An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (fetal alcohol disorder)

This bill was last introduced in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session, which ended in September 2019.


Larry Bagnell  Liberal

Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)


Defeated, as of Dec. 13, 2016
(This bill did not become law.)


This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment amends 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. It requires the court to consider, as a mitigating factor in sentencing, a determination that the offender suffers from a fetal alcohol disorder.

The enactment also requires the court to make orders to require individuals who are determined to suffer from a fetal alcohol disorder to follow an external support plan to ensure that they receive the necessary support to facilitate their successful reintegration into society.

Lastly, it makes consequential amendments to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act.


All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.


Dec. 13, 2016 Failed That the Bill be now read a second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

December 6th, 2016 / 6:30 p.m.
See context


Robert-Falcon Ouellette Liberal Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am proud to stand in the House of Commons for debate on Bill C-235, an act to amend the Criminal Code and the Corrections and Conditional Release Act.

It is an act that looks at fetal alcohol spectrum disorder in the criminal justice system. It would make it more responsive to the needs of our society.

It is incredible that today, in 2016, we still lock up people who suffer and take little to no account of the impact on their mental health or the long-term outcomes. In this case, we are talking about FASD. We are talking about outcomes in the criminal justice system and the hopeful rehabilitation of our fellow citizens.

In Winnipeg I have had the great privilege of meeting youth who have been impacted by FASD, youth who want to contribute to our society. FASD Life's Journey, an organization in Winnipeg Centre, helps by offering training and support to our fellow citizens so that they can navigate life more successfully.

FASD affects the central nervous system. Symptoms include learning difficulties, difficulty with social interactions, behaviour affected by impulses and passions, which has consequences, and memory issues.

I spoke with these youth about politics and what we do here in this House. It was just last month. I also had the opportunity to see them working with the drum, using traditional indigenous healing techniques to make their lives better. They did that drumming with such passion. They lived in the moment. It was as if there was no tomorrow. It was not in 10 minutes that we were going to be living but right now, today.

They sang Gitchi Manitou Makwa, which is a song called great bear spirit, and it was great. I was proud to participate with them.

I have had the opportunity of reading the annual report of the Office of the Correctional Investigator. In January 2016, it reported that the federal corrections system had a sad milestone: 25% of the inmate population in federal penitentiaries are indigenous people. They are 35% of the women's population in prison. Between 2005 and 2015, the federal inmate population grew by 10%. In the same period, the indigenous population grew by 50%.

We all know these stats here in the House. It was a decade of darkness. We have become ready in our society to lock up people who are suffering and throw away the keys. They are people like James, who I met at the John Howard Society. He has been in and out of prison most of his adult life. As an indigenous man, he has been given no support, except now, by the John Howard Society. He is a man who suffers from FASD. He is my relation. He is all of our relation. He is my brother. I believe that he, too, can become a productive member of our society.

This bill is the work of the hon. member for Yukon. I am very proud of what he has done. It has four recommendations, which come from the Canadian Bar Association. This association represents thousands of lawyers who deal with this affliction every day.

First, this bill would allow the courts to order an assessment to determine if a person charged with a crime had FASD. Second, if the assessment was positive, it would allow the judge to use it as a mitigating factor in sentencing in certain circumstances. Third, the bill directs that FASD would be added to the already prescribed list of special needs the correctional institution must be responsive to. Fourth, and most importantly, offenders with FASD would have an external support plan when they left prison so they would not immediately reoffend or miss a probation meeting, and as judges often say, use the revolving door of a broken system again and again and end up in my riding, clogging up, unfortunately, our justice system.

On December 18, 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission issued its final report, “Honouring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future”. The Government of Canada has committed to implementing all of the recommendations. These goals are important, and they are also very ambitious.

The TRC's calls to action impact corrections as well. I am going to read those calls to action:

1. Eliminate the overrepresentation of Aboriginal people and youth in custody over the next decade.

2. Implement community sanctions that provide realistic alternatives to imprisonment for Aboriginal offenders and respond to the underlying causes of offending.

3. Eliminate barriers to the creation of additional Aboriginal healing lodges within the federal correctional system.

4. Enact statutory exemptions for mandatory minimum sentences or imprisonment for offenders affected by Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD).

5. Reduce the rate of criminal victimization of Aboriginal people.

We promised that during the election. I promised that during the election. This bill goes a long way to making a difference. It will go a long way to making this system more responsive.

I have been told there are some provincial justice ministers who are concerned with the bill. However, they should remember what their title says. It says “justice minister”. As a justice minister they must offer justice to all Canadians. It is unjust when young people with FASD do not receive the community supports they need, when they end up in prison because of a series of poor choices they make throughout their life.

We should be focused on ensuring that our most vulnerable fellow citizens are not in prison due to a lack of resources, or time, or effort, or cost or perhaps just the plain laziness of bureaucracy and the inability of systems to be flexible.

I would hope our government would be able to support this legislation. I hope my fellow parliamentarians will hear the call from the hon. member for Yukon for the great work he has done, because it is important. It is one small step in realizing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's 94 recommendations, and it is a path that we can make today. It is something we can start today.

Tapwe akwa khitwam.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

December 6th, 2016 / 6:35 p.m.
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Brigitte Sansoucy NDP Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Mr. Speaker, today I am pleased to speak to Bill C-235, an act to amend the Criminal Code and the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (fetal alcohol disorder).

I want to begin by saying that my NDP colleagues and I will support this bill. The NDP would like all parties in the House to work together to adopt this positive and long-overdue reform, which the previous government neglected.

Fetal alcohol disorder can have a range of effects on affected individuals. Those effects may include difficulty reasoning, inability to remember things, and trouble learning from past experiences and not repeating mistakes.

Bill C-235 defines the neurodevelopmental disorders associated with prenatal alcohol exposure. The spectrum of these disorders is commonly known as “fetal alcohol spectrum disorder” or by the acronym FASD, which I will use. This bill would amend the Criminal Code to establish a procedure for assessing individuals who are involved in the criminal justice system and who may suffer from fetal alcohol disorder. It would also include FASD as a mitigating factor in sentencing.

The bill also recognizes FASD as a disability in the federal correctional system. It also requires the courts to order people who have FASD to follow an external support plan so that they receive the support they need for their reintegration into society. It finally makes a consequential amendment to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act.

