Indigenous People and FASD
There are many myths regarding FASD and Indigenous people in Canada. One of the most prevalent of these is that FASD is an “Indigenous problem”. In fact, while FASD is not specific to Indigenous people, the hurt and trauma associated with the ongoing negative impacts of colonization, discrimination, and racism means that some people use alcohol to dull the pain, including women during pregnancy.
This makes FASD a serious problem that affects the health and well-being of Indigenous people in Canada. We note that rates of alcohol consumption among Indigenous women seem to be lower than in the general population. However, binge drinking, which is associated with greater fetal risk, is reported to be more prevalent among Indigenous people who do drink. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (the TRC) specifically mentions FASD in two of its Calls to Action from its 2015 report.
TRC Call to Action 33: “We call upon the federal, provincial, and territorial governments to recognize as a high priority the need to address and prevent Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD), and to develop, in collaboration with Aboriginal people, FASD preventive programs that can be delivered in a culturally appropriate manner.”
TRC Call to Action 34: “We call upon the governments of Canada, the provinces, and territories to undertake reforms to the criminal justice system to better address the needs of offenders with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD), including:
- Providing increased community resources and powers for courts to ensure that FASD is properly diagnosed, and that appropriate community supports are in place for those with FASD.
- Enacting statutory exemptions from mandatory minimum sentences of imprisonment for offenders affected by FASD.
- Providing community, correctional, and parole resources to maximize the ability of people with FASD to live in the community.
- Adopting appropriate evaluation mechanisms to measure the effectiveness of such programs and ensure community safety.”
These Calls to Action recognize that FASD is a health issue that is negatively affecting Indigenous people. FASD service delivery in terms of diagnosis, prevention and intervention is lacking and has led to inappropriate treatment within the criminal justice system.
As is evident from the content on this website, the challenging behaviours of youth and young adults who are affected by prenatal alcohol exposure are often perceived by those in the legal system to be intentional because the youth or young adults have not been identified through the medical system as having a disability. FASD behaviors can become more challenging as individuals grow into adulthood without support and accommodation. Secondary disability research indicates that without early diagnosis and support 60 % of individuals with FASD get into trouble with the law. And leading Canadian research shows that many individuals with FASD end up in the revolving door of the criminal justice system where they are punished for behaviors that are connected with their disability.
The criminal justice system in Canada has no process in place to screen or assess FASD. Forensic psychiatrists are often not trained or available to diagnose it, and unless a diagnosis is presented, individuals with FASD often do not get appropriate consideration or accommodation within the criminal justice system for their disability.