Manitoba’s FASD Justice Program

  • 20 décembre 2023
  • Laura Pettigrew

The Government of Canada describes Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) as follows:

FASD is a brain injury that can occur when an unborn baby is exposed to alcohol.  It’s a lifelong disorder with effects that include physical, mental, behavioural and learning disabilities. These can vary from mild to severe.

On October 20, 2023, the Canadian Bar Association Child and Youth Law Section held a Child and Youth Law & the Youth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA) Online Symposium. One of the panels at the Symposium addressed, among other things, issues related to youth living with FASD: Improving Outcomes for Over-Represented Youth: Including Indigenous youth, Black youth, and Youth with Neuro-diversity and Cognitive Disabilities. Two of the panelist discussed the efforts currently underway to address justice sector involved youth and young adults through Manitoba’s FASD Justice Program located in Winnipeg.

One of the speakers, the Honourable Mary Kate Harvie, Manitoba Provincial Court, has been involved in the area of FASD for over 20 years and with the FASD Justice Program since its inception. The other panelist who addressed this topic is Tannis Toothill. Tannis works with Manitoba’s FASD Justice Program and the STARFISH Program, which is an addictions treatment program for youth living with FASD who are involved with the justice system and have problematic substance use.

Justice Harvie observed that youth with FASD are overrepresented in the justice system and that there are barriers and implementation gaps when it comes to accessing necessary services for this group. She explained that in the early 2000s, there was growing awareness in Manitoba about FASD. However, specific information was not easily accessible and very little made it into the courtroom. She noted that FASD presents a significant problem for the justice population. Tannis explained that Manitoba’s FASD Justice Program began with the formation of an advisory committee in 2002, a pilot project was later launched in 2004, and it became permanent two years later.