Mr. Speaker, before I explain why I cannot support this legislation, I want to applaud the convictions and conscientious approach of my hon. colleague. He has performed a tremendous public service by drawing attention to the damage caused by alcohol misuse. He deserves full credit for his unflagging efforts to promote legislation to prevent this unnecessary tragedy. Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder is truly a terrible disease.
I also want to commend him for recognizing society's responsibility to protect the most vulnerable from the most devastating effects of alcohol misuse. There is no greater a vulnerable group than people who are born with one of the diagnoses under the umbrella of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, or FASD. These people may be condemned to lives of missed opportunity and, all too often, all out despair.
Among the common symptoms of the disability are low adaptive quotients, in other words, the ability to solve everyday problems, and anti-social behaviours that affect at risk groups of people as they drop out of school and make them far more likely than other Canadians to be homeless or end up in prison.
An overwhelming proportion of people with FASD have substantial personal costs, not only for themselves but their families, and the price tag is also very steep for society. The cost to Canadian taxpayers to care for alcohol affected children to adulthood will be an estimated additional $571 million annually. Given the incidence of 9.1 cases of FASD per 1,000 births, there is an estimated 280,000 people in Canada currently living with this preventable disability. About 3,000 babies are born every year who are affected.
If only Bill C-251 could dramatically reduce the costs and reverse the statistics, I am sure all members of the House would gladly embrace it. However, as the history on this issue in the House with previous bills, such as Bill C-206 and others, have already made clear, our well meaning colleague has not selected the best vehicle to advance his cause.
As worthy a goal as he espousing, the evidence appears unequivocal: alcohol warning labels do not positively impact those most at risk. This was the resounding all party consensus at committee hearings on the previous bill, Bill C-206, on alcohol warning labels. Expert witnesses before the Standing Committee on Health at that time said repeatedly that while warning labels may have a small part to play in a larger public education strategy, they cannot achieve the long term objectives of this legislation in isolation.
Expert opinions and the opinions of parliamentarians who have studied this issue are that what is clearly needed is an integrated and comprehensive approach that builds on work already underway. This approach would include public education, awareness and interventions to prevent FASD.
It would leverage the work of communities, as well as health practitioners, target interventions for vulnerable populations, such as aboriginals, and integrate research and potential regulations into the federal government strategies. For example, research shows that women are very likely to turn to their health care professionals for information on alcohol during pregnancy. This reinforces that it is important to educate those on the front line on prevention and the people on the front line, of course, are the health care providers.
Sensitizing and supporting health care professionals with the tools that they need will enable them to deal more effectively with at risk clients and help reduce the risk factors. A very important point here is that all women are at risk if they do not have the information that alcohol use, even in small amounts, is potentially harmful to their babies during pregnancy.
To that end, the Public Health Agency of Canada has been working with its health portfolio partners, other federal departments and agencies, the provinces and territories, first nations, as well as a host of other community based partners on a FASD strategy.
Its objective is to address the critical gaps and pressures caused by FASD and provide individuals and organizations working with at risk groups with the tools and resources they need to reach and educate perspective parents. These are activities that go far beyond warning labels.
A lot has already been accomplished. Among the many activities completed to date, the Public Health Agency of Canada has developed, published and distributed the framework for action on FASD. It has also conducted and published the survey of health care professionals, and it has supported the development and publication of diagnostic guidelines to assist health care providers.
In 2000 and again in 2002 and 2006, the Public Health Agency of Canada conducted public opinion surveys to gauge public awareness and general knowledge about FASD and alcohol use during pregnancy. The intelligence gathered through this process helps to shape common messaging regarding FASD, developed by the agency in partnership with the provinces and territories. Posters and pamphlets using those messages have been prepared and distributed to the public.
The Public Health Agency of Canada subsequently conducted targeted social marketing and awareness activities using these materials.
That is not all. Working in partnership with Thyme Maternity and News Canada, the Public Health Agency of Canada ran newspaper articles aimed at increasing awareness of FASD and the need to avoid alcohol during pregnancy.
Of particular importance to organizations working with high risk groups, the Public Health Agency of Canada funded eight projects across the country through the FASD national strategic projects fund. The projects led to the development of tools, resources and training programs for use by community based organizations to prevent FASD and to improve the life prospects of people living with a disability.
Much work is being done at the regional level to support local projects that will reduce the incidence of FASD and improve outcomes for those affected.
Another excellent resource produced by the Public Health Agency of Canada is the “Sensible Guide to a Healthy Pregnancy”. Based on the latest research, this new resource will help women who are planning a pregnancy to make healthy choices to ensure their children have the opportunity to have a good life.
This is just the beginning. Work currently underway will result in even greater supports for prospective parents, as well as children and youth already living with FASD. For instance, research has been carried out on FASD training opportunities and public awareness across Canada. Focus group studies have been conducted among women to understand alcohol use patterns and potential effective interventions.
A series of meetings were scheduled, including one to follow up on the publication of the diagnostic guidelines, as well as a national symposium on FASD. A survey of allied professionals' knowledge, attitudes and behaviours regarding FASD and alcohol use during pregnancy is planned.
Work has also been undertaken in collaboration with Canada Northwest FASD Partnership to develop a scan of the diagnostic capacity, tools and forms across Canada. This will lead to further work in developing common intake forms, data collection and reporting tools, as well as common tools for diagnosing brain and central nervous system dysfunction.
Progress has been made in these areas: A recent opinion survey showed that 94% of first nations and 86% of Inuit were aware of FASD; Community Asset Mapping has helped many of these communities identify their strengths and develop a plan of action; and mentoring programs for women at risk are now underway.
I could go on but much has been done and we need to move forward with an effective plan.