Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to debate Bill C-583. This is a bill I believe strongly in, and I would like to thank my colleague opposite, the member for Yukon, for introducing it. I would also like to acknowledge and thank my colleague, the member for Charlottetown, for his work on this bill and for his leadership in our caucus on this issue. I would hope that all parties and all members in this house can come together in support of this bill, recognizing the place fetal alcohol spectrum disorder has in Canada and in our justice system.
As the member of Parliament for Labrador, and our party's critic in northern Canada, I have seen the sad effects of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, which causes a number of disabilities, including fetal alcohol syndrome, partial fetal alcohol syndrome, alcohol-related neurodevelopmental disorder, and alcohol-related birth defects.
Many Canadians may not be aware that fetal alcohol spectrum disorder affects our Inuit and aboriginal populations to a much higher extent than the rest of Canadians. As an Inuit woman, and with a large aboriginal community in Labrador, we have been working to recognize those who have been born with this disorder while also working with organizations to prevent prenatal alcohol exposure.
I have been receiving calls and emails from constituents about this issue, especially from those doing important work at the Labrador Correctional Centre in Happy Valley-Goose Bay. They understand the need for our justice system to include the fact that many individuals in the court system suffer from fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.
This past September, on International Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Awareness Day, the FASD Newfoundland and Labrador Network continued to raise this issue, as it does every day of the year, in my home province. I would like to thank them for their dedication. They know better than anyone that children affected with FASD have significant challenges in school and especially with other functions they are expected to participate in. The challenges due to brain damage resulting from FASD have certainly wreaked havoc. The lack of support for these children then leads to mental health issues and addictions and makes it difficult for them to hold down steady jobs.
One of the biggest issues is a lack of screening in many parts of the country or a national standard so that our health care and education systems are aware of persons who suffer from FASD and can take appropriate measures to offer special assistance. We cannot let Canadians fall through the cracks and go on to become societal outcasts.
Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder affects 2% to 5% of the provincial population, or between 10,000 and 25,000 people. Because of the higher magnitude with which the aboriginal population suffers from this disorder, I know that Labrador is more deeply affected by FASD than other areas of our province of Newfoundland and Labrador. In northern Canada, much more needs to be done to understand and prevent the disorder. In Nunavut, Labrador, Nunavik, and the lnuvialuit regions, we must work with the high-risk communities to make immediate change and help prevent more children from being born with FASD.
The Labrador Inuit Health Commission, which works with the Nunatsiavut government in Labrador, has done good work raising awareness about prevention and in educating local communities about this disorder by holding workshops and other information sessions, distributing posters, holding open houses, going into schools, and using other community outreach methods. It has done and continues to do tremendous work.
The health commission is working hard as well to address FASD, and it deserves to be commended for all the work it is doing, not only in our province but also across the country. The Nunatsiavut government has taken steps to ensure that schools in towns such as Hopedale and Nain can identify sufferers of FASD and offer a more tailored education experience to meet the needs of the students.
This bill would amend section 2 of the Criminal Code of Canada by adding the following:
“fetal alcohol spectrum disorder” or “FASD” refers to any neurodevelopmental disorder that is associated with prenatal alcohol exposure, and that is characterized by permanent organic brain injury and central nervous system damage that result in a pattern of permanent birth defects, the symptoms of which may include....
This is very important because these items are the fundamental piece of the bill, and the issue that we continue to deal with. The amendment continues to say that the symptoms:
(a) impaired mental functioning,
(b) poor executive functioning,
(c) memory problems,
(d) impaired judgment,
(e) inability to control impulse behaviour,
(f) impaired ability to understand the consequences of one’s actions, and
(g) impaired ability to internally modify behaviour control;....
As this list indicates, this is a very serious disorder that causes some very serious symptoms. This bill would help to recognize this when people who are before the courts suffer from fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. Clearly, our judgments must take these symptoms into account when sentencing individuals for their actions. It is no surprise that sufferers of FASD have difficult challenges during all stages of the criminal justice system.
I will elaborate on the above points briefly and how they face challenges while dealing with the courts.
As my colleague, the member for Charlottetown, has pointed out, poor memory and memory loss when a person is unable to recall prior events or parts of events is a huge issue. If individuals legitimately cannot recall how events have unfolded through no fault of their own, these individuals may end up incriminating themselves in court or during interrogation, as they become vulnerable to accepting events as they are presented to them.
An impairment in mental functioning, judgment, and reasoning leads people with FASD to sometimes make the wrong choices and end up running into conflicts within our legal system. This must be taken into account when a crime is committed by someone suffering from fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. These and other symptoms of FASD outline just how delicate a situation can be when dealing with a person who is suffering from this disorder while going through our criminal justice system.
When I talk to people who work in the correctional system in ridings like mine, I hear from them about their regularly seeing clients who suffer from FASD. They understand how this disease impacts these people's judgment, memory, and understanding of events around them. Many times they have expressed their concerns to me about these individuals who are experiencing FASD and going through the legal system. I could talk extensively on FASD in particular, simply because I deal with this issue on a daily basis within my own riding. I know the delicacy of this issue. I know how important it is to understand it from a public perspective, but also to provide education about it in our communities so that we can work harder to try to prevent this disease that, as we know, is preventable.