Tories blame "unacceptably high" crime rate even though Statistics Canada reports that crime rates have fallen.
Ottawa (8 Oct. 2010) - The Harper Conservatives have announced plans to spend $155.5 million expanding prisons in Ontario and Quebec.
A total of $95 million will be spent in Ontario and the remainder in Quebec.
Public Safety Minister Vic Toews has blamed "unacceptably high" crime rates for the need to spent the money, dismissing reports from Statistics Canada that say the crime rate is actually falling.
In July, the statistical agency reported that "both the volume and severity of police-reported crime fell in 2009" – down 3% from 2008 and 17% from 1999. However, Toews insisted this week, despite these hard numbers, that the crime isn't going down.
Cost estimates rising
The announcement of the new funding for expanded prisons came in the midst of a growing debate about the cost of implementing the Harper government's tough-on-crime agenda. It also tends to contradict earlier statements by Toews.
In April of this year, Toews claimed that ending two-for-one sentencing would have minimal impact on Canada's prison population and that the the government had set aside $89 million in funding for the upcoming year.
However, a report from the Parliamentary Budget Officer has since forced the government to concede that the cost will be much greater.
Critics further point out that ending two-for-one sentencing is just one of the 13 pieces of Tory crime legislation making its way through Parliament.
Provincial concerns rising
Meanwhile, with existing prisons already overcrowded, many provinces are beginning to express concern about the growing cost of the ever-growing list of federal measures to crack down on crime and put more inmates behind bars.
British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba and Prince Edward Island have all said they expect significant increases in their prison populations over the next five years – all without federal funds to help them cope with growing costs.
Correctional officers across the country are also expressing concern that pressures from prison overcrowding are undermining the safety of both inmates and staffs.
James Clancy, national president of the 340,000 member National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE), says overcrowding in provincial facilities has reached serious levels.
"Inmates are not just being double-bunked – in some places they are being triple-bunked and sleeping on cots on every available bit of floor space," Clancy says. "To add to this problem is a recipe for disaster."
The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 340,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. NUPGE