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This article was published 10/12/2014 (927 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
OTTAWA -- Legislation that would have legally defined fetal alcohol spectrum disorder and given judges leeway to consider the impact of FASD when determining a sentence was quietly withdrawn last month.
In its place, a study on FASD will be held at the House of Commons justice committee, which Conservative MP Ryan Leef (Yukon) said would help better define the problem and outline an appropriate government response.
Opposition critics said the bill disappeared because the Conservative government won't back a bill that doesn't fit its tough-on-crime agenda as the next federal election looms.
Leef introduced the FASD legislation as a private member's bill last April. It was largely based on recommendations endorsed by the Canadian Bar Association in 2013. That includes creating a legal definition of FASD, establishing a process to assess people in jail who are suspected of having FASD, and requiring the court to consider FASD as a mitigating factor in sentencing an offender who suffers from it.
Leef told the Free Press he withdrew the bill because he feared it wasn't going to get its time for debate before the next election, while the committee will report back with recommendations from the study by the end of April.
"My intent is to broaden the scope for the greater good of the community," said Leef, who worked with people with FASD frequently in his former roles as an RCMP officer and deputy superintendent of operations at the Whitehorse Correctional Facility.
"It will shape the framework for a government response to FASD."
Liberal MP Sean Casey said he thinks the bill got scrapped because the government "lost its appetite for the bill."
"They're not big on mitigating factors," he said. "I think this was a good measure that would show compassion. The answer for every social-justice problem is not a longer sentence."
Casey will introduce a new FASD bill as early as Thursday. It will incorporate Leef's original bill and add two recommendations from the CBA: giving a judge the ability to make external support orders for offenders with FASD that could extend beyond their parole, and requiring the corrections system to accommodate FASD as a disability when providing services to inmates.
Leef called Casey's move a "hack job political stunt" and said the stakeholders he spoke to felt moving the issue to a committee study was "a trade up."
Justice Minister Peter MacKay has promised to act on FASD several times. At the annual meeting of justice ministers in 2013, MacKay said the government was waiting on results of a Whitehorse Correctional Facility study of the prevalence of FASD. Results of the study are expected in 2015.
In October, the subject again came up at the annual justice ministers meeting, but all that was decided was to direct government officials to undertake further study of the issue.