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Leef's FASD bill receives warm reception

Opposition parties say they'll support Ryan Leef's private member's bill taking the next step towards becoming law.

Opposition parties say they’ll support Ryan Leef’s private member’s bill taking the next step towards becoming law.

Bill C-583, which would allow judges to take fetal alcohol spectrum disorder into account in sentencing, was given its first hour of debate in the House of Commons yesterday.

None of the MPs who spoke yesterday had anything negative to say about the bill.

“I think it is important to consider the vulnerability of other people and everyone’s particular circumstances in determining sentences,” said NDP MP Eve Peclet before confirming her party would support sending the bill to committee.

“Our society must recognize that each person has a different history and a different background and that we must take this into consideration in our legislation and in our justice system.”

Peclet took the chance to criticize the federal government for its current justice policy.

“I hope this bill will be the first in a long line of bills that will mean that the Conservatives abandon their repressive and ideological criminal justice agenda and finally understand that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” she said.

Liberal MP Kevin Lamoureux said his party would also support referring the bill to committee.

“The Liberal Party critic has been fairly clear in our caucus as to how the bill is a good thing and what the member is trying to achieve. It allows courts the ability to take into account the profound impact of FASD on a child and the resulting behaviour that might arise when an individual is involved with the justice system,” he said.

“It is an encouraging step from the member. We look forward to the bill going to committee.”

David Wilks, the Conservative MP from Kootenay-Columbia, also praised Leef’s bill, saying it “would make sure that those with FASD would be better served in the criminal justice system from here forward.”

Leef’s bill, if it eventually becomes law, would amend the criminal code to include a definition of FASD.

“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 the House yesterday.

Secondly, it would allow the courts to orders assessments of people who may have FASD and allow the courts to consider how FASD may have contributed to the crime as a mitigating factor in sentencing.

“It is important to understand that mitigation is not absolution. It is not an excuse for poor behaviour, but it is an explanation,” Leef said.

FASD is a brain injury caused when a mother drinks during pregnancy. It limits healthy brain development, especially the ability to understand cause and effect.

It’s estimated that about 1 in 100 Canadians are born with FASD. About 60 per cent of people living with FASD will at some point run into conflict with the law, Leef said.

“In our criminal justice approach, it has been a long-held defence that people who consume alcohol and behave in a particular way because they are intoxicated can offer that up as a reasoned defence. A 20-year-old who gets drunk and acts like a 15-year-old can offer up that excuse in law,” he said.

“However, someone who has been exposed to alcohol and has a neurological brain disorder and has an operating mind of an 8- to 15-year-old, in adulthood, cannot offer that up as a reason. That should generally just shock the consciousness of Canadians and us as members of Parliament.”

The bill will receive its next hour of debate sometime in September or October.

If it eventually passes second reading, the bill will be sent to the standing committee on justice and human rights for a more detailed analysis and report.

Contact Ashley Joannou at