Reflections on “FASD and The Law Day” 2013 to Present

Krystal Glowatski, PhD Student (Simon Fraser University)

IMG_4021 copy

Participants at the 2017 FASD and Law Workshop. Photo: Michelle Stewart

After a hiatus while working on my PhD, it feels great to be back working on Dr. Stewart’s research team. This rejoining came about during discussions at the biennial FASD and The Law Day, a pre-conference to The International Conference on Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, held in Vancouver, BC. Having had the privilege of attending this pre-conference in 2013, 2015, and now 2017, I can attest to the growth of this event. In 2013 the event was held in a relatively small panel room, with perhaps 50-75 people in attendance at any given time throughout the day. The topics of the day were ambitious, inspiring organizers to narrow the scope in 2015. In 2015, the event was held in a larger banquet room, attracting approximately 100-125 people. The talks felt much more specific to issues that had been raised in 2013, demonstrating the commitment of the organizers to the needs of their attendees. In 2017 we were once again in a banquet room and this time it was a full house. It was heart-warming to see the interest from professionals across the justice field in regard to FASD – a lifelong, challenging condition that undoubtedly impacts their day-to-day responsibilities.

When Dr. Stewart and I first started interviewing justice professionals in 2013, it was interesting to discover the inconsistencies in understandings of this disorder. Now we are seeing a packed house (at some points, standing room only!), full of people who often work directly with those who have FASD, at an event tailored to their specific needs in working with such individuals to ensure compassion and dignity are maintained. Three panels were held this year, tailored to police, lawyers, and judges. These panels were informal, giving the impression that we were watching friends have coffee while discussing incredibly important topics. Such a style allowed the audience to be drawn in, even giving us ample opportunity to pose our own questions or comments. A main theme that resonated deeply with me was that of relationship; we cannot help others without building and maintaining healthy relationships, comprised of respect and dignity. It is for this reason that I fully support future directions for this event, including the possibility of developing FASD and the Law Day into its own stand-alone conference. There is far too much that needs to be said and discovered about the implications of FASD in the justice system to confine this event to one day every two years. Moreover, there are more relationships that need to be built amongst those who work in this field.

If you have some time, please watch some of the videos capturing the 2017 event at the FASD Research Project Facebook page.

FASD & Law Day – live streamed!

This year’s “FASD & Law” workshop in Vancouver was a smashing success!

The free, one-day, pre conference workshop was held just prior to the start of the 7th International Research Conference on FASD at the Westin Bayshore.

The event brought together approximately 200 participants to listen to a series of roundtable discussions about key issues in the justice system as it relates to FASD. The workshop was divided into four roundtables that each hosted frontline worker and parent perspectives. Included were the perspectives of: police, lawyers, judges and corrections.

As an experiment, the event was live streamed. Some of those links are still available if you visit us on FB:

Thanks to everyone that attended and all the speakers who shared their perspectives. This was the third such meeting. It is the result of volunteer labour from the organizing committee: Kathryn Kelly, Fia Jampolsky, and Michelle Stewart. Special thanks to Canada FASD Research Network, University of Regina Department of Justice Studies, and University of Washington for making resources available for participants. Thanks to all the student that assisted with a special thanks to Alexandra Johnson for all the hard work!







FASD, Justice & Reconciliation: A National Symposium



The University of Regina will be hosting a National Symposium focused on FASD and reconciliation on February 22 and 23. Participants from across Canada will partake in this two-day event that will bring together policy makers, frontline workers, para-professionals, students and researchers. As the title states, the event is hoping to create a space in which participants and speakers can raise tough questions while seeking out new collaborations as we all work towards rigorous and meaningful approaches to reconciliation. The Symposium is a project of the Canada Northwest FASD Partnership and Canada FASD Research Network. The event is directly informed my Dr. Michelle Stewart’s research in the area of FASD—and is part of a national conversation about reconciliation. FASD is embedded in the Truth and Reconciliation Commissions Calls to Action #33 and #34. We hope this event can help to foster richer understandings of FASD and of reconciliation work more broadly. The full agenda and list of speakers can be accessed here. The proceedings of the event will be made publicly available later in 2017.

Upcoming Event: Pre-Conference FASD and Law Day

On February 28th 2017, Dr. Stewart will be co-hosting an event at the Westin Bayshore Hotel in Vancouver BC.  This FREE event will be a pre-conference workshop and will take place the day prior to the 7th International Conference on Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder.  For more information on the conference, please visit:

The purpose of the event is to allow for meaningful collaboration and discussion on issues facing individuals living with FASD who become justice-involved.  The event will bring together individuals working in various sectors in the justice system as well as individuals living with FASD, families, and caregivers. This will be a hands-on workshop that will present key issues and use practical examples. There will also be ample time for discussions and networking.

