Photo by Whitehorse Star
Yukon MP Larry Bagnell
Photo by Whitehorse Star
Yukon MP Larry Bagnell
Yukon MP Larry Bagnell introduced a private member’s bill last week that would ensure a change in how individuals with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) are treated in the criminal justice system.
If this feels like déjà-vu, that’s because it is.
Former Yukon MP Ryan Leef introduced a very similar private member’s bill – which he later withdrew because he felt there wouldn’t be enough time to debate it in Parliament before the 2015 election.
In 2014, the Liberal MP for Charlottetown, Sean Casey, brought forward a bill that bore a striking resemblance to Leef’s.
It was to amend Canada’s Criminal Code and the Corrections and Conditional Release Act to create a procedure for individuals in the criminal justice system who may suffer from FASD to be assessed.
If the disorder was found to affect an individual’s abilities to make judgments or fully comprehend the consequences of his or her actions, the court would be required to consider the disorder as a mitigating factor in sentencing.
In other words, if an individual was assessed and diagnosed with the disorder, it could result in reduced charges or a lesser sentence.
These changes are based on recommendations made by the Canadian Bar Association.
FASD is a group of conditions that may occur in an individual whose mother consumed alcohol during pregnancy. Those with FASD often have physical disabilities and problems with behaviour and learning due to brain damage.
Casey’s bill also included a requirement that individuals determined to be suffering from the disorder must follow an external support plan to successfully reintegrate into society after they serve their sentences.
But Casey’s initiative didn’t progress much – once the federal election was called last summer, all bills that had not been passed were removed from the agenda.
As per Parliament rules, such bills must be re-introduced in the new session.
In an interview with the Star Monday, Bagnell said his bill is identical to Casey’s.
This time, he’s hopeful it will gain more momentum.
Bagnell’s bill was picked 34th in Parliament’s draw of private member’s bills out of a total of 270. Back when Leef introduced his bill, he was drawn 130th out of 243.
“That should get me into Parliament within a year. It could be faster, though,” Bagnell said.
To the Yukon MP, the importance of the bill lies in a mismatch between individuals with FASD and the criminal justice system in Canada.
“There’s all sorts of undue suffering because their condition doesn’t match the system.”
The bill, if passed, could allow those suffering with the disorder to get appropriate treatment during sentencing and connect them to external supports to help them land on their feet when they are released.
“A good example of this is (that) people with FASD don’t always have a good sense of time,” Bagnell said.
“Without external support, they could miss their probation hearings. If you ask Yukon judges about this, they say it’s like a revolving door – they go right back where they started.”
The executive director of the Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Society Yukon (FASSY) echoes this.
“We see what he’s been saying about the ‘revolving door,’” executive director Wenda Bradley said in an interview this morning.
“In our role as support workers, we find that a lot. We remind them, help them get there, make sure they’ve had breakfast so that they can think as best they can.”
Having external support has been a mantra of sorts for FASSY all along.
“You can’t just expect these people to walk away and do the things that the court expects them to do,” Bradley said.
“These bills are vital... judges (will) get a little bit of help in being able to really address the situation and help these people.”
She describes a case in the territory where the judge told the individual with FASD exactly what to do and where to get help.
“It happened and it worked because the judge had initiated that thought,” she explained.
“That’s how I feel this will work. It seemed to have a little bit more pull than just the agencies trying to convince those individuals.”
Like Bagnell, Bradley is hopeful that this time, the idea will stick.
“Ryan Leef got this discussion going, and Larry will continue it.”
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