Bill C-235 is actually is a reintroduction of two past bills to better address the needs of individuals suffering from fetal alcohol syndrome disorder who find themselves in our criminal justice system. In terms of the trial process, this latest version of the bill allows the courts to order an assessment over the objections of the defendant and at any stage of the proceedings. We have supported every past incarnation of this bill, which seeks to better address the needs and circumstances of offenders suffering from fetal alcohol spectrum disorder in the criminal justice system.

In accordance with its order of reference of Wednesday, November 26, 2014, the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights studied a previous version of this bill, Bill C-583. The report of that study was tabled in May 2015. The report indicates conclusively that people with fetal alcohol disorder are overrepresented in the penal justice system. According to a study conducted by the Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Society of Yukon, 76% of the target population affected by fetal alcohol disorder had contact with the justice system.

Currently, our justice system does not leave room to take the individual's situation into account or to address it. It is therefore very important to support this bill, which needs to be passed quickly if we are to take people and their particular condition into consideration when we seek justice. We sincerely lament the fact that for years, the Conservatives ignored evidence and used a one-size-fits-all approach to impose mandatory minimum sentences that are costly, ineffective, and even unconstitutional.

The NDP is in favour of a more effective approach that is more suited to the victims. We have a real problem when it comes to identifying this disorder in those who have it. Wenda Bradley, one of the witnesses who appeared before the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, said that “there are many people within our society who are affected by FASD but who have not been recognized and who keep circling in and out of the justice system”.

The problem is that this disorder is somewhat invisible. Those who have it look like you and me. However, they have special needs and that is why we must provide them with the appropriate support throughout the entire penal process.

In fact, when he appeared before the same committee, Rodney Snow had this to say:

...criminal law assumes that individuals make informed choices, that they decide to commit crimes, and that they learn from their own behaviour and the behaviour of others. Fourth, these assumptions are often not valid for individuals with FASD, so our criminal justice system fails them and it fails us.

By considering this disorder as a mitigating factor in criminal proceedings, we could better adjust sentences for these individuals. Studies of young offenders indicated, for example, that the sentence alone does not reduce criminal recidivism. On the contrary, it could even encourage it.

The passage of this bill would allow the criminal justice system to adapt sentences for these individuals so that they are as effective as possible. Moreover, a system would have to be put in place to identify children with fetal alcohol syndrome as early as possible.

The data I have collected on children with fetal alcohol syndrome demonstrate the extent of the problem in Canada. In Quebec, one in 128 children are affected by this disorder. In Ontario, one in 156 are affected. In Saskatchewan, it is one in 40. In the Northwest Territories, it is one in 33.

We must not wait until these individuals wind up in court for committing a crime before they are diagnosed with this disorder. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Yes, including FASD as a mitigating factor in sentencing is already a big step forward. However, this disorder also carries other consequences. A number of FASD symptoms, such as impulsiveness, make it hard for sufferers to hold down a job or live a stable life, which can lead to poverty and homelessness.

Having spent many years working in community-based organizations, including over 10 years as executive director of Auberge du coeur Le Baluchon, I knew a few young people who had FASD who, as a result of the disorder, had developmental delays and were constantly having problems at school. These young people endure one failure after another, and often they do not even understand why. They think that they are to blame for their problems and that they are inadequate. They often have very low self-esteem, which creates a whole slew of other problems. They will be penalized throughout their lives by the lack of appropriate care and support.

I think that it is critical that the government do more to support other levels of government in order to help people who have FASD and invest in prevention and awareness.

As an NDP member, I support this bill, and I urge all my colleagues in the House to do the same. Let us think of all the young people suffering from FASD and bring in measures that could help them.

Rod Snow, former president of the Canadian Bar Association, agrees that everyone should support this amendment to the Criminal Code and to our correctional system so that they are appropriate and effective when it comes to fighting crime. The old approach is simply not working.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

December 6th, 2016 / 6:45 p.m.
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Michael McLeod Liberal Northwest Territories, NT

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak in support of Bill C-235, an act to amend the Criminal Code and the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (fetal alcohol disorder).

Alcohol is one of the most toxic substances we humans consume. Unfortunately, in pregnancy, it crosses the placenta and disrupts the fetal development. As a result, some children are born with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, or FASD.

FASD was first identified a little more than 40 years ago when a similar pattern of malformations was discovered in children, but the disorder goes way beyond the physical. Individuals affected by FASD may have trouble with memory, attention, self-care, decision-making and social skills, and may also suffer from mental health disorders such as depression, addiction, and difficulty controlling their emotions. They may also have problems with organization and planning daily activities, controlling their emotions and completing tasks, which would allow them to lead productive lives.

Circumstances such as these often lead these individuals into trouble with the law and create further issues once they are incarcerated. The consequences associated with FASD are widespread. They may affect the child, the families, and the communities they reside in.

To give everyone a better picture of the prevalence of FASD in Canada, this disorder affects nearly one in 100 children. Some Canadian data indicates greater prevalence of FASD in children in rural communities, the foster care systems, the juvenile justice systems, and aboriginal populations.

This higher prevalence of FASD found in aboriginal children is often linked to historical and multi-generational trauma. Research and data on the consequences of FASD have grown in the past decades, and programs are being implemented to prevent the disorder and address the special circumstances and the difficulties people are suffering from FASD.

However, it is time to address FASD in the criminal justice system. In fact, in its calls to action, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission called upon the Government of Canada and the provincial and territorial governments to undertake reform of the criminal justice system to address the needs of offenders suffering from FASD.

That said, let us get to the reasons why the bill is important. As my colleague, the hon. member for Yukon, mentioned, the bill seeks to do a number of things. First, it seeks to define FASD. Second, the bill would give a court the right to order FASD assessments where it has reasonable grounds to believe an offender may be suffering from the disorder and that FASD could have had an impact on the offence committed. Third, the bill would give the court discretion to consider FASD as a mitigating factor when handing down a sentence. Fourth, when a person with FASD is released, they would have an external support plan.

