A turning point for an FASD sufferer

Victoria Elias has more criminal charges than she does years in her life. The 29-year-old has beaten cops, slashed boyfriends and stabbed friends, usually in a drunken rage.

Victoria Elias has more criminal charges than she does years in her life.

The 29-year-old has beaten cops, slashed boyfriends and stabbed friends, usually in a drunken rage.

She’s racked up 49 criminal convictions since she was a teenager.

Last week, a Yukon court could have put five more crimes on her rap sheet – adding to her endless cycle of alcohol abuse, violence and jail time.

Instead, the court accepted that something wasn’t working.

Elias cannot be held criminally responsible for her latest dust-up because of the impaired cognitive abilities that probably stem from Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, Judge Michael Cozens decided on November 30.

It was the first time a judge sentenced Elias with FASD in mind, said her lawyer Nils Clarke.

“A person who has diminished mental ability through no fault of their own and as a result has a diminished insight into right and wrong ought not to receive the same punishment as someone who does not,” said Clarke.

Elias’ case is now headed to the Yukon Review Board, which normally handles the cases of the mentally ill deemed incapable of being held criminally responsible.

“It may become a bit more of a common phenomena because judiciaries across the country are starting to recognize the fact that there are issues with the insights into right and wrong for people with FASD,” said Clarke.

“Whether it be the medical way with the review board, or a parallel system where there is more of a therapeutic model – all the while recognizing that protection of the public should be the overriding concern.”

A look at Elias’ sentences in the last few years reveals a system that continuously failed her and compromised public safety.

Before her latest descent into violence, Elias was convicted of assault in 2003, 2004 and 2005, and gained a long list of convictions for assaulting police, uttering threats and assaulting others as a youth.

Every time she was caught, she was sentenced to short jail stints – three months at the most.

On October 20 2008, she was partying with friends and drinking heavily.

Someone took her vodka bottle, which prompted her to get angry and look for a weapon.

She found a 10-inch serrated knife.

A woman at the party with whom Elias had never previously fought was cut in the face.

Elias sliced open a large wound that exposed fat and tissue in a one-centimetre wide gap on her cheek, according to court documents.

During that trial, a psychiatric assessment determined she had severe cognitive problems and couldn’t understand the consequences of her actions.

But that didn’t change the substance of her sentence.

In May 2009, a judge decided Elias should only serve four more months in jail after spending more than a year in remand.

At the time, there were signs she couldn’t grasp her predicament.

She was pregnant while in jail and had a due date of July 2009.

Family and Children’s Services would later apprehend the child, according to court documents.

This was after she had already given birth to a child with significant cognitive and physical problems in 2007.

Elias served the rest of her sentence and was released on November 11, 2009.

Within five days, Elias was back in jail.

Her sentence didn’t require any supported living once out of jail.

As soon as she left the Whitehorse Correctional Centre, she drove to Dawson City to meet her common-law spouse.

In Dawson, she told him she wanted booze, but he refused.

She bought some anyway.

An argument began while they were drinking and Elias accused her spouse of cheating.

She threw a cellphone at his head, giving him a black eye.

The next day, during a new argument Elias clawed at her spouse’s face.

She left for the bar after that fight and was arrested.

Without any knowledge of her medical condition, the police treated her like anyone else who gets booked for public intoxication and released her the next morning.

She began drinking and fighting soon after.

She picked up a lamp and slammed it on her spouse’s head.

He likely lost consciousness, but Elias believed he was faking, say court documents.

So she poured hot tea on his chest.

He was able to make it to his bedroom, where he locked himself in.

But she broke down the door and began hitting him with a fire extinguisher.

She was later arrested trying to buy more alcohol.

In February, a second judge sentenced Elias for her latest violent binge.

He faulted her rapid slide into old habits on the lack of assisted living in her last sentence.

On the other hand, he noted some signs of change.

Elias was involved in rehabilitation programs while in remand at the Whitehorse Correctional Centre.

When she was in jail for the previous knife assault, she didn’t care much for self-improvement.

This time though, she told the court she wanted to live sober.

But she would need a strong support system to make it work, said the judge.

It’s not clear from the sentencing document what programs she received once she was free.

She spent three more months in jail, and was then released in the spring subject to probation with strict conditions.

Two months later, she was caught drinking.

And then in August, she broke into an ex-boyfriends’ house and threatened to kill him.

She was arrested for break-and-entry, uttering threats, damaging property and breaking her probation.

In September, another psychological assessment was done.

It confirmed her cognitive limits and emotional issues.

While falling short of a FASD diagnosis, it determined she very likely had prenatal brain damage.

It results in poor decision-making skills and little impulse control.

Her state of mind is compounded by alcohol, which puts her into a kind of psychosis, said Cozens, in the latest decision.

