Leef is working on a private members bill that would allow people affected by fetal alcohol spectrum disorder to be treated differently by the justice system.
He says the criminal code needs to recognize that people with FASD often commit crimes because of a mental illness, and treatment, not jail, might be a better options.
His private members' bill would give judges more discretion when it comes to sentencing. “To look at alternative solutions, in terms of other sanctions, as opposed to incarcerations,” Leef says.
Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder is an umbrella term that describes a range of effects that can occur in someone whose mother drank alcohol while pregnant, according to the Canada FASD Research Network. The effects may include physical, mental, behavioural and learning disabilities with lifelong implications. However, diagnosis is extremely complicated.
Leef says his bill is just the opening part of a discussion on “how to acknowledge the challenges and unique needs and the broad range of clients with FASD and how that interplays with the justice system.”
Leef is still writing the document but he says that inmates with FASD are not served by being placed in the general population.
The private members' bill comes as the Conservative government is planning to increase the sentences for violent and sexual crime.
FASD and the justice system was a topic of discussion during a recent meeting of the federal, territorial and provincial justice ministers in Whitehorse. The Yukon government is also part-way into a three-year study to find out how many people in the corrections system suffer from FASD.