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A Toronto inmate bides his time on Feb. 24, 2011. (Peter Power/Peter Power/The Globe and Mail)
A Toronto inmate bides his time on Feb. 24, 2011. (Peter Power/Peter Power/The Globe and Mail)

The cost of one Conservative crime bill for one year: $458-million Add to ...

The Correctional Service of Canada will spend more than $450-million this year implementing just one of the Conservative government’s new tough-on-crime measures – the Truth in Sentencing Act – as Canada’s prison system expands to accommodate a rush of new inmates.

The Conservatives have spent years trying to pass a series of crime and justice laws, with much of the opposition debate centred on the cost of new initiatives. The CSC report reveals for the first time how much one legislative change is costing taxpayers at a time when the Conservatives are set to pass new omnibus law-and-order legislation.

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The 2010 Truth in Sentencing Act – which ended two-for-one sentencing practices in which judges give a convicted individual two days credit for each day spent in awaiting trial – has led to more inmates and increased costs, the agency responsible for federal prisons acknowledges.

“As a result of legislative changes, the number of inmates in [Correctional Service of Canada’s]custody has grown and is expected to significantly increase over the next few years,” the CSC states in a recently released report that was highlighted Tuesday by the Parliamentary Budget Office.

The Correctional Service of Canada’s $3-billion budget for the current fiscal year is $514.2-million higher than the year before, an increase of more than 20 per cent. The main reason is $458-million in new spending tied to the Truth in Sentencing Act. Should that figure hold over five years, the cumulative cost would be $2.3-billion.

That is $300-million higher than the estimate put forward by Public Safety Minister Vic Toews on April 28, 2010, that the legislation would cost taxpayers about $2-billion over five years.

But it is significantly lower than an estimate by Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page, who put the figure at $1-billion a year.

Mr. Page is currently working on an estimate of the government’s latest crime bill.

Another Conservative crime bill, the 2008 Tackling Violent Crime Act, is responsible for a further $19.6-million in Corrections spending.

The CSC numbers came to light on Tuesday in a report released by Mr. Page that tracks government spending over the first quarter of the current fiscal year. The PBO report found that quarterly spending was largely on track with previous government statements.

However, it also highlights recent federal government reports that have largely escaped notice. With little fanfare on Aug. 29, federal departments – including the Correctional Service of Canada – released information breaking down their spending over the first quarter of the fiscal year. This has never been done before and provides new detail as to where government departments are spending and where they are cutting back.

Comparing the promised costs of crime bills to actual costs is particularly important this fall as the Conservatives have packaged a large volume of crime bills from previous Parliaments into a single bill, the Safe Streets and Communities Act. The government has repeatedly declined to answer opposition questions in the House of Commons as to what these new justice measures will cost.

Opposition MPs were highly critical Tuesday of a plan by the government to limit House of Commons debate on the legislation, arguing the government has not properly explained how the new measures will impact Ottawa’s finances.

“Are the Conservatives shutting down the debate because they do not want Canadians to know the facts?” asked NDP MP Jasbir Sandhu.

“The Department of Justice estimated the cost of crime in this country is about $99-billion, of which 83 per cent is borne by victims in this country,” Justice Minister Rob Nicholson countered. “If [Mr. Sandhu]is worried about the costs, he should start standing up for victims, just to make a change for the NDP.”

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