The event will open with an overview of issues related to FASD and justice.  This discussion is meant to frame up the overarching challenges addressing individuals with FASD who become justice-involved.  The workshop will then feature speakers from various sectors to engage in roundtable presentations.  Each presentation will be followed by a discussion period. Presentations and discussions will be practice-based and will examine successful practices within various sectors.  There will be speakers from the following groups: Judges, Probation, Corrections, Police, and Lawyers. The presentations will conclude with the perspectives of family and caregivers of individuals living with FASD.

As the workshop speaks from various vantage points, our goal is to allow participants to benefits from hearing the perspectives of others and build capacity for cooperative and critical engagement.

If you are interested in attending this event, please visit our Eventbrite page (here) to register or visit our Facebook event page (here) for more information.  Registration is free but required.  If you have any questions, please contact the research team at

Alexandra Johnson

Update: Bill C-235 – An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the Corrections and Conditional Release Act

On November 3rd, 2016 Parliament discussed Bill C-235 (transcripts accessible here).  This Bill was introduced on February 25th by the Hon. Larry Bagnell, MP (Liberal) Yukon.  The proposed Private Member’s Bill includes amendments to the Criminal Code and the Corrections and Conditional Release Act.  These amendments focus on addressing and accommodating individuals with FASD in the criminal justice system.  The full text of the Bill can be accessed here.

While the Bill has been seen by many as a much-needed intervention that could have meaningful impacts on the lives of individuals, however, there are also some challenging components to this bill. The following blog seeks to outline key elements of the bill and includes helpful links on where to find additional information.

Bill C-235 includes amendments that would require courts to consider a diagnosis of FASD as a mitigating factor.  The Bill also grants power to the court to order assessment of individuals who are suspected to be impacted by prenatal alcohol exposure for a variety of purposes including, broadly, “making or reviewing a sentence.”  The Bill also calls for expedited assessment of individuals, directing that assessments be completed “as soon as practicable.”

An element of Bill C-235 is that it grants power to the courts to presume prenatal exposure to alcohol.  This presents unique challenges relative to the updated Canadian Diagnostic Guidelines for FASD (accessible here) that were published in 2016.  In a comparison of the updated guidelines and Bill C-235, individuals may not be able to obtain a diagnosis in the community (as they cannot obtain maternal confirmation and do not present with the three sentinel facial features), yet would be able to obtain a diagnosis through the criminal justice system (as the judge can presume prenatal alcohol exposure where medical professionals are not empowered to make the same judgment).

The Bill also outlines that, for the purposes of obtaining assessment, the court may remand (that is, commit to a period of custody before sentencing) the accused “for a period not exceeding 30 days” as long as “the court is satisfied that on the evidence custody is necessary to conduct an assessment of the accused.”  That is not to suggest, however, that remand must be limited to a 30-day period, because if “a court is satisfied that compelling circumstances exist that warrant a longer period”, then the remand period may be extended. If assessed as having FASD, then the mitigating factor in sentencing could be applied.

If an individual is sentenced to probation, then the conditions of the probation order will include the establishment of “an external support plan […] that includes any components that the probation officer considers necessary to ensure that the offender has the necessary support to facilitate his or her successful reintegration into society”.  If incarcerated, the “special needs” and “special requirements or limitations” of individuals living with FASD must also be considered in correctional programming according to Bill C-235.

While not named explicitly, C-235 could be seen as engaging in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s Call to Action 34(i) and 34(iii) which call for “providing increased community resources and powers for courts to ensure that FASD is properly diagnosed, and that appropriate community supports are in place for those with FASD” and “providing community, correctional, and parole resources to maximize the ability of people with FASD to live in the community”. The TRC’s 94 Calls to Action can be accessed here.

