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Controversial crime bill to cost Canadians $19 billion: study

By admin | December 9, 2011

Vancouver Sun

Controversial crime bill to cost Canadians $19 billion: study

QUEBEC — It will cost Canadians some $19 billion to build prisons to put more offenders behind bars for longer periods of time as part of the federal government’s new tough-on-crime legislation, according to a report released Thursday.

The study, by the Quebec Institute for Socio-economic Research and Information (IRIS), also notes the provinces are expected to shoulder the majority of the extra costs associated with the legislation, which it estimates at $14 billion.

The left-leaning public policy research group says that, using “the most conservative estimates,” it pegs the costs of the plan to end the practice of judges handing offenders time credits — on a two-for-one basis, to compensate for time spent in pre-sentence custody — at $16.5 billion for the country as a whole, with the provinces footing $12.6 billion.

The costs associated with the omnibus Bill C-10 — providing for mandatory prison sentences for drug-related crimes and child sex offenders — are estimated by the researchers at $2.3 billion.

On top of that, the study argues annual maintenance and operation costs for prisons will reach $1.6 billion for the federal government and $2.2 billion for the provinces.

“These figures are astronomical,” said NDP Justice critic Jack Harris. “I think it’s the first time we’ve seen separate costs for C-10 and the impact for provinces.”

The Conservative government has so far refused to provide a full costing of Bill C-10, which combines nine previous pieces of legislation and was passed in the House of Commons this week.

Harris said the study’s estimates look serious and challenged the Conservatives to make their own costs forecasts public.

“This is a financial disaster for the federal government and the provinces,” he said.

The office of Justice Minister Rob Nicholson didn’t immediately return calls for comment Thursday on the study’s estimates.

The IRIS report draws on academic studies, Statistics Canada numbers, Public Security and Correctional Service Canada budget estimates and a report by the parliamentary budget officer that said it will cost $1 billion a year for five years to implement C-25, which came into effect last year. The federal government has disputed that figure and has pegged the cost at closer to $2 billion total.

In October, Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page said his office would look at C-10 at the request of the NDP and the Liberals, to provide an “independent costing” of the legislation.

At parliamentary hearings into C-10 in October, Nicholson said his government doesn’t have a breakdown of the costs associated with the legislation for each province.

“The provinces are very well aware of what we are doing . . . and they have underlined to me what a problem drug trafficking is within the provinces,” Nicholson said.

His ministry has pegged the cost of C-10 for the federal government at $78.6 million over five years. The Quebec study puts a $924-million price tag to that bill for the federal government only.

Quebec and Ontario have already said they won’t pay for the added cost of locking up more people, which requires building more jails.

Provinces are responsible for jails, in which offenders serve sentences of less than two years, while the federal government oversees penitentiaries, where prisoners serve terms of two years or more.

The Quebec study also criticizes the federal government for favouring incarceration over rehabilitation and reintegration.

“The changes introduced with the bills C-25 and C-10 are likely to have no effect on Canada’s criminality rate,” wrote study authors Jean-Mikael Michaud and Guillaume Hebert.

“And on top of being inefficient, the measures put forward by the government carry a very heavy price for taxpayers,” they added.

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