Justice ministers meet in Whitehorse

Federal Justice Minister Peter MacKay joined his provincial and territorial counterparts in Whitehorse this week for meetings to discuss a wide range of justice and public safety issues facing Canadians.

Federal Justice Minister Peter MacKay joined his provincial and territorial counterparts in Whitehorse this week for meetings to discuss a wide range of justice and public safety issues facing Canadians.

The major focus of the meetings was creating more safeguards and services for victims of crime, MacKay said.

“One example is the Increasing Offenders Accountability for Victims Act. This legislation doubled the federal victims surcharge, with the dual goal of making offenders more accountable to victims and supporting provincial and territorial victims’ services by funds that are raised by the surcharge,” MacKay said.

The government will soon be bringing forward legislation that criminalizes the non-consensual sharing of photos online as a way to prevent cyber-bullying, as well as a victims bill of rights, he said. MacKay was in Whitehorse in September for roundtable discussions with victims of crime and local advocacy groups to help develop the bill of rights.

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder was another big topic at the meeting.

“FASD is certainly an issue that’s near and dear to my heart,” said Yukon Justice Minister Mike Nixon.

“This is something the Department of Justice has been working on since 2010. We’re currently undergoing an FASD prevalence study in the territory,” Nixon said.

Nixon called the study a Yukon-led initiative that will help define just how many Yukoners in the criminal justice system are struggling with FASD.

“It’s something that has a disproportionate impact on aboriginal communities, especially in the territories,” MacKay said.

“We recognize very clearly the urgency, and that’s why this study comes at the perfect time, quite frankly. There hasn’t been a lot of study, and this will allow us to culminate and make a specific action plan.”

The Yukon branch of the Canadian Bar Association had hoped the meeting would produce a new commitment from MacKay and Nixon to adopt changes to the criminal code, or at least consider the recommendations of a bar association resolution on FASD.

That resolution called for a legal definition of FASD to be included in the criminal code, giving judges the power to order assessments in cases where the accused may have the disorder, and allowing FASD to be considered a mitigating factor in sentences.

When the resolution was brought forward last summer, MacKay committed to act on the recommendations.

But if there was talk about the recommendations at the ministers’ meetings, they didn’t discuss it at Thursday’s press conference.

“We were hoping that our minister of justice would bring it home for us. We were counting on him,” said Heather MacFadgen, the president of the Yukon branch of the CBA.

MacFadgen wasn’t at the press conference, and said she hopes a commitment might still be forthcoming.

“I will be very disappointed if we don’t see any concrete action coming from these high level meetings. We don’t have to wait for the stats to know we have a problem,” she said.

“If the system assumes you don’t have this problem, and treats you that way, what are we doing? We’re criminalizing the disability,” she said.

Contact Jesse Winter at

jessew@yukon-news.com

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