Bill C-235 will go up for final reading between 5:30 and 6:30 EST on 6 December 2016.  There will be a vote on the Bill on 7 December 2016.  We hope the links in this article are helpful.  If you would like to get in contact with MP Bagnell to find out more about the Bill or how to get involved please contact

-Alexandra Johnson (Research Assistant for Dr. Michelle Stewart)

FASD & Criminal Justice: Recent Items

It has been a busy couple of months in the area of FASD & Criminal Justice. Court decisions have included a successful appeal in W. Australia (LCM -v- The State Of Western Australia [2016] WASCA 164) in which the case asked “whether new evidence of FASD suffered by offender meant a different sentence should have been imposed.” It was decided that this evidence was critical to sentencing and the appeal resulted in the sentence being converted from 10 to 7 years with probation possible after serving 1/2 of the sentence. We will discuss the decision and the situation that surrounded this case in more detail in the coming weeks in a separate blog. Until then, a short news piece on the case and WA Chief Justice Wayne Martin’s strong words about the failings of the justice system. 

Today, in this post, I will focus on a recent FASD & Justice item in Canada.

In October 2016 the Federal, Provincial and Territorial (FPT) Ministers met to discuss Justice and Public Safety. FASD was on their agenda. Vice-Chief Kim Beaudin of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples (CAP) addressed the Ministers and included the 12 priorities CAP is focusing on included Mental Health and FASD in the Justice System.  Clearly, FASD is on the minds of leadership across Canada. It should be noted that while the issues associated to FASD are not limited to the justice system, when individuals with FASD are engaged with the criminal justice system it raises a cluster of concerns including but not limited to: over-representation of this particular disability, the need for more effective community supports, the role/capacity of the courts to address disabilities, the role of alternative justice practices, fitness and culpability.

A Final Report was released by the ministers and the link is included here.  The Final Report is a concise document that offers an overview of: the history and scope of the Steering Committee on FASD and Access to Justice; background on FASD as a disability; considerations about current proposed legislative reform associated to FASD and non-legislative recommendations. It concluded with 11 recommendations:

Recommendation 1: FPT Ministers direct officials to evaluate the desirability and the potential impact of clarifying the power of the court in the Criminal Code to authorize assessments of the mental condition of the offender for the purpose of determining a fit and appropriate sentence.

Recommendation 2: Jurisdictions and officials should continue to examine ways to improve access to justice for all people with neurocognitive disabilities, mental health issues, including FASD.

Recommendation 3: Any considerations of criminal law or policy reforms should not focus exclusively on FASD, but should include consideration of all people with mental health conditions or other neurocognitive disabilities.

Recommendation 4: Jurisdictions are encouraged to explore programs and services that support the prevention of persons with FASD from coming into initial contact with the criminal justice system, and those that reduce re-offending of people with FASD who are already in the criminal justice system.

Recommendation 5: Federal/Provincial/Territorial Ministers responsible for Justice and Public Safety consider FASD and other neurocognitive disabilities in the course of the criminal justice system review.

Recommendation 6: Jurisdictions consider undertaking studies to determine the prevalence of FASD and other neurocognitive disabilities in correctional populations.

Recommendation 7: Jurisdictions consider undertaking studies to identify and validate FASD screening tools for use in an adult offender population.

Recommendation 8: Jurisdictions consider evaluating the effectiveness of restorative justice approaches for people with FASD.

Recommendation 9: Where appropriate, jurisdictions should explore the capacity of forensic mental health services to screen for FASD and provide information to the court relating to a person’s neurocognitive abilities.

Recommendation 10: Jurisdictions are encouraged to explore opportunities for interdepartmental and interagency information sharing and collaboration on FASD and other neurocognitive disabilities.

Recommendation 11: All levels of government should encourage the development and delivery of education and training programs on FASD and other neurocognitive disabilities for criminal justice system professionals.

The Final Report from the Federal-Provincial-Territorial Ministers indicates there is concern about access to justice for people with FASD but the ministers do not believe that amendments to the criminal code that favor one particular disability is the path the address this issue. It should be noted that this report was released just prior to the First Reading of “Bill C-235 – an Act to amend the Criminal Code and the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (fetal alcohol disorder)” [sic]. This Bill was introduced in early November and is the latest in a long line of proposed legislation that seeks to address FASD through judicial reform. (Note: we will post a separate blog in the coming week focused on this Bill).

It is important to see so many discussions taking place on the issues associated to FASD and Justice. However, the question remains: what can we do at the systemic level to address the serious issues facing individuals with FASD who encounter the justice system?Appeals like the one in W. Australia are important (especially in the lives of individuals directly impacted by inappropriate sentencing) and can help pave the way to judicial reforms but we are still addressing FASD through piecemeal practices. Why? Because the issues associate to FASD and Justice are complex and far-reaching. They require nuanced analysis that sees beyond the courtroom. Moreover, much of the discussion about FASD and Justice is limited to “offender-focused” topics. The issues associated to FASD and Justice demands that we place more attention also on the challenges facing witness and victims which includes the criminal justice system but also civil and family law courts as well.

