Federal FASD study silent on proposed legal changes

MP Ryan Leef says, if re-elected, he would "absolutely" bring back his private member's bill to allow judges to consider fetal alcohol spectrum disorder when sentencing people.

MP Ryan Leef says, if re-elected, he would “absolutely” bring back his private member’s bill to allow judges to consider fetal alcohol spectrum disorder when sentencing people.

Leef introduced his private member’s bill in April 2014, but he pulled it before the end of the year claiming there wasn’t enough time to make it to law ahead of next election.

He agreed to pull his bill on the condition that the federal committee on justice and human rights still examine the issue.

The report from that committee was released this week. It makes seven recommendations, but none of them suggest changing the criminal code in the way Leef’s bill would have.

Instead, the committee recommended changes like more money for crime prevention programs for people with FASD, an awareness campaign and more training for RCMP and corrections officials. It also recommends that Correctional Service Canada “consider strategies” for helping people with FASD in prison and “continue to evaluate” screening at the admissions stage.

It recommends the federal government “support innovative research to improve our understanding” and work with the jurisdictions to “encourage standardized data collection” on FASD.

“I think what the recommendations have done is clearly signaled FASD is on the federal radar, it’s very important. We do need to invest in the areas they’ve highlighted,” Leef said.

The recommendations have fewer teeth than the change in the law Leef was proposing, but he says that kind of language is common at a stage like this.

The government will have to respond to the report before Parliament wraps up in June.

The response can be far more concrete than the recommendations, Leef said yesterday.

“I’d like to see the federal government define the resources they’re going to provide. Concrete and substantial,” he said.

When asked if he was disappointed the recommendations make no reference to changing the criminal code, Leef said “yes and no.”

“I mean, yes in the sense that that was the spirit of my bill,” he said.

But the committee report went beyond what the bill was about, which doesn’t usually happen, he said.

It talked about things like crime prevention, as opposed to just dealing with someone after the fact, he said.

“So I was very happy about that and I think the community generally speaking was pleased to be able to talk on a much broader perspective than the narrow, scripted focus that my PMB (private members bill) had.”

If he gets another kick at the can following the fall election, Leef said he would ideally like to see the government take on the bill so that it doesn’t have the same obstacles he did as a private member.

But if that doesn’t happen he’s willing to try again with what he calls an improved version of the bill based on what was said during the public testimony.

“I’m committed to not moving away from the issue. It’s important in Yukon and it’s important in Canada.”

Contact Ashley Joannou at

ashleyj@yukon-news.com