Criminal Law

Court for people with FASD ‘a terrific’ idea: Friedberg

By Paul Russell, AdvocateDaily.com Contributor

A Manitoba court that specifically caters to people with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) is a great idea that could work in Ontario, says Toronto criminal lawyer Matthew Friedberg.

“Any court that’s going to address these issues in a more acute way is a really terrific thing,” Friedberg, partner with Caramanna Friedberg LLP, tells AdvocateDaily.com.

According to a CBC News story, while it’s not known how many people in Canada have FASD, “Health Canada says it’s the leading known cause of preventable developmental disability in the country … research suggests that up to one-quarter of inmates in federal corrections facilities could have the disorder.”

The special Manitoba court, which sits one day a week, is smaller and quieter than usual courtrooms, the story states, with fewer distractions and visual images “to make sure offenders understand what’s going on.”

The CBC story notes the Manitoba Court of Appeal has made it clear that judges “should consider how challenges faced by someone with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder can be linked to their criminal behaviour.”

Friedberg says he expects the FASD court will be similar to Ontario courts dealing with mental health issues, such as the Mental Health Court in Toronto’s Old City Hall or the Community Treatment Court in Newmarket.

“These courts are a manifestation of the idea that mental health issues are directly correlated with crime,” he says.

In these special courts, Friedberg says people charged with a crime have to show their actions were directly linked to their mental illness.

“If the court agrees, it will consider either a very mitigated sentence or even a withdrawal of charges if the offender is willing to commit to programs to help deal with their issues,” he says.

“It can be a very long process. They don’t just get a free pass,” Friedberg adds.

In Toronto and the surrounding area, street drugs are a real problem, he says, which is why the Toronto Drug Treatment Court was established.

“Just walk around downtown Toronto, and you see the level of homelessness and poverty and the crime associated with that. It’s all interrelated.

“A great deal of crime is attributable to mental health issues, but until very recently, as a society, we did not have the mechanisms or tools to deal with these problems,” Friedberg says.

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