It is important to understand that the goal of the bill is not to consider FASD as an excuse for bad behaviour. When a person breaks the law, it is important that this person be held to account. Why it is important to give the court the ability to order FASD assessments where it has reasonable grounds to believe an offender may be affected by the disorder is that not all cases of FASD are physically recognizable, and not all individuals affected by FASD are diagnosed early in life. They may only discover they have FASD once they enter the criminal justice system. It is essential that screening for FASD take place within the criminal justice system to better address the needs of those individuals affected by this disorder. The earlier we are able to identify offenders with FASD, the more we will be able to avoid more serious crimes being committed in the future, and the more we will be able to manage these individuals when they are incarcerated.

Then comes the question, why is it important to consider FASD as a mitigating factor in the sentencing process? When a person breaks the law, it is important that this person be held to account, but it is also important to consider the greater picture and to look at the explanation of the person's behaviour.

As I mentioned earlier, people with FASD may suffer from an array of symptoms, such as a lack of understanding of the consequences of their actions, making them more prone to trouble with the law.

We need to understand that these individuals are born with a development disorder due to exposure to alcohol before they were even born. We need to recognize that they are victims of a disorder. It therefore becomes all about creating a balance between recognizing the effects of this disorder on offenders and the need to hold people accountable for their actions. This bill would give the courts the power to do this.

Health Canada estimates that as many as nine in every 1,000 babies born in Canada have a disability on the FASD spectrum. The effects of this are a lifelong array of mental and physical disabilities, including difficulty understanding the consequence of their actions. As a result, many of the victims of FASD end up in Canada's justice system and prisons. Data suggests that between 10% and 23% of inmates in our prisons have FASD.

The Canadian Bar Association, the organization representing Canada's legal professionals, agrees that this is too many people and has indicated its support for Bill C-235. It feels that an unfair number of people with FASD are being prosecuted by the legal system. Here is a quote directly from a CBA letter, which all members should have received this week from the member for Yukon. It states:

We believe that Bill C-235 is an important step in addressing some of the shortcomings of the current framework....

Bill C-235 advances several changes, in line with previous suggestions made by CBA. The CBA supports the proposed amendment to define FASD in section 2 of the Criminal Code. The CBA also supports an amendment to allow a judge to order an assessment of someone they suspect has FASD. We believe this would assist courts in handing out more appropriate dispositions to people with FASD. The CBA supports amending the sentencing provisions in section 718.2 of the Criminal Code to allow a judge to consider evidence that an offender has FASD as a mitigating factor on sentencing. We also appreciate the section that would require judges to include, as a condition of probation, compliance with an external support plan established for the purpose of supporting and facilitating successful reintegration into society. Finally we commend the proposed amendment to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act to expressly require Correctional Services Canada to be responsive to special requirements or limitations of people with FASD. The problem of incarcerating people with FASD is pressing and can no longer be ignored.

This is a strong endorsement from the legal profession. We need to take action to assist those who have been incarcerated to help ensure they receive support to help them get back into society. That is why I urge all my hon. colleagues to consider voting in favour of this very important bill.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

December 6th, 2016 / 6:55 p.m.
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Scarborough Southwest Ontario


Bill Blair LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, today I rise to contribute to the second reading debate on the matter of Bill C-235, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, fetal alcohol disorder. I would like to begin by thanking most sincerely the member for Yukon for his advocacy on this very important issue. With this private member's bill and other initiatives, he is growing a greater awareness of a disorder that often goes unnoticed.

The private member's bill would amend both the Criminal Code and the Corrections and Conditional Release Act to provide special treatment for individuals with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, FASD, who are involved in the criminal justice system. The bill proposes to do essentially four things: first, to define FASD in the Criminal Code; second, to permit judges to order FASD assessments for bail and sentencing; third, to require sentencing judges to consider FASD as a mitigating factor for the purposes of sentencing; and, finally, to require Correctional Service of Canada to provide FASD-specific programming for individuals who are serving prison sentences in federal facilities.

FASD is a diagnostic term used to describe the brain damage caused by prenatal exposure to alcohol as a result of maternal consumption of alcohol. In other words, if a pregnant woman consumes alcohol while she is pregnant, it may result in irreversible, lifelong brain damage to her baby. According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, FASD affects at least 1% of all babies born in Canada, and it is the leading cause of preventable congenital brain damage and developmental disability. However, due to the fact that there are usually no obvious external physical indicators, FASD is for all intents and purposes invisible. The invisible nature of this condition is one of the reasons it poses such a challenge to the criminal justice system and, indeed, to our greater society.

I want to emphasize at the outset that the government fully supports the very laudable objectives of the private member's bill. However, after careful consideration, we have concluded that the bill presents serious policy and legal challenges that cannot be substantially addressed through amendments; and therefore, for these reasons, the government is unable to support the specific proposals of this bill.

We come to these conclusions after reading the recently released report from a committee of federal-provincial-territorial experts on the exact proposals covered in this bill. This group of experts, the Federal-Provincial-Territorial Steering Committee on Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder was struck at the request of federal-provincial-territorial ministers responsible for justice and public safety. Their mandate was to study the issue of FASD in the criminal justice system, and to consider how to improve access to justice for individuals with FASD and to make recommendations for action to ministers and deputy ministers responsible for justice and public safety.

The committee members considered several proposals for legislative reform to address FASD, including the specific ones that are proposed in Bill C-235. The FASD steering committee reported its findings and recommendations to the ministers of justice just this past October and their report was made publicly available. I would encourage each and every member who has not already done so to read this report, which is publicly available online at the Canadian Intergovernmental Conference Secretariat. I would also like to draw members' attention to one of the overarching themes in the report that speaks directly to the heart of the proposals that are before us today.

The committee concluded:

...legislative amendments which would single out one specific disability for special treatment to the exclusion of others was not supported. It was noted that the criminal law does not currently single out specific disabilities and no policy rationale for singling out FASD in this way was identified.

This is a very important point, and I would like to take a moment to reflect briefly on it. The Criminal Code does not currently define any specific mental disorders or disabilities. Instead, section 2 of the code defines mental disorder broadly as disease of the mind. This has been interpreted by the Supreme Court of Canada to embrace any illness, disorder, or abnormal condition which impairs the human mind and its functioning. FASD has been found on numerous occasions to be a mental disorder under this very broad definition. The bill's proposal to include a definition of only FASD would therefore likely raise questions about why the law does not also specifically identify any other disorder, and may lead to calls for their inclusion in the future.

