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Inmates bide their time in a Toronto jail in February of 2011. (Peter Power/Peter Power/The Globe and Mail)
Inmates bide their time in a Toronto jail in February of 2011. (Peter Power/Peter Power/The Globe and Mail)

Budget watchdog contradicts Tories on cost of sentencing crackdown Add to ...

New restrictions on the use of conditional sentences will lead to higher costs for Ottawa – and especially the provinces – according to a new analysis by the Parliamentary Budget Officer.

The report by Kevin Page directly contradicts Conservative assertions that the measure would not lead to higher costs for Ottawa. The changes are just one part of the government’s omnibus crime bill, C-10, which has been passed by the House of Commons and is currently being studied in the Senate.

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The PBO attempts to calculate how government costs would be different if the measure was in place for the 2008-09 fiscal year. It concludes Ottawa would be on the hook for $7.9-million more in prosecution and parole review costs, while the provinces would face $137-million for higher prosecution, court, prison and parole review costs.

Considering federal and provincial governments spend hundreds of billions each year, the added costs are quite small as a percentage of total spending.

However the PBO report cautions this analysis only covers one aspect of one part of Bill C-10 and does not include potential capital costs such as building new prisons. Bill C-10, the “Safe Streets and Communities Act,” is an omnibus bill that brings together nine previously separate pieces of legislation that had been introduced but not passed before the last election.

Still, the report also notes that Ottawa told MPs in October that the conditional sentence provisions would have no added costs, while the entire C-10 legislation would lead to a total of $78.6-million in additional costs over five years.

The section covered by Tuesday’s PBO report is a proposed change to section 742.1 of the Criminal Code. The change would mean individuals no longer qualify for conditional sentences if they are convicted of an offence where the maximum term of imprisonment for the offence is 14 years or life, or offences where the maximum term of imprisonment is 10 years and the offence resulted in bodily harm, involved the trafficking, import/export, or production of drugs, or involved the use of a weapon.

The PBO estimates this change would have meant 4,500 offenders would no longer be eligible for a conditional sentence and could therefore face a prison sentence. Of those, 650 would be acquitted. The report also estimates the average cost per offender will rise significantly, from approximately $2,600 to approximately $41,000.

Julie Di Mambro, a spokesperson for Justice Minister Rob Nicholson, noted that Ottawa has increased transfer payments to the provinces by 30 per cent, or $12.7-billion, since first taking office in 2006.

“Conditional sentences, or house arrest, should not be available for serious crimes such as sexual assault, kidnapping, and human trafficking,” she said in an email response regarding the conclusions of the PBO report. “That is why the Government has proposed this legislation to ensure that individuals who commit serious and violent crimes serve prison sentences that reflect the severity of their crimes.”

The 89-page PBO analysis was conducted after a Sept. 29, 2011 request for the information by NDP MP Joe Comartin.

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