated training for front-line workers to increase awareness and understanding of the impact an FASD diagnosis has on individuals entering the justice system.

As is so often the case, when formal systems fail the community steps in to address and support individuals who fall through the cracks. In my community, I am grateful for the work of the CUMFI Wellness Centre and the FASD Support Network, and now they need government to partner with to ensure equity and fairness for individuals living with FASD.

With training, the legal system can adapt to these individuals with FASD and formulate manageable criteria for interaction.

 Since the inception of Saskatoon's Mental Health Strategy Court, the network staff in Saskatoon have connected with twenty-nine individuals who live with FASD. Twenty-two out of the twenty-nine became part of the support program's case management and were supported through and after the court process. Of these twenty-two individuals, three are still going through and being supported through the court process. So far, of the nineteen people who have been supported and sentenced through the mental health strategy Court, seventeen have not re-offended.

The evidence is clear. People with FASD need support systems both within and without the court system.

Because this disability is often overlooked, those working in the justice system need to be trained to recognize it, and there must also be recognition that individuals and their unique circumstances matter in the pursuit of justice.

It is about making the sentence fit the crime and letting judges exercise discretion based on the facts of the case. In other words, it really is the antithesis of the prescriptive, costly, ineffective, and frequently unconstitutional approach taken by previous governments, which really removed a lot of judicial discretion in favour of a one-size-fits-all minimum sentence.

We in the NDP support quick passage of this legislation, which has been introduced in past Parliaments and enjoyed support across parties. We look forward to studying the bill in committee.