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Medicinal marijuana user Julian Roy, who suffers from chronic arthritis, smokes marijuana from a pipe at a protest at Old City Hall in Toronto on September 30, 2002. (KEVIN FRAYER/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Medicinal marijuana user Julian Roy, who suffers from chronic arthritis, smokes marijuana from a pipe at a protest at Old City Hall in Toronto on September 30, 2002. (KEVIN FRAYER/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Globe Editorial

When jails become a jobs program Add to ...

Should the country's biggest job-creation program really be that of the Correctional Service of Canada? The jails plan to hire 5,000 new employees, according to Don Head, the commissioner. He says the service is trying to count up the costs of the government's multiple crime bills. Did no one think to do that first?

More Globe editorials on this subject

Even apart from all those jobs is the cost of the new infrastructure needed to house a spike in the number of prisoners. Canadians may be asked to pay billions of dollars more each year. Yet the Conservative government has provided no comprehensive costing, and none for a new bill, Bill S-10, that provides for mandatory-minimum sentences for some drug crimes, such as six months for growing six or more marijuana plants.

The costs of crime bills such as S-10 are at the heart of a dispute between the government and the opposition. The House finance committee is asking for government cost estimates. Liberal finance critic Scott Brison asked Speaker Peter Milliken last Friday to find the government in contempt of Parliament for not providing those estimates. The government claims the costs are a "cabinet confidence."

Its position is untenable. This is a government that stresses fiscal rectitude and the promotion of financial literacy. Why should Canadians be told to ask more informed questions about private investment or borrowings, on the one hand, and give the government a blank cheque on the other?

Given a tab potentially in the billions, it is hard to see what social need drives such spending. Nearly half the country disregards the law on marijuana use, according to the government's own statistics. This should tell the government there is no appetite for stiffer penalties. Overall, 44.5 per cent of Canadians said in 2004 that they have used marijuana at least once; while 14.1 per cent reported using marijuana in the previous 12 months (up from 7.4 per cent in 1994), 45.7 per cent of users reported using it just twice or less in the past three months. Few Canadians spend much time worrying about cannabis.

Last week, Justice Minister Rob Nicholson attacked Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff for changing his party's position on the drug-sentencing bill. Mr. Nicholson sought to portray Mr. Ignatieff as soft on crime, and the Conservatives as the defenders of neighbourhoods. Billions are at stake for an unclear social purpose.

Someone needs to defend the taxpayers who live in neighbourhoods.

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