Ottawa invests $1M to support Indigenous people with FASD in the justice system
Frontline workers will help offenders understand legal process
The federal government has committed nearly $1 million to helping Indigenous people with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder in Saskatchewan and Yukon.
MP Ralph Goodale announced the $978,272-investment on Friday. In partnership with the University of Regina, Goodale said the new program will help address the overrepresentation of Indigenous people in the justice system through research, supports, alternatives to incarceration and reintegration programming.
Frontline workers will assist both youth and adults before their first court appearance and during their time behind bars, helping them understand the legal process.
The federal government said studies show 60 per cent of people with FASD, a lifelong disability, come into contact with the criminal justice system. Goodale said Indigenous people make up four per cent of Canada's population, but represent almost 25 per cent of offenders in federal prisons.
University of Regina associate professor Michelle Stewart said the goal is to break down some of the barriers people with FASD usually face both in the justice system and outside of it, which she attributes to structural inequality and systemic racism.
Stewart said support workers will attend meetings, take notes for offenders, get their input on their case, make sure they understand the conditions of their sentence and plan proactively for their release.
"We're going to have advocates that are going to be working inside the court system, advocating for individuals, assisting individuals as they navigate the justice system," Stewart said. "Ultimately the shared goal there is to have people spend more time in our communities, be supported in our communities and if they are in custody be supported when they're in custody as well."
"This funding allows us to do that work and we're really excited."
Goodale said he's heard concerns from many judges who said the justice system was unable to help individuals with FASD.
"There are not the analytical tools and the support tools in place in order to deal with them practically and effectively," said Goodale. "What they can do from a justice point of view is impose a sentence.
"But is the sentence going to actually make a difference and correct the problem?"
The program will be based out of Regina and Kwanlin Dün First Nation in Whitehorse.