Yukon MP Ryan Leef plans to withdraw his private member’s bill to amend the criminal code of Canada to recognize fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.
Leef says he made the decision to pull Bill C-583 after realizing chances were slim it could become legislation in time for next year’s election.
“There was no way it could get through three readings in the Senate between April and the end of June with all the other legislation before it,” he said.
“When I knew that I approached the government and told them I didn’t want to just push a symbolic win and have the bill die on the order table. I really wanted to figure out a way to make sure we could realize some kind of win and the most effective option was to withdraw the bill and have the government agree to move it on a priority basis to committee.”
Usually, bills that undergo second reading - as Leef’s did last week - are next referred to a legislative committee for detailed scrutiny. Leef plans to propose a motion this week that would see his bill withdrawn, on the condition that a committee still examine the issue of FASD in the criminal justice system.
That work would result in a report by March - a deadline that wouldn’t have existed, had the bill been simply punted forward, said Leef.
Had the bill not cleared all the hurdles in Parliament and Senate required for it to become law before the next election, it would have died. Private members’ bills can only be passed on through different sessions within the same Parliament.
Evagelos Sotiropoulos, a Canadian political commentator who has written about private members’ bills in the past, said Leef’s decision was likely the best one he could make to keep discussion of the issue alive.
“Strictly speaking this may not be the best option for the bill, but it may be the best option for the issue - which may be more important to the member,” he said in an email.
“If he thinks the issue being studied by committee and reported to the government will increase awareness, then good on him. It probably won’t receive any attention hidden on the (private members’ bills) list.”
When Leef introduced Bill C-583 in April, he told MPs it was created in part because of his experiences as a correctional superintendant and police officer in the Yukon.
“I know and I have seen firsthand the impact of the criminal justice system on people living with FASD who involve themselves or get mixed up in it,” Leef told Parliament on Friday.
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.
In Bill C-583, Leef proposed three things. The first was to define FASD in the legal context.
“That is an important step, because in the absence of a definition, the courts are very much limited in their judicial notice of being able to account for what I will get into as somewhat of an explanation for criminal conduct,” Leef told Parliament on Thursday.
The bill would also have given judges the ability to order assessments of people who may suffer from the disorder, and permit the court to consider FASD to be a mitigating circumstance in the sentencing of an offender.
Historically very few private members’ bills ever become law.
Each session, hundreds of motions and bills are introduced by MPs. The order that these bills are considered is decided by lottery.
According to the List for the Consideration of Private Members’ Business, Leef was drawn 130th out of 243 MPs.
This Parliament, of the 391 private members’ bills that were tabled, only six - or 1.5 per cent - received royal assent.
Leef said he thought he was around 160th on the private members’ roll.
“In a normal sitting of Parliament, historically, 160th wouldn’t have gotten entertained,” he said.
“I’d need to be drawn in the lottery in the private members’ bills in the top 50 to say with certainty that the legislation could move forward. But when someone asked me if I would reintroduce the bill on the 42nd Parliament, I said absolutely.
“I’m disappointed that time wasn’t on my side but ultimately very satisfied that I was able to leverage my interest in FASD to something bigger.”
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