While specifically identifying other disorders may seem like an obvious solution to this challenge, I invite members to consider that there are more than 300 separate and distinct mental disorders listed in the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

One can only imagine what the Criminal Code would look like if each and every disorder was specifically defined and our courts were given instructions to treat each specific disorder diagnosis differently. Proceeding in the manner proposed by the bill before us could, unfortunately, create a potential discriminatory impact of establishing a regime that focuses exclusively on one particular disorder to the exclusion of others. This reflects one of the many possible unintended consequences of the bill.

The government also had similar concerns with respect to the proposed FASD assessment power. It would permit judges to order FASD-specific assessments for a number of enumerated reasons under the criminal law. The proposal to only permit a court to order an FASD assessment would mean that other disorders would not be diagnosed, potentially creating a hierarchy of medical conditions in the criminal law.

I would like to return for a moment to the report of the FASD steering committee. It also expressed concern with the issue of creating a specific FASD assessment power in the Criminal Code. However, it recognized that in the area of sentencing, the ability of the court to order a broader assessment of the mental condition of the accused was unclear, and therefore these assessments are not undertaken in a consistent way across the country.

The steering committee was of the view that clarifying the Criminal Code assessment power to permit a broader assessment of the mental condition of the accused for the purposes of sentencing would permit the court to gather relevant evidence about the accused, including information about the offender's capacities, limitations, and support needs. Such an approach would provide an opportunity to address many of the concerns underlying the proposal for specific FASD assessment and could have a positive impact for all offenders in the criminal justice system, not only for those with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.

The government agrees with the conclusions of the steering committee that FASD should not be specifically singled out, but that there should be a study of a broader assessment power for the purposes of sentencing, and I would support that approach.

In conclusion, although the government cannot support the proposals as they are presented in the bill, I want to take a moment to reflect and to again thank the member for Yukon for bringing this very important issue before Parliament. His efforts and his passion have created a national discussion on this very important issue, and I would like to personally commend him for his leadership and his commitment.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

November 3rd, 2016 / 5:35 p.m.
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Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

moved that Bill C-235, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (fetal alcohol disorder), be read a second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to be here today on the traditional territory of the Algonquin people.

I am moved today to start the debate on my bill, Bill C-235, an act to amend the Criminal Code and the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (fetal alcohol disorder).

We have all seen television episodes of someone wrongly imprisoned and how that devastates their lives and how heart breaking it is. I am sure that has moved many members to tears. We have it in our power with Bill C-235 to end a number of cases of needless suffering of innocents. It is not one, not two, not three, but potentially over 2,000 cases a year. In fact, for people alive in Canada today, it could potentially affect 180,000 Canadians. This is an immense challenge and humanitarian opportunity.

First, I will explain the bill briefly. FASD, fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, is permanent brain damage caused by prenatal exposure to alcohol. In a vast majority of cases, unlike other ailments, it is an invisible affliction. Among the symptoms of the resulting defects in the central nervous system are impaired mental functioning, poor executive functioning, memory problems, impaired judgment, inability to control compulsive behaviour, and impaired ability to understand the consequences of one's actions. These distinct set of attributes are capably diagnosed by today's modern assessments. Through no fault of their own, those born with this have brains that do not have the ability to keep them from committing crimes or understanding the consequences. Therefore, normal sentencing, normal incarceration, normal release do not make any logical sense in their regard, and do not fulfill the purposes for which they were created.

The bill comprises four recommendations from the Canadian Bar Association, which represents the thousands of lawyers and judges who deal with this affliction every day. First, it would allow the court to order assessments of an offender to see if they have FASD. Second, if they have FASD, it would allow them to use that as a mitigating factor in sentencing. Third, when a person with FASD is in custody, the bill directs that they be treated specially for that. It would be added to a list of other conditions and groups of people treated specially in the correctional system. Fourth, when a person with FASD is released they would have an external support plan so they do not miss probation, for example, and end up, as judges say, through the revolving door and back in prison.

While prima facie, it is a simple bill, many bills can be improved in committee and I would welcome any logical amendments to it.

My goal is to reduce unnecessary, tragic human suffering, but some may want to know the financial savings. Assessments cost in the order of $5,000. If Ontario were to keep one-half of the early potential 840 FASD offenders out of jail for just one year, at $100,000 a year, it would provide the province with over $40 million a year for more logical, just, humane, effective ways of dealing with these offenders and their afflictions.

It is important to note that in the last Parliament, similar bills to this were twice before the Parliament. One was Conservative and one was Liberal. However, there was not enough time for them to complete the legislative cycle. We will shortly hear some of the excerpts from that debate. Speakers from all parties supported and spoke in favour of that bill.

It is important to recognize that this bill is only a small piece of the much larger puzzle of steps needed to alleviate the suffering, and sometimes tortured existence, of people with FASD. Other steps that need to be taken include prevention. This is a totally preventable condition. They include steps to prevent contact with the justice system in the first place, further research, special services, restorative justice, information sharing, targeted interventions, and supportive living arrangements.

These are important tasks for others, but this bill only deals with FASD sufferers who are involved with the justice system. That is about 60% of them. Yes, I said 60%.

As I outlined at the beginning, and as we can see, the need is staggering. It is estimated that one in 100 Canadians is afflicted with FASD and studies have indicated that, minimally, between 10% and 30% of inmates in today's prisons have FASD, costing us tens of millions of dollars.

This is perhaps why in its call to action No. 34, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission calls on the governments of Canada, the provinces, and the territories “to undertake reforms to the criminal justice system to better address the needs of offenders with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD)”.

As I said, I am open to amendments, and I will just give members four questions that people might want to debate in committee.

First, should the judge have the power to make assessments mandatory?

There are mixed views on this. There are already precedents in the criminal justice system for ordering assessments, but if parliamentarians feel that these should not be mandatory, then it would be easy to amend the bill. We do have to protect the offender from self-incrimination during these assessments. If parliamentarians wanted, they could expand the assessment section to clarify Criminal Code assessment powers in general, and that would also include FASD assessments. To the credit of the territories and the provinces, assessments are much more widely available now than in the past.

Second, what about people with other inflictions who are not included in the bill?

