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February 2, 2001

Ban booze sales to moms-to-be, group urges

Yukoners fight fetal alcohol syndrome

James Cudmore
National Post

Temperance advocates in the Yukon want to make it illegal to sell beer, wine or spirits to pregnant women in order to reduce the incidence of fetal alcohol syndrome.

In a submission yesterday to a territorial Liquor Act reform commission, the Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Society Yukon said bars, off-licences and liquor stores should be forbidden from selling alcohol to pregnant women or risk losing their licence.

Pregnant women would not be forbidden to drink alcohol under the plan.

"We are not targeting an individual, we are not targeting the right of mothers to have a cold beer on a hot day," said Jeddi Russell, a spokeswoman for the society. "We are targeting the owner and the servers. They are the ones making revenue and they are responsible when they have a licence to sell a controlled substance."

Ms. Russell argued her organization was forced to take action because of the high number of fetal-alcohol-syndrome births in the Yukon.

"What we do know is that [fetal alcohol syndrome] exists, and it exists because of exposure to alcohol," Ms. Russell said. "Any amount of alcohol will affect brain damage, there is no safe amount of alcohol to consume while pregnant."

Sheila Greckol, a human rights and labour lawyer who often represents the Women's Legal Education and Action Fund, conceded yesterday fetal alcohol syndrome takes an immense toll on northern communities, but nevertheless expressed concerns over Ms. Russell's submission.

"It's a transparently cosmetic way to approach a deep and broad social issue that requires resources, support for women in crisis and support for communities in crisis," she said.

"I'm just not sure that imposing laws on people in an attempt to control behaviour is the answer to such deep and endemic problems."

Stephen Jenuth, president of the Alberta Civil Liberties Association, said it was clear the Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Society Yukon's proposal would unjustifiably limit a woman's right to conduct her own affairs.

"A pregnant woman who wants to pick up a bottle of wine for the family dinner may well not be able to do so under these provisions," he said.

"While I think all of us want to take measures to reduce [fetal alcohol syndrome], I'm not sure that the targeting of pregnant women is the appropriate way of dealing with it."

The submission raises the question of the rights of a fetus and the responsibility of pregnant women.

Fetal alcohol syndrome is a medical condition that afflicts children born to mothers who drink during pregnancy. It is thought to cause developmental disabilities, facial abnormalities and physical defects.

Ms. Russell said the Yukon has the highest incidence of the syndrome in Canada.

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