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U of R project supporting Indigenous people with FASD in justice system

Regina Leader-Post with Vianne Timmons and Michelle Stewart 6 September 2019


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.

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.”

Vianne Timmons is the president and vice-chancellor at the University of Regina

Michelle Stewart is a professor in the Department of Justice Studies at the University of Regina.