First, they are not filling our jails in the thousands like the FASD offenders are; second, if there were a big need in other identified afflictions needing special conditions that could be prescribed, someone would have proposed legislative remedies for that situation; and third, most other conditions are visible and otherwise known to the judge, while FASD is known as the invisible affliction because, until diagnosed, many people, including judges, would not know the offender had FASD and impaired brain and central nervous functions. Indeed, some have high IQs but still have the interaction deficiencies that I outlined at the beginning of my speech. Fourth, if another condition and its deficiencies and special provisions were presented to the committee, these could easily added to the bill now or to the Criminal Code at a later date. To date, no serious evidence has been presented to us of another condition with near the magnitude of a problem that FASD poses in our present day justice system, as identified by lawyers, judges, and FASD workers across Canada.

A third question that members might want to debate in committee is the following. What if, in the rare violent offender FASD cases, the assessment results in the offender being put in protective custody for a longer time than would have occurred without the assessment, for the safety of both himself and the public?

I say, so be it. As an evidence-based government, it is better to have more evidence to make a decision.

A fourth question is, should the external support plan be approved by the judge or the probation officer, and should it be voluntary, after the time of a normal sentence of a person who does not have FASD?

Those are four items we could discuss. As I said, I am open to amendments.

We can save thousands if we act now, from injustice and needless suffering. Perhaps, in the future, we could even add a few more if a condition and its legislative remedies are identified and documented. However, there is no reason to delay. If in fact someone launched and won a challenge and were added to the criminal justice system, then our pioneering efforts would have paved the way for that to happen, for that person or that group to have justice, too.

There is a huge desire on the part of MPs on all sides of the House to improve greatly our dealing with mental health issues in Canada. What a great humanitarian advance it would be if we could improve the lives of thousands with this mental deficiency. It goes without saying that in Canada, and in fact around the world, there is great support for legislative assistance for people afflicted with FASD who come into contact with the legal system. When a similar bill was before Parliament, the Conservative proponent said he had 1,500 stakeholders supporting his efforts. I have my own large network of support.

The Conservative member also said, on June 5, 2014, in Hansard:

I would also like to extend my gratitude to the legislators of the Yukon Territory and the Northwest Territories, both of which recently passed unanimous motions calling on the Government to support Bill C-583.

Some FASD workers in other countries applaud Canada for these pioneering efforts and want to use them as models in their own nations.

However, it is not only FASD experts in the field who are so passionate and excited about the bill. We must remember that the bill is different from a lot of normal private member's bills that may not have a legislative background. The bill is comprised of only the four recommendations from the Canadian Bar Association, and crafted by its president at the time Rod Snow, thousands of its member lawyers, legal experts, and judges who deal constantly in the courts and corrections system with offenders who suffer with FASD. Who better to craft the legislative improvement?

The purpose of sentencing is to protect the public by presenting a deterrent to offenders so that when they get out, which virtually all of them do, they do not reoffend. However, the damaged brain of FASD offenders often do not connect the crime with the punishment. Therefore, if they do not know why they are being punished, why would we continuously, cruelly, and senselessly incarcerate them, at the cost of tens of millions of dollars, instead of treating and supervising them appropriately on the basis of the reality of the sad truth of their physical brain deficiency?

I want to quote again from the Conservative speech from Hansard, when the bill was before Parliament on June 5, 2014. It is a quote about a young FASD woman speaking at a conference. It states:

She talked about going to work in the morning and forgetting her keys and then returning home to get her keys, but then forgetting why she had come home. Then, when she finally realized what she was looking for, her keys, she forgot what she needed her keys for. She had to slow down and calm herself and deal with that confusion and frustration of not being able to really grasp exactly what she needed to get done.

Imagine this young woman being tasked with making a number of probation or court appearances or appointments. What happens if she misses an appointment? She would go back to jail because of an administrative breach. These people have a damaged nervous system and little concept of timing, and we are irrationally and unjustly sentencing them to a painful and personal purgatory.

Our current federal justice minister said it as well as anyone I have heard, when she said this to the Canadian Bar Association last February:

The truth is that many offenders have some combination of mental illness and addiction....

Imagine if we could change the system to better align it with the needs of all Canadians. What if an offender's first interaction with the criminal justice system did not become the first in a series? What if it triggered mechanisms designed to address the factors that inspired the criminal behaviour in the first place?

It has been a long day. Let us imagine we are going home. However, what if after we have walked a couple of blocks from here, to our horror, we are picked up by the police and put in jail for a couple of years, far from our friends and family, and we did not know why? Then, when our time was up and we got out of this horrible situation, we were picked up by a police car again and told that we missed an appointment and we were thrown back in jail. We would wonder how people could be so cruel.

Colleagues, let us show what it means to be Canadian and end the suffering of thousands who, through no fault of their own, cannot help themselves.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

November 3rd, 2016 / 5:55 p.m.
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Michael Cooper Conservative St. Albert—Edmonton, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege to rise this evening to speak to Bill C-235, introduced by the hon. member for Yukon. l believe this is a very well-intentioned bill to deal with the incredibly complicated issues surrounding fetal alcohol spectrum disorder within the context of Canada's criminal justice system.

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, or FASD, is a non-clinical umbrella term to describe individuals who suffer permanent brain damage as a result of prenatal exposure to alcohol. FASD is not new, however. Over the last number of years there has been increased awareness about FASD and its effects.

There is no doubt that persons who suffer from FASD are more likely to be caught up in the criminal justice system. While it is unclear exactly what percentage of offenders within the criminal justice system has FASD, the fact is that because there is increased awareness about it, the issues of FASD are becoming relevant in more and more reported criminal cases throughout our courts.

Our criminal justice system is based upon a number of different assumptions. One of those assumptions is the presumption of voluntariness, that individuals act in an informed manner when they commit a crime. In that regard, it is only in very narrow circumstances that an individual may be exempt from the imposition of criminal liability in a mental health context.

Normally, in order for an individual to be exempt from criminal liability on the basis of mental health, the mental illness defence would need to be made out. In order for that defence to be made out, it would have to be established that the individuals suffered from a severe impairment that went to their ability to comprehend the wrongfulness of their actions or the harm that their actions brought about. It is again only in a very narrow set of circumstances, and indeed there are many instances involving FASD or other mental illnesses that would not meet the threshold for the mental illness defence to apply.

Given the increased prevalence of cases involving FASD, many of the assumptions that have long underlined the criminal law in Canada are being challenged every day, including principles of voluntariness and free will.

