Edmonton conference calls for changes to the justice system to protect sufferers of fetal alcohol disorder.

Edmonton conference calls for changes to the justice system to protect sufferers of fetal alcohol disorder.

By Keith Green, Edmonton Journal (September 20th, 2013) (Accessed September 23rd, 2013)

Commentary by: Shauna Makie

On September 18th-20th 2013 approximately 300 attendies including judges, academics, lawyers, policy-makers and social workers were brought together to engage in conversation and discuss the complexities around FASD and the criminal justice system. Harboured in Edmonton, Alberta, 14 jurors, led by Ian Binnie—a former judge who served on the top court from 1998 to 2011—listened to several presentations from doctors, academics, lawyers and judges pledging their case to make changes to the criminal justice system to account for FASD. Some presentations brought forth ideas such as retracting mandatory minimums for FASD sufferers, reduce “administration of justice” charges, implementation of mandatory FASD screening at correctional facilities and for every child going into care, consideration of supportive housing rather than incarceration, and an update to the mental disorder defence. The recommendations stem from the identification regarding the range of impairments that can be experienced by those living with FAS which becomes problematic for the Criminal Justice System that is created to fit a “one size fits all” doctrine. Often times, the accused are held to standards that they cannot attain and therefore enter the “revolving door” of the criminal justice system and become debilitated by legalities.

While encompassing all aspects of FAS, discussions around monitoring, or intervention techniques for women who may or may not be pregnant were also highlighted to address the rights of the woman and how these techniques may become very intrusive. The complexity of delegating between rights of the woman and rights of the unborn were identified as a challenge that would have to be further investigated and discussed at the conference the following week (September 23rd-25th) at the First International Conference on Prevention of FASD in Edmonton. Overall, the conference identified a need for more training and screening in order to develop more tailored expectations for those living with FASD along side legal sanctions for those at risk by the concrete nature of the law.

FASD and Legal Issues Conference – Sept 18-20 (Edmonton)

Consensus Development Conference on Legal Issues of FASD

This conference is a three-day juried hearing of evidence and scientific findings that allows for the engagement and collaboration of citizens and decision makers in government and the justice system in addressing a specific set of key questions on legal issues related to FASD. Jury Chair: The Honorable Ian Binnie, Former Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada. See website for full details.

Questions to be addressed at this conference:

1. What are the implications of FASD for the legal system?

2. Is there a need for enhanced efforts to identify people with FASD, and how can these efforts be achieved?

3. How can the criminal justice system respond more effectively to those with FASD?

4. How can family courts and the family/child welfare legal system address the specific needs of people with FASD?

5. What are the best practices for guardianship, trusteeship and social support in a legal context?

6. What legal measures are there in different jurisdictions to contribute to the prevention of FASD, and what are the ethical and economic implications of these measures?