In the coming weeks we will post blogs that looks more closely at the Appeal decision out of W. Australia and the Proposed Amendment to the Criminal Code in Canada. We will also announce the details about TWO exciting events being hosted in W. Canada in early 2017—both focus on FASD in the Justice System.




FASD, Stigma and the “Immediate Jump”

A recent event held at the University of Regina brought together families, people with FASD, frontline workers, policy makers and researchers to discuss Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). This event focused on creating a space for collaboration in the area of research with a focus on the perspectives of those with FASD and their families. The event included discussions in four key areas including: (1) aging, (2)  FASD as a whole body disorder, (3) effective supports and services and (4) advocating for effective community supports and services.

The President of the University of Regina, Dr. Vianne Timmons, spoke about her own experiences assisting her daughter, Kelly, who lives with FASD. Vianne struck a chord with the audience as she shared her story. She then took her message to the media,  a message about the challenges of growing up with the disability and the ways in which stigma impacts the lives of families and those living with FASD. In a local paper she indicate: “To come out and say, ‘I have a child with fetal alcohol [spectrum] disorder’, people are going to jump to the conclusion that you’re an alcoholic or your child is adopted. They make that immediate jump. It’s challenging for many of the parents to maneuver through that’ she said.

The “immediate jump” that she speaks of is central when discussing FASD and stigma. FASD is a disability and while many (or some might say most) people who live with a disability might experience stigma, the stigma that surrounds FASD is particular. It is a stigma that indicts mothers and families and punishes individuals.

The stigma that surrounds the disability is ranked and has a hierarchy. Without a doubt the highest level of judgment and blame is levelled on birth moms. To call this stigma is to be generous as it about judgment and anger. Judgment and anger that is borne out of presumptions about prevention and ignorance to trauma; it also evidences the lack of understanding around the contexts within which FASD might come about. If we are going to breakthrough the various levels of stigma that exist about FASD we need to reorder the language used and the suppositions about this disability. As Vianne Timmons outlines in the article, her daughter is not a list of failures: her daughter is a vibrant young woman. We need to not see FASD as a long acronym for failure. We must reframe the languages of prevention and we need to stop assigning blame.

To state that FASD is 100% preventable is not accurate and that inaccuracy fuels stigma. The reality is that women will drink. Of those women who drink, only a small fraction will know in the opening days that they are pregnant. Moreover we start to have conversations about the structural inequalities that face many women—inequalities that can produce crisis and trauma. To say FASD is 100% preventable is a falsehood that is meant to give us a sense that we can “beat” FASD. Instead of filling ourselves up on false concepts about a disability, which can fuel judgment and stigma, let’s turn more of our collective attention to better supporting moms and families of those that are living with FASD. Let’s combat the stigma and “immediate jumps” that make some parents feel the need to say their kids are adopted so they can deflect the blame. Let’s take more time figuring out how to make our communities and programs more inclusive—to support not indict. Stigma comes in many forms and is the result of many things. Let’s reframe the discussion about prevention and perhaps we can start to impact the immediate jump that people make when they link drinking, addiction and disability.  Moreover, we need to more actively listen to parents and caregivers as they explain the experiences of stigma so we can better understand the layers so as to address the practices that fuel this vicious form of judgment.

This web page is a product of Dr. Michelle Stewart’s research team from the University of Regina. This research has been made possible by the support of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, University of Regina and Canada FASD Research Network. For questions and/or comments regarding the research project or about upcoming events please feel free to contact us. Dr. Stewart is at the Strategic Lead for Justice Interventions with Canada FASD Research Network, the Director of the Community Research Unit, she is also an research affiliate to the Indigenous Peoples Health Research Centre and Saskatchewan Population Health and Evaluation Research Unit.

Mental Health Court in the News #GetLoud

It’s Mental Health Week in Canada!  As reported on April 14 (read out blog post here), the Regina Mental Health Disposition Court: A Formative Investigation, a document prepared by Dr. Michelle Stewart and Brittany Mario with support from Dr. Stewart’s research team at the University of Regina, has been formally released.  The full report is accessible here.

Dr. Michelle Stewart presented the findings of the report to community members and media on April 14, 2016.  You can access the media reports through the links below:

Global News 

Leader Post

CJME NewsTalk Radio

CBC News

University of Regina

The media representation of the Regina Mental Health Disposition Court report highlight the success of the court to-date in working with individuals who present with mental illness or cognitive conditions, such as FASD.  The media also aptly reports that there is a continued need for increased resources within the court including a dedicated psychologist for assessments, legal aid support, and a coordinator.

