These two short animated films, about 10 minutes each, are for those who want a quick yet thorough introduction to Fetal Alcohol and the Law. We made these films because the topic of fetal alcohol goes to the heart of the difficulties in law, medicine, education, social services, and how we spend, or do not spend, our tax dollars. I want to start a conversation that will bring some fairness to the lives of those with this brain based physical disability.
This note to defence counsel and probation officers is disguised as advice when it is really shameless begging. I would ask you to stop reading this note and immediately go read Denis Bolen’s first novel, Stupid Crimes.
For over 20 years Mr. Bolen was a federal parole officer in Vancouver. Translation: Everyday he saw the same people; the same crimes, the same sad stories defence and probation have to deal with every day. His novel is a delightful tour of the darker side of Vancouver and the title, Stupid Crimes, aptly describes what most defence lawyers and probation people must contend with daily. Most normal (complete brained) people when reading reports the police write to crown counsel (RTCC’s) often laugh, smile, or shake their head in disbelief. Workers in this field get used to an endless parade of stupid crimes. One Irish lawyer used to exclaim daily, “My client is a focking idiot”. And many others think it and do not say it out loud.
Most people outside the system conclude that the people in the police reports are either drunk, first time offenders, or simply not very smart. Some say these clients are NOT capable of getting through ANY day without having to pay a brain dead tax!
Most rtcc’s or police reports detail what Denis Bolen, a federal parole officer calls stupid crimes. An example:
My client said he was leaning up against the window with his hands pressed against the window because he was emptying his bladder as he had been drinking in the bar down the street. The police say he was stealing a computer. The trial was all about fingerprints. The only evidence was a handprint on the outside window. The judge did not like the police officer who seemed unaware of the Charter and was even more unfamiliar with fingerprinting procedures. When the judge found my client not guilty, I turned to my client, and said:
“Next time wear gloves”.
My client was a frequent customer and a decent chap. He looked askance and said in reply:
“In the summer?”
Now anyone reading this would instantly grasp that a successful criminal would wear gloves as to foil smarter police officers.
Every one (police, crown, defence, probation, and parole) has thousands of such stories. I would not be upset if you did leave now and read Mr. Bolen’s fine novel, because he says it better. The point is all the paid people in the criminal law business know that they are not dealing with people with brains that work like their brains.
Julianne Conry PhD, a retired UBC neurology professor and now full time FASD assessment person at the Asante Centre in Maple Ridge, BC… the world’s leading centre for fetal alcohol… was a member of the team that did the world’s the only peer reviewed study of how many people with FASD are in our jails. The study said about 24 %. There were some science method issues and the correct answer is probably 40%. The federal folks who run our prisons have their own non peer reviewed studies. These say the numbers range from 50 to 80% of the male penitentiary population have one of the four diagnoses under the FASD umbrella.
Do the math.
Most of our customers have a brain based physical disability.
Most of our customers do not have brains like ours.
Most of our customers do not think, and thus act like we do.
Thus it follows we need to do something different, because what we are doing is not working.
Here are two simple suggestions.
First. A talented defence counsel needs to bring an application under the Charter for a FASD assessment to be paid for by the national health care program S. Harper is trying to dismantle. Any other illness entitles you to a doctor. And the first thing a doctor does is determine the illness. A broken arm gets an x-ray. A head injury gets a scan of some sort. Bad blood is put through chemical analysis.
And if you have FASD, you get nothing. If you client has a medical card he or she is by law under our federal universal medical health care act entitled to medical care. These clients commit stupid crimes. We know that. We cannot change that. We can, with an FASD assessment, begin to understand the holes in their brains and then we can make some small changes in their lives because we can begin to grasp their personal difficulties.
And making these small changes is the only way to protect society and make all of us safer from more stupid crimes. I mention this Charter challenge because two or three times a month lawyers call me asking how to get an assessment. The last call on June 12, 2014 ended in frustration. After some months of trying to get an assessment, the lawyer left the practice of law to work for an Oil company in Edmonton.
Second we need probation and parole officers to do reports for our clients like the Gladue reports. We need reports that focus on brain function not behaviour. WE know the behaviours. We do not like the behaviours. And we need to learn that their brains are not going to change with time in jail, fines or probation orders. We need to learn to accommodate their brains to make our communities safer
Now we need to look at brain function and detail how their brains work.
I suggest the reports can be structured using the mnemonic ALARM
A adaptive behaviours
L learning and language
A report could say something about the person using these areas to begin a basic discussion….no need to be a neurologist!
So… here is the shameless begging: someone do something different because what we are doing is not working and what we are doing wrong is not making our communities safer!
A Charter challenge for an assessment is about medical health because we are dealing with a brain based physical disability. A proper probation report that has a focus on the brain goes to the heart of the matter.