Federal justice committee may travel north

The federal committee saddled with looking at FASD in the justice system may be coming up to Whitehorse next month.

The federal committee saddled with looking at FASD in the justice system may be coming up to Whitehorse next month.

The standing committee on justice and human rights is working on a report that needs to be completed by the end of March.

The report was ordered after Yukon MP Ryan Leef pulled his private members’ bill that would have recognized fetal alcohol spectrum disorder in the Canadian Criminal Code.

At a hearing Wednesday, the committee approved a travel budget to come to the Yukon. The money still needs to be approved by house leaders before more concrete plans can be made.

Leef also testified Wednesday. He encouraged the committee to come north to gather testimony from experts.

He pointed to groups like the Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Society of Yukon, and to the prevalence study being done at the Whitehorse Correctional Centre.

“One advantage the Yukon has is I think we’ve pushed over that stigma barrier. We’re prepared to talk about it publicly,” Leef told the committee.

“I think we’re starting in a larger sense than other regions of the country to brush away the shame that allows us to get down to the issues at hand, have those hard discussions and come up with the solutions.”

The March deadline was set to give the report enough time to be approved by the committee and tabled in the house before the end of the session. In theory, if an election were called before anything was tabled, a new committee could quash the report.

Leef’s original bill would have defined FASD in the legal context. It would have also given judges the ability to order assessments of people who may suffer from the disorder, and permitted the court to consider FASD a mitigating circumstance during sentencing.

He introduced the bill last April, but pulled it in November, claiming there wasn’t enough time to make it to law ahead of the election.

The bill appeared to have support from all three parties when it was first announced.

During his hour-long testimony Wednesday many of the questions from committee members were about why it was dropped in the first place.

Liberal John McKay insisted that if Leef had continued to push his bill, it could have become law before the next election.

“It’s not as if the Liberals are giving you a lot of opposition in the Senate,” McKay said.

“I didn’t think there were any Liberals in the Senate,” Leef replied.

Leef discussed his rationale for pulling the bill several times during his testimony.

“As I said earlier, I just wasn’t going to be prepared with a symbolic victory run to the end and to say, ‘Yeah, we got it this far, we can feel relieved,’” he said. “I was going to be satisfied with it passing in absolute terms, or I wanted to leverage up and find a different win.”

Since Leef dropped his bill, Liberal MP Sean Casey has introduced a near identical one of his own. Emails to Casey’s office looking for an update on that bill were not returned.

NDP justice critic Eve Peclet pointed out that a similar FASD report was done in 2006. But Leef insisted there have been a lot of changes since then.

McKay claimed that the issue has been “studied to death.” Leef disagreed.

“I would invite you to ask that very question of every single group and organization that sits before you if they think the issue of FASD in this country has been studied to death. I’ll guarantee that you’re going to get an emphatic no.”

Leef insisted groups he’s spoken with are happy with the idea of a study as long as it provides concrete recommendations that are going to be taken seriously.

“If you’re going to turn your mind to the topic of FASD and the needs of the people, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised that the work you can do will be tremendous for this committee.”

Contact Ashley Joannou at

ashleyj@yukon-news.com

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