FASD advocate dismayed with bill’s withdrawal

An advocate for residents with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder in the Yukon says he's disappointed with MP Ryan Leef's decision to withdraw Bill C-583 from Parliament.

An advocate for residents with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder in the Yukon says he’s disappointed with MP Ryan Leef’s decision to withdraw Bill C-583 from Parliament.

Michael McCann, executive director of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Society Yukon, said the organization was supportive of the initiative but will take Leef’s justification to drop the bill at face value.

Leef recently agreed to withdraw his private member’s bill, which would have amended the criminal code of Canada to recognize FASD.

Leef contends the bill stood slim odds of becoming law, and that it’s a victory that the issue will be considered by parliamentary committee, with a report due in four months.

McCann said he spoke to Leef last Friday and was told the issue would be discussed in a broader way than what the bill represented.

“I don’t fully understand all the processes (the bill) would have had to go through, but we have to take his word that the clock was going down,” he said.

“We were supportive of the bill going forward as it was written, simply because it was a start. We have to look at the positives, and see this as an opportunity to elevate discussion about the disability on a much more national level.”

FASD is a permanent brain injury caused when a mother consumes alcohol during pregnancy. It can cause people to have impaired judgment, an inability to control their behaviour and an impaired ability to understand the consequences of their actions.

McCann said Leef’s bill, had it gone through all the hoops and become law, would have achieved what the Canadian Bar Association has recommended for years.

Between 2010 and 2013, the association passed several resolutions asking for the justice system to amend the criminal code and recognize the disability.

The main recommendations – defining FASD in the legal context, giving judges the ability to order assessments of people who suffer from the disability and allowing courts to consider FASD when sentencing – overlapped with what Leef’s bill proposed.

However, two other recommendations were not included in Leef’s bill.

The first would allow judges to order external support plans that could follow a person after a sentence was served. The other asked Corrections Canada to make the necessary changes within their programs and services to accommodate the disability.

McCann believes the last two recommendations weren’t included in Leef’s bill because of the potential cost.

“The concerns within government were, ‘This is going to cost us, and who is going to pay?’” he said.

The Yukon court system has been ahead of the pack when it comes to recognizing the disability, McCann said.

The bill would have pushed that standard out further across the country.

The Yukon Department of Justice is currently evaluating the prevalence of FASD in individuals who are incarcerated or on probation in the territory.

One hundred and fifty volunteers between the ages of 18 and 40, both men and women with and without FASD, are participating in the study.

The results are expected in a few years.

Contact Myles Dolphin at