One of the most common areas in which the issue of FASD becomes an issue in criminal cases is at the sentencing stage. Bill C-235 seeks to amend the Criminal Code by establishing a presumption that FASD is a mitigating factor for the purpose of sentencing. The principles of sentencing are set out at sections 718-718.2 of the Criminal Code. The most important principle in sentencing is set out at subsection 718.1 of the Criminal Code, which provides that a just sentence is based on the degree of responsibility of the offender.

Whenever judges apply the principles of sentencing under the Criminal Code, including assessing the degree of responsibility of the offender, it is a very complicated task. It is one of the most complicated tasks, usually, in the course of a criminal trial. That task is made all the more complicated when dealing with offenders with FASD.

While Bill C-235 seeks to establish a presumption that FASD is a mitigating factor for sentencing, it should be noted that the courts have not responded in a uniform way on that particular issue. There are many reported cases in which the courts have taken into account the particular facts and circumstances of the case and the particular facts and circumstances surrounding the offender, and determined that FASD should be a mitigating factor for the purpose of sentencing.

However, there are other cases in which the courts have held quite the opposite in finding that FASD should be an aggravating factor. One such case, for example, is the I.D.B. case in which a provincial court judge in Alberta found that it was an aggravating factor. The decision of the provincial court judge was upheld by the Alberta Court of Appeal.

The bottom line is that, any time we are dealing with a case involving FASD, every case is unique, no case is the same, and each case is incredibly complex. I certainly note that Bill C-235 seeks to amend the Criminal Code by creating this presumption. I do have some questions as to whether that presumption is appropriate, given that there is no one-size-fits-all case involving offenders with FASD, and yet to some degree part of Bill C-235 could create a one-size-fits-all approach in terms of sentencing, arguably, in terms of at least establishing this presumption of it being a mitigating factor. That being said, it would be only a presumption.

Second, I do have some concern with the fact that Bill C-235 deals exclusively with offenders with FASD, but it does not encompass offenders who have other illnesses, including the fact that it creates a specific presumption for persons with FASD but would not extend that presumption to persons who suffer from other mental illnesses. In that regard, I have some concern that the bill could perhaps create an inconsistency in the Criminal Code that could potentially be problematic.

In closing, I want to congratulate the member for Yukon for bringing forward the bill. It is an important issue, a complicated issue, and I look forward to the debate this evening on it.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

November 3rd, 2016 / 6:05 p.m.
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Sheri Benson NDP Saskatoon West, SK

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to support Bill C-235.

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.

The FASD Network of Saskatchewan is a provincial organization that works with families, children, and adults affected by fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. It is a group of dedicated parents who came together in the early 1990s, seeking support and understanding. They have common concerns about the challenges related to parenting children affected by prenatal exposure to alcohol.

When the network began, very little was known about FASD. Families faced stigma, lack of services, and misunderstanding. Now, 20 years later, the network is a community-based, provincial organization with an office in my riding in Saskatoon. Over the years, the level of knowledge and understanding in Saskatchewan communities has grown along with the network. Today, the network offers support, training, and events across the province.

Before I speak to the bill itself, I would like to reiterate and emphasize some facts about FASD, some of which we have heard already.

FASD is the biggest single cause of mental disabilities in most industrialized countries. According to Health Canada, FASD affects nine in every 1,000 babies in Canada, or 3,000 births per year; 300,000 Canadians are currently living with FASD.

As we have heard, FASD is an umbrella term to describe a range of disabilities and diagnoses, the severity of which may be affected by how much alcohol was consumed by the mother and when.

The effects of FASD, such as difficulty reasoning, inability to remember things like appointments, trouble learning from past experiences and not repeating mistakes, can often contribute to other problems, including mental health issues, dropping out of school, trouble with the law, chronic unemployment, drug and alcohol addiction, and homelessness.

Amy Salmon, executive director of the Canada Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Research Network (CanFASD), has said:

We know that people with FASD are overrepresented--both as offenders, but also as victims--within the justice system. And we know that in many places around the country, people with FASD are also overrepresented among those who are incarcerated.

Living with FASD is about more than a diagnosis. It is also about living with strengths and struggles. It is about living with a disability. All across Canada, infants, children, youth, and adults live with FASD and experience a range of primary disabilities caused directly by prenatal alcohol exposure. No two individuals experience the primary cognitive, behavioural, physical, or sensory disabilities in the same way.

FASD affects not just the individual, but families and their communities as well. There are no confirmed statistics on the number of Canadians living with FASD, but the commonly stated rate is 1%. Using that rate, about 153 Saskatchewan babies were born with FASD in 2014.

It is a lifelong disability, but when we have the right attitudes and put the right supports in place around both the families that are going to be having children and the families that may be living with children who live with FASD, we can set people up for success.

Here are some sobering numbers. An estimated one out of 100 newborns are affected by FASD in Canada and, of that population, 60% of those individuals will have interaction with the justice system. In 2014-15, the cost of incarceration for individuals ranged from $199 for provincial jails to over $300 per day federally. FASD is an invisible disability, thus, opting for FASD testing and referrals to community services and support systems will decrease the fiscal impact of high cost incarceration, while ensuring continuous support from the community.

This combination of individual, professional, and systemic factors converge to result in a disproportionate number of youth with FASD being incarcerated. In fact, youth with FASD have been found to be 10 to 19 times more likely to be incarcerated than youth without FASD.

In another sample of 253 individuals with FASD, 60% reported a history of being charged, convicted, or in trouble with authorities, and 42% of adults had been incarcerated. Recent data from the forensic outpatient clinic in Saskatchewan revealed that the rate of FASD diagnoses was 55% in its adult population. All of the available evidence to date indicates both the necessity and value of incorporating FASD screening and diagnosis into the justice system.

In the absence of a full diagnosis that requires a multidisciplinary team, several screening tools have been developed and validated, including the FASD checklist and the Youth Probation Officers' Guide to FASD Screening and Referral.

With improved understanding and recognition of FASD in the criminal justice system, appropriate and early interventions and management plans can be implemented. Whether encountering the justice system as a witness, victim, or offender, individuals with FASD have unique and often complex needs that are not supported in the current justice system model. With improved training of FASD for front-line workers, individuals with FASD will have access to equitable justice outcomes.

