U of R project supporting Indigenous people with FASD in justice system
For people with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD), navigating the court system can be confusing and overwhelming as they try to understand their charges, meet with their lawyer and keep track of their court appearances.“Even the lighting and the sounds and things are overwhelming,” said Andrea Kotlar-Livingstone, executive director of the FASD Network of Saskatchewan.“Lots of times the offence that happened that they’re going to court for happened so long ago that they kind of think that it’s already been dealt with in a way, so it’s hard too with the memory impairment to sometimes bring them back to exactly what happened surrounding that offence.”Lawyers also might not recognize when their client has FASD, which “is for the most part invisible,” said Kotlar-Livingstone. She said an estimated four per cent of the population has FASD.Now a new University of Regina project called Navigator-Advocates will be helping Indigenous people with FASD, should they come into contact with the justice system. U of R President Vianne Timmons made the announcement on Friday, together with Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Ralph Goodale. The program will get $975,000 through the federal government’s Indigenous Community Corrections Initiative.Story continues belowThis advertisement has not loaded yet,but your article continues below.Michelle Stewart, an associate professor of women’s and gender studies and director of the U of R’s Community Research Unit, is leading the project. She said the funding allows them to hire advocates and navigators who can work daily with these people and their families both in and out of the courts.“We have a justice system that’s over-prescribed by individuals that have FASD and do not have the appropriate supports they need inside those systems. These advocates will understand what those needs might be,” she said.“When they have that support … they’re able to give better legal instruction to their lawyers. They’ll better understand the system because they’ll have an advocate that’s assisting them or navigating the system with them.”Related These navigators would attend Legal Aid meetings with the person, take notes for them, talk through the meetings with them afterward to make sure they understand everything, take care of scheduling and plan for supports to be in place once they are released from custody.Prescott Demas, who came to public attention last year as one of the leaders in a protest camp set up in front of the Saskatchewan Legislative Building, will be a peer mentor with the project. He’ll help to identify gaps in support and locate people already in the court system who could be recommended to the program.“When you go through that court system, it’s up to you to understand all these things … You go through and there’s no real direction in the courthouse to help you,” he said.Indigenous people make up just four per cent of the Canadian population, but 25 per cent of the people in the justice system, said Goodale, who noted the purpose of this project is to help decrease the over-representation of Indigenous people in the justice system.Being a part of this project, Demas hopes to make a long-term impact on this issue.The project is also partnering with Kwanlin Dun First Nation in Whitehorse to bring similar supports to Indigenous people with FASD there as [email protected] A different approach: The struggle to deal with FASD in the justice system Talking about a disorder that’s often invisible Regina groups working to reduce stigma, highlight complexity of FASD TROY FLEECE / Regina Leader-Post Michelle Stewart, left, and Prescott Demas talk about the ongoing action of Colonialism No More at the Regina Public Interest Research Group (RPIRG) Apathy Into Action conference at the University of Regina in January, 2018. Demas was among those who set up camp outside of the Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) office in Regina for four months in 2016. Stewart is a U of R justice studies associate professor.