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.