The framework for action on FASD, unveiled in 2003, recognized that:

The costs of FASD to society are high—without taking into account the lost potential and opportunity, direct costs associated with FASD over a lifetime have been estimated at about $1.5 million per person with FASD.

I am in full agreement with FASD Saskatoon when it says it is imperative for Canada to recognize FASD as a cognitive disability that reduces moral culpability and thus should 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 stem from his or her 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 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 29 individuals who live with FASD. Of those 29, 22 became part of the support program's case management and were supported through and after the court process. Of these 22 individuals, three are still going through and being supported through the court process. So far, of the 19 people who have been supported and sentenced through the mental health strategy Court, 17 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, often 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.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

November 3rd, 2016 / 6:15 p.m.
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Charlottetown P.E.I.


Sean Casey LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to speak today to Bill C-235, an act to amend the Criminal Code, regarding fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.

I would like to begin by thanking the member for the Yukon for his long-standing advocacy on this important issue. By introducing this private member's bill, he has focused the attention of Parliament on a disorder that goes too often unnoticed in society. For this he is to be commended. He is clearly motivated by a desire to help society's marginalized and in the process create a safer and more just society. This private member's bill proposes to make changes to both the Criminal Code and the Corrections and Conditional Release Act to address the pressing challenge of persons with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder in the criminal justice system.

The issue of FASD was discussed by federal, provincial, and territorial ministers responsible for justice and public safety at their recent meeting this past October. At that meeting, the ministers approved a report from a steering committee of officials who were tasked with examining the issue. The report, which is now publicly available, sets out several comprehensive recommendations for addressing FASD in the criminal justice system. I will return to that report in more detail in a few minutes because it raises some key points.

First, though, I would like to say a few things about FASD itself.

As we have heard, FASD is a diagnostic term used to describe brain damage caused by prenatal exposure to alcohol. When a woman consumes alcohol while she is pregnant, the alcohol can impact the developing fetus and alter both the physical structure of the brain and the brain's capacity to function. This brain damage is permanent and has lifelong and far-reaching impacts on the individuals it affects and on society as a whole. FASD poses challenges for the criminal justice system, because without appropriate supports, individuals with FASD can be impulsive, unable to regulate their behaviour, and may be unable to learn from their mistakes. In fact, one study has estimated that 60% of individuals with FASD end up in trouble with the law.

This concern is compounded when combined with the limited available data about the number of individuals with FASD who are incarcerated in Canadian prisons. The most recent data on FASD in corrections comes from the Yukon. In that jurisdiction, the prevalence of FASD among convicted offenders is at least 17%. This number could in fact be as high as 34%, but given the challenges in confirming maternal alcohol consumption, the diagnosis cannot be conclusively made for these other individuals.

When faced with an overwhelming challenge to the criminal justice system such as FASD, often the first instinct is to look for a legislative solution. Amending the Criminal Code to specifically address FASD seems like an obvious place to start. However, as with many complex social issues, the most effective solution is often just as complex and may not be found in legislation. I would encourage all of us to think about the most effective way to truly have a positive impact on the lives of people with FASD.

It is worth noting that the report approved by federal, provincial, and territorial ministers in October, which I mentioned earlier, was the product of several years of study by the Steering Committee on FASD and Access to Justice comprised of officials from across the country. Their report did not recommend specifically naming FASD in the Criminal Code because that would single out one disorder to the exclusion of all others. Rather, it recommended further study of whether a more general assessment power for all mental disorders, including but not limited to FASD, would be a useful reform to assist courts in sentencing persons who are living with these conditions. Such a recommendation, especially from this source, merits consideration.

I would like to spend my remaining time discussing some of the specific proposals of Bill C-235 that raise some thought-provoking issues.

Bill C-235 proposes a legal definition of the term “fetal alcohol disorder” for the purposes of the criminal law. I note that this is slightly different from the medical term that is used to describe the condition, which is “fetal alcohol spectrum disorder”.

As part of the legal definition, the bill also lists some common symptoms of FASD, including impaired mental functioning, memory problems, and the inability to control impulse behaviour. I would note that this element of the bill would be a significant change in the Criminal Code, which currently does not single out specific disorders for differential treatment. The current approach is to use the general definition of mental disorder in section 2 of the code, which, according to the Supreme Court of Canada, can include an “illness, disorder, or abnormal condition which impairs the human mind and its functioning”.

I am given to understand that FASD is already considered a mental disorder for the purpose of criminal law, so it is entirely fair to ask whether it is necessary to create a separate definition specifically for FASD. Should we be concerned that this may result in pressure to single out other disorders in the Criminal Code?

The bill also proposes to permit the courts to order FASD-specific assessments for the purpose of bail and sentencing. It would require a sentencing court to adjust the sentence of the offenders if it was shown that they had FASD and that the FASD contributed to the commission of the offence.

These elements of the bill appear to be aimed at ensuring that the court has the necessary information to make appropriate decisions about a particular individual at the bail stage and to be sure that any sentence imposed is proportionate to the degree of responsibility of the offender. These are commendable objectives and ones that I know are shared by all those who advocate for a fair and effective criminal justice system.

The proposal for an assessment at the bail stage raises questions about the potential impact on the presumption of innocence and the liberty interests of accused persons who are suspected of having FASD. In particular, the bill would permit an accused to be held in custody for up to 60 days in certain circumstances while the assessment was undertaken. Given that this would occur before any trial on the merits of the charge, or potentially even before the bail hearing itself, it is possible that an assessment could in fact work to the detriment of the accused in some cases.

At the sentencing stage, it is fair to question whether the objective of imposing a proper sentence should only apply to individuals with FASD or whether there may also be a pressing need to consider the relevance of mental disorders or disabilities more generally, as the report from the federal-provincial-territorial steering committee recommended.

Finally, the bill proposes amendments to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, which would further require the Correctional Service of Canada to provide FASD-specific programming for individuals with FASD who are serving a federal sentence.

In conclusion, I would like to thank the member for Yukon for providing us with an opportunity to debate this important issue facing the criminal justice system. As he indicated, this is an issue that was presented in the form of two private member's bills in the last Parliament. They never did make it to the stage of having gone through committee, in part because of the call of the election and also in part because of some determination by the former member for Yukon to withdraw the bills to have them converted into a study.

