Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to this bill today because alcohol is an issue which has been on my agenda as an item of consideration in terms of legislative initiatives almost since I became a member of Parliament.
The particular bill before us has to do with trying to amend the laws of Canada to provide an opportunity for those who are incarcerated but can use help to deal with their addiction and their problem with alcohol.
I support the bill 100% because when we have a social problem, education is always part of the solution. It is part of the prevent model. When we already have the problem, the other part of it is remediation. Sometimes people make mistakes in their lives and it is extremely important that people understand what problems they have, that denial has to be dealt with, and a person needs that opportunity and that support. What we do not want to have is recidivism.
People eventually get out of jail and we have a justice system which includes, as part of its operations, the rehabilitation of people. With regard to most people rehabilitation may be appropriate. I say may be appropriate because I know that there are circumstances under which rehabilitation is not applicable and not appropriate.
However, in regard to the member's bill, we are talking about those cases in which there is an incident in which individuals who are incarcerated will have the opportunity to be available, so that they can have the benefit of the kind of assistance that they may need to ensure that they understand what their problem is, why it happened, and how to cope and deal with it in the future. I support the bill 100%.
I also want to comment on those possibilities where rehabilitation is not applicable and not appropriate. That has to do with people who suffer from some sort of mental disability. More specifically, I gave a speech in the House last Friday on this, on Bill C-251. It is related to warning labels on alcoholic beverages to caution those who see the label about impending danger. It is a consumer lighthouse just sending out a “be careful message”. That is all the bill is.
It relates also to the messaging dealing with things like how alcohol can impair one's ability to operate machinery or equipment, or to drive a motor vehicle. It is extremely important that we talk about the problem when there is consumption of alcohol during pregnancy.
Recently, there have been some judicial statements with regard to the problems coming before the courts. The latest I heard, and I included it in my speech, was that almost half of the people who appear before the courts of Canada suffer from some sort of alcohol problem or alcohol related birth defect.
It is enormous when we think of the cost to the courts, the cost to the system to deal with this. This is a social problem which requires a comprehensive solution. It is not going to be good enough to lecture people about them doing something bad and that they will serve their time, the key will be thrown away and they will be there until the very end.
When people come out, they have to understand what the problem is, but rehabilitation in our system is not applicable to persons who for instance suffer from alcohol related birth defects.
As a consequence, questions also have to be asked, in addition to the issue that the member raises, about giving the kind of support to people who are in jail who understand what they did, so that they can get treatment for their addictions and problems. However, what happens to all the people who are in the same jails that are set up for rehabilitation who have a mental disability such as fetal alcohol spectrum disorder? For them, rehabilitation is not applicable.
What is wrong with our system? It needs to go further and perhaps the member has an opportunity for another private member's bill he would like to champion. Our system should not assume that everyone who is incarcerated, because of alcohol misuse or abuse, is in a situation where rehabilitation is applicable. Maybe we have to start talking about the equality of our criminal justice system in terms of addressing what happens after we have the problem and whether or not the jails generically are applicable to all.
Maybe there should be special institutions where people get an opportunity to be able to cope with a permanent disability. Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder is 100% preventable, but it is not curable. In that regard, we are talking about prevention as well as some sort of remediation, only to the extent that one would have the kind of assistance that the person may need to cope, as well as the kind of assistance that the families need to cope.
People who know anything about fetal alcohol spectrum disorder will know that the parents have a lifetime responsibility of caring for their children. Most of them never make it through school. Most of them are going to have problems in the labour force. Most of them are going to run afoul of the law, not because they did something wrong but because they did not know it was wrong.
They can be told 100 times not to do something because it is wrong and they will still do it, but it is not because they understand and just want to react and rebel. In those cases, people who have FASD do not know the difference between right and wrong, and there are many cases.
I wanted to raise that perspective here because the bill tends to address all those who are incarcerated from the standpoint that they are all the same, they are all subject to the same kinds of rehabilitation possibilities, and that we should have that.
Yes we should, for those who can be rehabilitated, but what happens to those who have no possibility of rehabilitation, those with permanent brain damage and permanent disabilities? They are likely to reoffend, not because they are bad people but because they have a mental disability.
Regarding this whole question of addressing addictions in our society, whether it be alcohol, drugs or anything else that can be harmful if misused, we need to ensure that we understand what happened, why it happened, how to prevent it, and how to remediate it.
There are many elements to it. This bill deals in part with part of the equation, but our criminal justice system has a very narrow focus. It says that if people do something wrong, they are going to jail. They will stay there, do their time and they will be subject to rehabilitation.
It is missing a significant component. Let me repeat. If the judges are telling Canadians and they are telling parliamentarians that 50% of the people who appear before the courts of Canada suffer from alcohol related birth defects or addictions to alcohol, now is the time for Parliament to act.
I encourage all hon. members to take whatever steps necessary to explore the situation, to examine what is happening in other countries around the world such as France, South Africa, the U.K., Ireland, and 20 other countries that I mentioned in my speech last Friday.
Those are the kinds of things that we have to learn. We do not have to reinvent the wheel. The evidence is there. Parliament should have a look at that evidence and Parliament should act.