Bill C-583, recently introduced by Yukon MP Ryan Leef, is an important and truly innovative step in addressing the difficult issues posed for the criminal justice system by individuals with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.
Over the course of the last two decades there has been an increasing recognition by judges, lawyers, and other criminal justice professionals that a significant number of criminal defendants have this disability. FASD can affect a defendant’s culpability; recognizing this disability can be critical to fashioning a disposition that will prevent recidivism.
Canada and the Canadian Bar Association have been in the forefront of understanding these problems and devising solutions for them.
Mr. Leef’s proposal would authorize courts to order assessments of individuals who may have FASD, and would expressly permit courts to take that disability into account as a mitigating factor. It is an important step in enabling judges, Crown and defence counsel to understand a defendant with FASD, and empowers judges to fashion sentences that will assure justice both for particular defendants and for society as a whole.
Last week in Vancouver Mr. Leef and his proposal received a standing ovation at the National Conference on Adolescents and Adults with FASD sponsored by the University of British Columbia.
To the best of my knowledge, C-583 is the first such comprehensive proposal introduced in any country, and it confirms Canada’s leading role in addressing this important issue.
Director, FASD Legal
Issues Resource Center
University of Washington