Mr. Speaker, there we have it. We finally have before us a bill that reflects what the legal, medical, and psychological experts have been asking for years, a bill to make long overdue changes to the criminal justice system to more accurately effect the appropriate just treatment for thousands of victims of FASD and to save millions of dollars in courts and prison costs.
What do the legal experts say? The largest body of experts, the Canadian Bar Association, comprised of 36,000 prosecutors, defence lawyers, judges, etc., says the following:
People with FASD have a permanent organic brain injury caused by maternal alcohol consumption during pregnancy. That brain injury results in a wide range of symptoms of varying severity, but is characterized by symptoms that often go against underlying principles of criminal law. These normative assumptions of criminal law infer that individuals are responsible for their own actions, that they can control their behaviors in keeping with societal expectations and that they can learn from and be deterred by previous experience.
Characteristics of FASD directly challenge these assumptions. Individuals with FASD may exhibit a lack of impulse control, impaired judgment, and an inability to control or modify their behavior. They may be susceptible to pressure from others and lack the ability to learn from past experiences or to understand the consequences of their own actions. Poor executive functioning skills mean that they may make the same mistakes over and over.
For these and other reasons, many people with FASD are in frequent contact with the criminal justice system. Often, the characteristics that made them susceptible to coming before the system are the very same characteristics that will keep them unreasonably enmeshed in the system over time...In June 2015, this reality was recognized in the Calls to Action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
The current criminal justice framework does not give individuals with FASD adequate support, which in turn increases both the suffering of those involved and increases the costs to the criminal justice system. We believe that Bill C-235 is an important step in addressing some of the shortcomings of the current framework....Trial judges must have discretion to deal humanely with people who have FASD....We urge Parliament to adopt Bill C-235...
We heard some minor concerns raised earlier, but those have all been addressed in the first hour of debate and in the information I sent everyone today.
I am going to close with an excerpt from a long letter I will send everyone. It is from the mother of an FASD victim. She says:
“Your vote can slash the suicide rate in certain populations, save innocent people from destructive criminal records which ruin employment prospects in an already vulnerable group which are the invisibly disabled ...Those with both diagnosed and undiagnosed FASD end up in segregation, because they are at the bottom of the food chain among convicts...Send a disabled innocent person to jail to get punished and treated badly, and then wonder why they either kill themselves or come out of jail unable to function, and refuse help from anyone who offers it. Why would they trust us?
You can save lots of taxpayer money...by voting for this slight adjustment to our justice system ... [FASD suffering] is not due to anything they've done to themselves, but was rather done to them before they were born. Have you thought about the real meaning of mens rea? The same way someone with a developmental delay cannot form criminal intent, someone with poor executive functioning due to [FASD] cannot plan a crime. It's about time we allow science to inform some outdated concepts which do nothing to protect society and do inflict a lot of harm. The punishment must fit the crime.
In many cases for the person with FASD, the punishment has nothing to do with fairness, and everything to do with our inability to look at the real person behind the crime and what brought them into contact with law enforcement.... When we overlook the large number of cases in which FASD is a factor, we miss a chance to address the trauma of living with FASD, and instead, add to that trauma. We send the message that our children are not worth the effort it would take tell this population that they belong in the world. Please vote for Bill C-235.”
One day this long-standing injustice will be rectified. It is inevitable. As members of the 42nd Parliament, we could be the pioneers that forge this great accomplishment by eliminating the suffering of thousands of innocent victims. The choice is ours.