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The Globe and Mail

Huge price tag for provinces attached to crime bill

The omnibus crime bill is projected to cost significantly more than the Conservative government has so far revealed, and half the burden for putting more young offenders behind bars could be downloaded onto the provinces, documents obtained by The Globe and Mail suggest.

As provincial governments wrestle with deficits in a stalled economy, no one is interested in taking on extra costs. Ontario and Quebec have both said they expect Ottawa to cover all new expenses associated with Bill C-10. British Columbia, which lobbied for some of the tough changes in the legislation, now says it is concerned about the potential downstream costs.

But a review of the federal government documents, originally tabled by Justice Minister Rob Nicholson and Public Safety Minister Vic Toews in Parliament last spring, suggest Ottawa expects the provinces to shoulder a significant part of the costs of its law and order agenda.

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"While the jurisdictions are likely to request that the full extent of the projected increases be borne by the federal government, they would probably accept sharing the incremental costs at 50/50," states an estimate on a bill seeking to toughen treatment for young offenders.

Tabled in response to a rebuke from former House of Commons Speaker Peter Milliken in March, 2011, the documents offer partial estimates for the cost of more than a dozen law-and-order bills previously introduced by the Tories, including several that were bundled into the omnibus legislation this fall.

The section on changes to the Youth Criminal Justice Act, which are now part of Bill C-10, offers a "mid-range projection" that the cost of keeping youth in custody will grow by about 33 per cent each year as more young offenders are put behind bars for longer periods.

Noting that it is "virtually impossible" to project actual increases, the document pegs the total cost of changes to legislation on young offenders at $717-million over a five-year period. It adds that the federal government would likely end up paying half of the price tag.

Federal officials have suggested recently that Bill C-10 in its entirety, which includes eight other previously introduced bills, will cost Ottawa $78.6-million over five years.

Neither Mr. Toews's nor Mr. Nicholson's offices responded to requests for comment on Wednesday.

No estimates are provided in the documents on the added cost of new mandatory minimum sentences for those convicted of drug offences and sexual offences against children. A bid to end house arrest for some crimes will have the greatest impact on provincial and territorial institutions, the documents state, but no estimates are provided.

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Quebec's Ministry of Public Security has estimated that Bill C-10 will cost the province an extra $294-million to $545-million to expand the province's prisons and $40-million to $74-million every year to service the additional inmates.

The province strongly opposes the bill, arguing it will diminish its rehabilitative approach to young offenders, and Quebec Justice Minister Jean-Marc Fournier has declared that the province will not pick up any additional costs.

"Our position remains the same," David Couturier, a spokesman for Mr. Fournier said when contacted by The Globe and Mail on Wednesday. "It's their legislation … it's up to them to pay the bills."

Ontario has also called on the federal government to cover the entire cost of the bill.

In B.C., where government officials had lobbied for changes to the Youth Criminal Justice Act, Attorney-General Shirley Bond declined to comment on how much she thought the federal government should cover.

"Absolutely it has downstream costs for British Columbia and for every other jurisdiction," Ms. Bond said, adding, "Yes that's a concern for us."

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The federal government will meet with justice ministers from all of the provinces and territories in January, where the provinces say they will raise their concerns about the cost of the crime bill.


With a report from Justine Hunter in Vancouver

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