Although the court has produced positive outcomes, there is more to be done in supporting individuals who may encounter the criminal justice system with mental illness or cognitive conditions.  The court, when possible, seeks to support individuals in the community.  Of the 36 concluded cases in the two-year period of research, only 5 individuals were sentenced to a period of incarceration.  The majority were given community dispositions.  This is significant when one considers that all individuals were facing potential jail time at the time they were referred to mental health court.  As Dr. Stewart suggests, “I don’t think this is a case of getting out of jail free, but rather asking, ‘What’s the purpose of jail?’”.  The Regina Mental Health Disposition Court is by no means a solution to the overrepresentation of individuals presenting with mental illness or cognitive conditions in the criminal justice system.  The court does, however, make it possible for these individuals to move through the criminal justice system in a more meaningful way.

-Alexandra Johnson (Research Assistant for Dr. Michelle Stewart)

Upcoming Event: “A Lifetime of FASD: Navigating Systems, Silences, and Transitions”

Dr. Michelle Stewart, in partnership with Regina Community Clinic (FASD Centre) will be hosting an event at the University of Regina on 28 April 2016.  This event is sponsored by CanFASD, the Regina Community Clinic, the Department of Justice Studies, the Department of Anthropology, the Department of Women’s and Gender Studies, the Department of Political Studies, the Department of Social Work, the Dean of Arts, and the Dean of Education.  This is the third annual FASD event held at the University of Regina and is informed by Dr. Michelle’s Stewart’s research in conversation with community stakeholders and partners.

This workshop will on the lived experience of individuals with FASD and the challenges they can face over a lifetime including during key transitions (youth to adult for example).

The morning session will be led by Dr. Dolores Logan (FASD Centre/Regina Community Clinic) who will discuss the effects of prenatal exposure to alcohol on the developing fetus (registered participants will receive certificate of completion following participation).

The afternoon will be a workshop focused on key life stages. The first session will be led by Lisa Brownstone who is both a caregiver and retired occupational therapist; Lisa will offer her perspective including key transition periods, systems, and barriers she’s helped to navigate.  Myles Himmelreich, a well-known public speaker who is living with FASD, will then lead the next discussion; Myles will discuss his experiences and strategies in navigating systems.  Dr. Michelle Stewart and her research team will then discuss recent research conducted in partnership with The Asante Centre, and PLEA Community Services in British Columbia; this project focused on people living with FASD and the concerns they have about aging with FASD. These sessions will conclude with a short round-table discussion.

Registration is open, and we welcome participants from all organizations and backgrounds.  Students and educators are encouraged to attend.  Please follow the link below to register for the event.

-Alexandra Johnson (Research Assistant for Dr. Michelle Stewart)

Click here to register for the event!


Mental Health Court Report Released

The research team is excited to announce the release of the Regina Mental Health Disposition Court: A Formative Investigation. Dr. Michelle Stewart and Brittany Mario prepared the report with support from Dr. Stewart’s research team at the University of Regina. This project is the result of collaboration between the University of Regina, the Ministry of Justice and the Provincial Court of Saskatchewan. The research team did have an advisory group but the findings are independent.

This report might be of interest to those that work on FASD as one of the recommendations is to rename the court the “Mental Health and FASD Court” to better reflect the participants and the range of complex needs they have. Key findings and recommendations are put forward and can be found in the Executive Summary.

The Mental Health Disposition Court is a dedicated docket that meets twice monthly to focus on cases involving individuals with mental health and/or cognitive or intellectual disability. For the past two years, this court has been working to divert individuals, when appropriate, out of the jails. The report documents the outcomes associated to the court to date including information about who is using the Court, how efficacy and value can be measured, the primary challenges facing the participants, how the court operates differently, and the relationship between community supports and negative involvement with the criminal justice system. The court notes the many challenges facing clients including the lack of affordable and supported housing.

This report is an outcome of a research project made possible by funding from the University of Regina’s Partnership Research Grant. The research team thanks all of the individuals who shared their insights and the court workers who assisted in the collection of further data. The team would also like to thank all the students that assisted with the project and colleagues at the Canada FASD Research Network whose work offers insights into complex needs in the justice system. For more information about this project, or to request the full report, please contact: Dr. Michelle Stewart at the University of Regina (