Mr. Speaker, I congratulate you on your appointment. I would also like to thank the people of Mississauga South who elected me for the third time. I am very honoured to be here to represent my constituents and to work hard on behalf of all Canadians.
The throne speech 2001, which has been outlined so eloquently today by many members, provides the framework under which we will govern the country over this mandate. Our plan seeks to ensure a brighter future for all Canadians and to strike the right balance. It includes provisions for paying down debt, cutting taxes fairly, investing in health care, investing in research and innovation, investing in families and children and protecting our environment, just to name a few.
As a parliamentarian since 1993, most of my private member's initiatives have been directed at areas relating to family and children. There is a specific section in the throne speech which deals with various initiatives that we will be undertaking during this parliament. I want to take the time now to follow the focus on families and children, particularly on the issue of fetal alcohol syndrome.
The brain drain is a concept with which most members are familiar. It refers to the migration of our so-called best and brightest from Canada to the U.S. and abroad. It is a figurative term but it can be looked at literally as well. In a literal sense, brain drain is the physical effect of fetal alcohol syndrome, often referred to as FAS. Fetal alcohol syndrome is the real brain drain that we have to address and it is a 100% preventable tragedy.
On December 7, 1995, I first spoke in the House of Commons about fetal alcohol syndrome. It was part of my private member's bill, Bill C-237. That bill sought to provide health warning labels on the containers of alcoholic beverages to caution expectant mothers and others of the risks associated with alcohol consumption.
When I became a member of parliament one of the things I wanted to do was to become involved on the health committee. I did some research to find out what the health committee had been working on during the 34th parliament.
One of the things that I came across was a study called “Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, A Preventable Tragedy” produced by a House of Commons standing committee. I quote from the summary phraseology contained in the report:
Today, there is no question that maternal alcohol consumption can have devastating impacts on the fetus. The basic fact is that when the pregnant woman drinks, her unborn child drinks also; that is, the alcohol in the mother's bloodstream circulates through the placenta and into bloodstream of the fetus. It is possible that the blood-alcohol level in the fetus will remain at an elevated level for a longer period than that of the mother because the immature fetal liver metabolises the alcohol more slowly.
They said there was a problem and laid out some recommendations, which fascinated me. The reason that I was fascinated by the study was that I was an educated person who was active in my community. I was on a hospital board, had three children, and it was the first time that I had ever heard the term fetal alcohol syndrome. It had a tremendous impact on me. How was it possible that a preventable tragedy did not come to the attention of an ordinary person in the community? It was something that I wanted to get involved in.
I have been active in the issue and I wanted to learn more about it. In any one week as many as 10,000 babies are born in Canada. Of these, 3 are born with muscular dystrophy, 4 are born with HIV infection, 8 are born with spina bifida, 10 are born with Down's syndrome, 20 are born with fetal alcohol syndrome and over 100 are born with other alcohol related birth defects.
Fetal alcohol syndrome refers to a group of physical and mental birth defects. Its primary symptoms include growth deficiency before and after birth, central nervous system dysfunction resulting in learning disabilities, and physical malformalities in the face and cranial areas. Other alcohol related birth defects involve central nervous damage like FAS without the physical abnormalities.
FAS is incurable. Once someone has it, it will affect that person for the rest of his or her life. Most victims usually require special care throughout their lives. Depending on the severity, the estimated lifetime cost for the care of an FAS victim ranges from $3 million to $6 million.
There are secondary systems. What happens to people who have FAS? Their lifestyles are characteristic. Here are a few examples: 90% have mental health problems; 60% will be expelled or suspended from school or drop out of school; 60% will get into trouble with the law; 50% will exhibit inappropriate sexual behaviour; 30% will abuse drugs or alcohol; 80% will be incapable of living independently; and 80% will have problems in their employment situations. Tragically, these severe problems could have been prevented if the mother had abstained from alcohol consumption through her pregnancy.
Last year, I took the opportunity to look at some of the recent data from Manitoba and Saskatchewan resulting from work on FAS. One of the things I found is that they have surveyed their inmate population and found that 50% of the population in the jails in Manitoba and Saskatchewan were people who had fetal alcohol syndrome or other alcohol related birth defects.
I posed the same question during question period to the Minister of Justice. I asked her, what is the experience of the government in the federal institutions? She confirmed in the House that persons with fetal alcohol syndrome account for 50% of the inmates in our jails.
The dollars involved here are enormous. The impact on our justice system, health care system, social services system and on our education system are enormous and pervasive. The costs are enormous. It is one of the reasons why I am so delighted that the government has decided to take the initiative as part of its priorities. I hope the House will support initiatives related to the reduction of FAS.