It is a timely debate. It is one that needs to be had. The member for Yukon is doing the right thing by bringing it forward, and I look forward to hearing from other members of the House on this important issue.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

November 3rd, 2016 / 6:25 p.m.
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Len Webber Conservative Calgary Confederation, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to contribute to this important debate on Bill C-235, which aims to assist those with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.

The proposal before us today is to require that the courts take into account that fetal alcohol spectrum disorder may be a mitigating factor in the Criminal Code infraction and should be taken into account during sentencing. It also proposes to address the fact that those with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, or FASD, would require additional support to reintegrate into society following the serving of any sentence. There are a number of other proposed changes, but the principal focus are those I have just outlined.

My perspective on this subject is somewhat different than many. In the past, I served on the Alberta Alcohol and Drug Abuse Commission for a certain number of years before I began my political career. Through direct interactions with people with FASD, with those working with them, and with those affected by their actions, I got to know the issue quite well. However, just when we think we have seen and heard it all, something happens to remind us that this subject is so broad and complex that a lifetime is not enough to become an expert in this field.

FASD cannot be cured. It affects about 1% of the Canadian population. Of course, we know that the rate of incidence is much higher among certain populations and in certain areas of our country. These communities are looking to us for help, understanding, compassion, and strength. As I mentioned before, I served on AADAC, the Alberta Alcohol and Drug Abuse Commission, and this work took me to many communities around Alberta, communities impacted by FASD. Sadly, this is a common issue in first nations communities, often in remote locations, which makes education and treatment work much more difficult.

Having also served as Alberta's aboriginal relations minister for a number of years, I also saw first hand the devastating outcome of Alberta's aboriginal communities from this increasingly common condition of FASD.

One of the challenges is identifying this disorder early in order to deal with it appropriately. The average assessment alone costs around $4,000 to $5,000. Then, there is the never-ending stigma attached to this mental illness. Families often do not even seek help for their children because of this alone.

Sadly, we know that those born with FASD are already facing an uphill battle in life. Many are born into poverty and often into a world of substance abuse, neglect, and endless other challenges. We know these conditions are the base conditions for problems later on.

FASD victims, and I call them victims as they suffer due to the negligent actions of others, specifically their biological mothers, are more likely to be involved in the criminal justice system and experience health and learning challenges.

Before I go any further, this bill will not improve or change the situation for people affected by FASD. We know judges already, in every court case, are required to exercise their judgment and discretion when sentencing. I do not think the bill will change that.

As with many mental health issues, talking publicly about it goes a long way to helping everyone understand and cope. The justice system is becoming much more aware everyday of this mental illness. I am concerned that we are singling out FASD for special consideration from other mental health conditions. We need to understand that the situations faced by one's mental illness often and significantly overlap with those faced by another. Why only help those suffering from one mental condition?

As a nation, we are quickly opening up the conversation on mental health issues, and this is a good thing. It was inevitable that we would end up discussing mental health in terms of the Criminal Code. We know that those with mental health issues are at a much higher risk of having a relationship with our criminal justice system.

Our justice system holds Canadians to a certain standard of conduct and a certain standard of compliance. It presumes rational thinking and it presumes certain sensibilities.

We know that mental illness makes these societal expectations go beyond the reach of those suffering from a mental health condition. The challenge is balance. How do we balance the expectations of large portions of a population that expects people to follow all the rules with another portion of the population that is not fully capable of doing so? If something goes wrong, who is the real victim? I say they both are.

We need to be compassionate and understanding to realize that both are victims, one long ago and one more recently. This is the challenge that we face as a society, as 90% of those with FASD have behavioural issues and more than 40% have mental disabilities and intellectual impairment. More than 40% have issues with depression. Often these issues overlap and make treatment even more difficult to tailor to that particular individual.

The statistics are really shocking. According to research by University of Alberta Professor Jacqueline Pei, 95% of people who suffer from FASD have been diagnosed with mental health problems such as anxiety, depression, and schizophrenia. This makes daily functioning in our society an extreme challenge and explains their high interaction rate with the criminal justice system.

The executive director of the Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Society of Yukon explained it before a parliamentary committee quite succinctly. Wenda Bradley said that FASD suffers can often speak at a normal adult level, but end up understanding at a grade four level. Imagine how this causes issues on the streets in their interactions with the police or when they seek medical care.

As the May 2015 parliamentary report by the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights noted, it is estimated that each individual with FASD creates roughly $1.5 million to $2 million in direct costs to the federal, provincial, and territorial governments over their lifetime. Each individual is cause for $2 million in costs.

Many witnesses reported that people who care for a child with FASD also bear a heavy burden psychologically, socially, and financially, as well as in their professional and marital lives.

A great deal of work was done on this issue in the last Parliament and the conclusions were clear. We need better, more rapid diagnosis, and we need timely and appropriate interventions to mitigate the negative impacts of this disorder.

The bill, while well-intentioned, fails to capture the fact that this FASD involves a variety of mental illnesses and disorders that result in criminal justice issues.

I urge my colleagues to do what they can to assist FASD affected people. My experience has shown that they often cannot speak for themselves. They know what they need, but they often cannot articulate their needs.

They often live beyond the reach of urban support programs. They often lack any family support for treatment. They often suffer alone. I believe that we can do a better job of helping them before they become part of our criminal justice system.

Criminal CodeRoutine Proceedings

February 25th, 2016 / 10:10 a.m.
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Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-235, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (fetal alcohol disorder).

Mr. Speaker, I rise to introduce an act to amend the Criminal Code and the Corrections and Conditional Release Act with respect to fetal alcohol disorder, seconded by the member for Humber River—Black Creek.

I want to first give credit to the Canadian Bar Association and former president Rod Snow, whose recommendations form the basis of this bill, and the member for Charlottetown, who first tabled the identical bill on March 10, 2015. When the precursor to this bill was debated in this House, every member of every party who spoke were in favour to it.

It causes me great emotion to introduce this private member's bill to amend the Criminal Code to establish a procedure for the assessment of individuals who are involved in the criminal justice system and who may suffer from fetal alcohol disorder. It requires the court to consider a determination that the offender suffers from fetal alcohol disorder as a mitigating factor in sentencing.

The bill also requires Correctional Service Canada to recognize the existence of fetal alcohol disorder as a disability within that system.

This bill could alleviate so much human suffering of innocents, and I commend it into the hands of my colleagues, MPs and senators.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)