Last week, Elias sat calmly in court wearing a red Canada sweater while Cozens declared she could not be held criminally responsible for her crimes.

The Yukon Review Board, usually a three-person judicial panel, has three months to hear her case.

The hope is Cozens’ decision will lead to a post-incarceration program suited to Elias’ condition, said Clarke.

“I hope the resources can be brought to bear that she has supported independent living and that she has a chance to live in the community in a positive and healthy way,” he said.

A movement is afoot to reform the judicial system for people with FASD.

In 2009, the Yukon government hosted a conference focusing on FASD in the legal system.

Two months ago, Whitehorse hosted a major conference on FASD policy, and the problems FASD sufferers find in the legal system was a hot topic of debate.

There’s no silver bullet, but policy reform likely revolves around providing structure outside of the jailhouse.

“The question is always resources – what resources can be brought to bear,” said Clarke.

On the national stage, the Canadian Bar Association passed a resolution this summer at its annual general meeting calling for legal reform for people with FASD.

The bar association plans to do some heavy lobbying for legal reform this year, said Yukon lawyer Rob Snow, who was elected president of the association at the meeting.

“It’s tough and it can be expensive,” said Clarke.

“But I think from a general sense of fairness that a person (with FASD) arguably ought not to be punished the same as someone who doesn’t have the same challenges through no fault of their own.”

Contact James Munson at

jamesm@yukon-news.com

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: Are they coming?

One of COVID-19’s big economic questions is whether it will prompt a… Continue reading

Yukon MP Larry Bagnell, along with Yukon health and education delegates, announce a new medical research initiative via a Zoom conference on Jan. 21. (Screen shot)
New medical research unit at Yukon University launched

The SPOR SUPPORT Unit will implement patient-first research practices

Yukon First Nation Education Directorate members Bill Bennett, community engagement coordinator and Mobile Therapeutic Unit team lead, left, and Katherine Alexander, director of policy and analytics, speak to the News about the Mobile Therapeutic Unit that will provide education and health support to students in the communities. (yfned.ca)
Mobile Therapeutic Unit will bring education, health support to Indigenous rural students

The mobile unit will begin travelling to communities in the coming weeks

Premier Sandy Silver, left, and Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley, speak during a live stream in Whitehorse on January 20, about the new swish and gargle COVID-19 tests. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Swish and spit COVID-19 test now available in Yukon

Vaccination efforts continue in Whitehorse and smaller communities in the territory

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police detachment in Faro photgraphed in 2016. Faro will receive a new RCMP detachment in 2022, replacing the decades-old building currently accommodating officers. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Faro RCMP tagged for new detachment

Faro will receive a new RCMP detachment in 2022, replacing the decades-old… Continue reading

In a Jan. 18 announcement, the Yukon government said the shingles vaccine is now being publicly funded for Yukoners between age 65 and 70, while the HPV vaccine program has been expanded to all Yukoners up to and including age 26. (1213rf.com)
Changes made to shingles, HPV vaccine programs

Pharmacists in the Yukon can now provide the shingles vaccine and the… Continue reading

Parking attendant Const. Ouellet puts a parking ticket on the windshield of a vehicle in downtown Whitehorse on Dec. 6, 2018. The City of Whitehorse is hoping to write of nearly $300,000 in outstanding fees, bylaw fines and court fees, $20,225 of which is attributed to parking fines issued to non-Yukon license plates. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
City of Whitehorse could write off nearly $300,000

The City of Whitehorse could write off $294,345 in outstanding fees, bylaw… Continue reading

Grants available to address gender-based violence

Organizations could receive up to $200,000

In this illustration, artist-journalist Charles Fripp reveals the human side of tragedy on the Stikine trail to the Klondike in 1898. A man chases his partner around the tent with an axe, while a third man follows, attempting to intervene. (The Daily Graphic/July 27, 1898)
History Hunter: Charles Fripp — gold rush artist

The Alaskan coastal town of Wrangell was ill-equipped for the tide of… Continue reading

A man walks passed the polling place sign at city hall in Whitehorse on Oct. 18, 2018. While Whitehorse Mayor Dan Curtis is now setting his sights on the upcoming territorial election, other members of council are still pondering their election plans for the coming year. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Councillors undecided on election plans

Municipal vote set for Oct. 21

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decicions made by Whitehorse city council this week.

A file photo of grizzly bear along the highway outside Dawson City. Yukon conservation officers euthanized a grizzly bear Jan. 15 that was originally sighted near Braeburn. (Alistair Maitland/Yukon News file)
Male grizzly euthanized near Braeburn

Yukon conservation officers have euthanized a grizzly bear that was originally sighted… Continue reading

Most Read