Canadian lawyers highlight Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder issues

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The Canadian Bar Association recently passed a resolution recognizing access to justice issues for individuals with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder in the Canadian criminal justice system.

The resolution called for more education on the disorder’s peculiarities, modified criminal prosecutions and sentences for individuals found to be affected by FASD and increased government funding for resources to reduce the “persistent overrepresentation” of individuals with FASD in the Canadian criminal justice system.

FASD is an umbrella term used to describe medical diagnoses caused by individuals whose mothers consumed alcohol during pregnancy. It includes Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, partial Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and Alcohol-related Neurodevelopment Disorder, according to a report from the bar’s Steering Committee on Access to Justice for Individuals with FASD.

Individuals with FASD rarely contain defining physical characteristics. However, half of individuals with FASD meet the standard criteria of mental retardation, an IQ of less than 70, resulting in problems with learning, memory, storage and retrieval of information, adaptive behavior, attention, impulse control, speech and language abilities, motor development, reasoning and problem solving, according to the report.

There is no easy way to identify FASD, such as with a blood test. As a result, FASD is an “invisible disability” often unnoticed during legal proceedings, resulting in severe disadvantages for these individuals at all levels of the criminal justice system.