Okay, fair enough.
Mr. Chair and committee members, thank you very much for your invitation to appear today on this important topic.
I apologize, but I am going to make my presentation in English only. I don't speak French well, but I understand it well. If you have questions to put to me in French, that will be fine.
I'm practising as best I can. If there are any questions in French, I'll do my best to navigate those and rely on interpretation if I can.
I've had an opportunity to speak about my Bill C-583 in the House of Commons a number of times. I thought that today, for the benefit of the committee, I would reflect more on some of the potential recommendations I have. Having worked with groups and organizations that routinely deal with FASD, I would perhaps also like to provide a little bit of guidance based on my professional experience, both prior to becoming a member of Parliament, and now, as a member of Parliament, to help with your deliberations as you take on this study.
Before I get to that piece, I do want to say that it has been an interesting journey for me to explore how the development of a private member's bill works in the House of Commons, and the work entailed in engaging community partner groups and colleagues on both sides of the House.
I can say that from a Yukon perspective, when I took this on, I found tremendous support from the Yukon territorial government, and indeed, from the opposition there. The NDP opposition in the Yukon were very supportive of the efforts I was making. I am also grateful for the support that was provided across the floor in the House of Commons to move this into committee for a more detailed study. In that vein, I think we have an opportunity here to do some great work for the people that work with people living with FASD on all facets of this issue.
I know we have a colleague here, on the NDP side, who has put forward some legislation in the past to deal with this important topic. I know my colleagues on the Conservative side of the House have been seized with this for a long time. And, of course, we have colleagues like MP David Wilks who has seen the impacts first-hand through his career, as I have, of people living with FASD, and their conflict with the criminal justice system.
My background involves not only growing up in the Yukon where there is, I think, tremendous leadership by the Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Society Yukon, FASSY, to address this critical topic in Canada, but also, in my professional careers as a correctional superintendent and as a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. I was directly able to see the challenges people living with FASD have, particularly when they come into conflict with the law, and also some of the measures we can take to help support them before the justice system becomes an inevitable track in many of their lives.
They are disproportionately represented in the justice system. There are a number of reasons for that which I think we'll be able to touch on through some questions and answers members might have.
I've said a couple of times in my addresses to the chamber on this topic that our government has been focused on victims and victims' rights. I commend our government for that approach. The reason this topic is so important is that long before people with FASD collide with the criminal justice system, they are victims first. Unfortunately for them it's a life sentence. FASD doesn't get better. It is a lifelong condition once someone has it, and there is really no other neurological development disorder that sets somebody on a crash course with the criminal justice system from the moment they are born. That's the bad news.
The good news is there is lots we can do, much of which you will hear over the coming days as you engage in this study. There is a lot of great work that's being done by community groups and partners, and indeed, by our government.
I'm looking forward to being able to touch on some of the great work I think puts Yukon at the forefront of FASD research and FASD engagement, in large part due to contributions by our government and investments in the right areas which I know will help to improve the social living conditions of people living with FASD, improve their opportunities in life, and ultimately avoid the inevitable collision with the criminal justice system we often see.
Of course, there is a critical element in this that involves a prevention discussion, and I know that other experts and witnesses will talk to you about that.
In that vein, what I've heard from the discussions I've had with the key stakeholders and I think you're going to hear—and it would be my recommendation—is that the committee look at a broad perspective of across-departmental approaches to this. From a justice committee standpoint, if all the roads are leading to a justice outcome, we need to look at where we can support the prevention or altering of that route. I think we all recognize that starts with investments and support in education, social support, housing, employment opportunities, skills development, health care and prevention, and education around that front.
I would encourage the committee to attempt to broaden the witness base as best they can, if that hasn't been a consideration to this point, to see if we can break down some of the silos that might exist at the federal and provincial levels. Much of the discussion that we have when we reach out on those topics does involve provincial, municipal, and NGO support at the community level. It doesn't all fall under the purview of the federal government. Nonetheless, the federal government can take a role in engaging in those discussions and providing either the necessary financial support, legislative support, or the networking that can often be realized by federal counterparts in this role.
There are a couple of quick facts that I think are important for the committee to consider. We'll clearly talk about the social impact of FASD. There is also a financial cost that is well stated. I'm referring to a report now from the Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Society Yukon, which estimates annual costs for FASD in Canada to be about $5.3 billion; the average individual cost per person is approximately $1 million over their lifetime.
I think that illustrates clearly that prevention and support, particularly on the prevention front, are very important in terms of the overall financial cost. We have some challenges with diagnoses that I know will be discussed throughout this study, but the best estimate we have right now is that about one in every 100 births in Canada has been affected by FASD. Those rates are alarming as well.
I applaud and I thank the committee for taking this on. You can see both in terms of the numbers on the social costs and the financial costs that this is a worthy topic of national discussion and national attention. For that, I congratulate and thank you. I obviously wish you all the best as you continue your engagement on this study.
With that, I'd be happy to field any questions members may have.