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TORONTO, April 3 – For the first time in Ontario, a website has been developed that helps lawyers, crown attorneys and judges deal with the most perplexing and costly phenomena they face routinely in the courts – Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD).
FASD has been a medical diagnosis in Canada since the mid-70s but it is only recently that Justice System personnel began to link repeat offenders and victims to the potential of permanent, but invisible, brain damage.
“FASD, affecting offenders, witnesses, and victims, is a major issue in the criminal justice system,” said Jonathan Rudin program director of Aboriginal Legal Services of Toronto. “FASD is permanent brain damage from before birth. People with FASD do not learn the same way as others and reliance on punishment as a response to wrong-doing will usually make the situation worse for everyone.” “A judge wants to do the right thing. But a judge, like any mortal, can only work with what he’s given. In too many cases, I suspect, judges are hamstrung because they’re denied the information they need. This doesn’t serve the interests of justice or the public or, perhaps most importantly, the interests of defendants with FASD who, far too often, find themselves in conflict with the law. Access to the information on this website will begin to address these issues,” said Justice Melvyn Green of the Ontario Court of Justice.
“Most of the legal cases where FASD has been a factor identify individuals as being Aboriginal, but this disorder affects anyone whose mother drank during pregnancy,” said Joyce Atcheson, policy development officer for Ka:nen Our Children Our Future. “The reality is that the early studies that identified Fetal Alcohol Syndrome occurred with a Navajo population, but the problem is much more widespread since alcohol consumption statistics show that non-Aboriginals drink as much and often more than Aboriginal Peoples.”
For further information: Brian McInnis, media contact, (647) 989-2800; Jonathan Rudin, Aboriginal Legal Service of Toronto, (416) 408-3967 ext 226; Justice Melvyn Green, Ontario Court of Justice, (416) 325-8979; Joyce Atcheson, Ka:nen Our Children Our Future, (800) 361-0563 ext 1932
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