Question re: FASD and legal system - November 26, 2014

Mr. Silver: This spring, our Legislature passed a unanimous motion supporting a private member’s bill put forth by the Yukon’s own Member of Parliament. Bill C-583 seeks to amend the Criminal Codeto add a definition of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, FASD, and to establish a procedure for addressing individuals who are involved in the criminal justice system and who, it is suspected, suffer from FASD. It requires the court to consider, as a mitigating factor in sentencing, a determination that the accused suffers from FASD. Last week, the federal Conservatives decided that they didn’t support the bill and asked the member to pull it and, for some reason, he agreed.

Does the Government of Yukon support the decision by our Member of Parliament to kill his own piece of legislation?

Hon. Mr. Nixon: What I can talk to is what we are doing here within the territory between the Department of Justice, the Department of Health and Social Services, as well as the Department of Education, the schools and the correctional facilities.

Right now we’re undertaking a prevalence study at the Correctional Centre to determine the level or the individuals who have FASD in the Correctional Centre or perhaps are even on probation. We’ll continue down that path. It’s a voluntary program that a number of people have participated in already. We just spoke about that only a couple of days ago on the floor of this Legislature during budget debate. We’ll continue down that path. I thank both ministers from Education and Health and also thank the MP for bringing this to the federal stage.

Mr. Silver: Mr. Speaker, the bill put forward by our Member of Parliament was being debated last week in Ottawa. Members of the NDP and the Liberal Party spoke and they said that they did support it. A Liberal MP from Labrador said that she hopes that all parties and all members in the House could get together and support this bill in recognition of the place that fetal alcohol spectrum disorder has in Canada and in our justice system. Unfortunately, the Conservative government decided it didn’t want to pass the bill and instead wanted it to be referred to a committee for more study.

Incredibly, the Member of Parliament — our Member of Parliament — rose in the House of Commons and agreed. I’m not sure if I have an answer here, so I’ll ask the minister again: Does the Government of Yukon support the decision by our Member of Parliament to kill his own piece of legislation?

Hon. Mr. Graham: Mr. Speaker, we’re not here to debate what they’re doing in the federal government. What we’re trying to do is bring forward — if the member opposite wants to debate what is happening in the federal government, I would advise him to run in the next federal election.

What we are attempting to do here in the territory is to take collaborative action between the Department of Education, the Department of Justice and my own department to build capacity and training.

We have initiated a partnership between not only Health and Social Services and Justice, but with the Council of Yukon First Nations and the Northern Institute of Social Justice to deliver a certificate course on FASD and case management. The course is fully subscribed, I think, with 30 participants. They come from a variety of governments and agencies, but we are also working on awareness campaigns. We are working on a school curriculum and we are working to support individuals who currently are afflicted with FASD. What we are attempting to do here in the territory is deal with the problem. So instead of worrying about what the federal government is doing — although we did support that motion — we are working with the people here in the territory.

Mr. Silver: It is interesting to hear the minister say that we are not here to debate things that are going on in Ottawa. Yet the first private member’s motion from this government was to support the federal government’s plans with ISIL. So he had better tell the Premier that we are not actually here to debate things from Ottawa.

It is very disappointing to see what is happening in Ottawa. Our Member of Parliament introduced a good piece of legislation — one that all parties in this Assembly unanimously supported. It would have been a huge step forward for those suffering from FASD who end up in our justice system. Unfortunately, the bill is now dead, and our MP didn’t even fight for it. The powers that be in federal Conservative land decided for some reason that they didn’t want to pass the bill, and now it will not. It has been withdrawn from consideration in Ottawa.

Has the Minister of Justice contacted his federal colleague to let him know that this government disagrees with this short-sighted decision, based upon our unanimous support for that motion?

Hon. Mr. Nixon: In addressing the member opposite, Yukon has been a leader in the role of FASD and the prevalence of FASD, especially within the correctional centres. I know from first-hand experience going to the federal, territorial and provincial justice ministers’ meetings, we’ve had this on the agenda over the last number of years — ever since I have been Justice minister. We will continue down that leadership role. Our MP, Ryan Leef, has been a key component of this, and I understand that because of the actions that have been taken on his bill, it will now sit and will go through committee. There will be a number of people working on the recommendations — or suggestions — that were written in that bill, and then there will be more work to be done. We certainly appreciate the hard work that our MP has done in Ottawa and congratulate him on his efforts. I have to thank the ministers from Health and Social Services and Education for working with Justice on the prevalence study and on addressing FASD in our school system.