TORONTO – The omnibus federal crime bill will cost Ontario more than $1 billion in increased police and court costs, the province’s Liberal government said Monday as it demanded Ottawa pick up the tab.
Bill C-10 creates new mandatory minimum sentences, increases maximum sentences for some crimes, limits the use of conditional sentences such as house arrest and makes it harder to get a pardon.
Ontario faces “the very real possibility” of having to build a new 1,000-bed jail, at a cost of $900 million, to house the extra prisoners who will be arrested and sentenced under Bill C-10, said Correctional Services Minister Madeleine Meilleur.
“I’ll be calling on the federal government to provide funding to cover their $1-billion piece of legislation for Ontario,” Meilleur said in an interview before heading to Charlottetown for a meeting with her federal and provincial counterparts.
“We’re looking for them to come out with the money.”
Federal Justice Minister Rob Nicholson was unavailable to comment Monday, but his office said the cost of crime on society far exceeds the cost of fighting crime.
“Our experience shows that toughening sentences doesn’t create new criminals, it simply keeps criminals in jail for an appropriate amount of time,” spokeswoman Julie DiMambro said in an email.
“Canadians expect that their provincial governments will work with the federal government to make sure we have safe streets and communities.”
The Tories have given Ontario $8.4 billion in transfers since they first came to power, a 77 per cent increase, added DiMambro.
There are about 8,500 inmates in Ontario correctional facilities, which operate at about 95 per cent capacity, said Meilleur.
The province estimates the Conservatives’ crime bill could add another 1,500 inmates to the provincial system by 2016, pushing populations to 150 per cent of capacity at some jails.
“I’m concerned because this additional pressure will lead to overcrowding in some institutions and undermine the province’s efforts to modernize the correctional system,” said Meilleur.
“Overcrowding is expensive, unsafe and unacceptable.”
Meilleur also noted the federal legislation will increase the number of people on parole, adding to caseloads for probation and parole officers as well as police.
“We will have to increase the numbers of probation and parole officers, and there will be new police investigations, increased officers’ time in court and less of their time on our streets, so we’ll need extra police officers,” she said.
“It’s unacceptable that Ontarians are expected to bear the costs of a federal anti-crime initiative.”
Quebec and Newfoundland also say Bill C-10 will overwhelm their already maxed-out court systems and create a costly influx of prisoners to provincial jails. Several other provinces, including British Columbia, Alberta and New Brunswick, support the federal changes.
Ontario’s Progressive Conservatives said the cash-strapped Liberal government had done little since last October’s provincial election to trim a $16-billion deficit except bash Ottawa in hopes of squeezing out more federal cash.
“I suspect this sounds like more language from the McGuinty Liberals to try to avoid their own problems by reducing costs and foisting it onto someone else,” said Opposition Leader Tim Hudak.
Ontario’s New Democrats said the province should not be on the hook for the federal government’s new crime legislation.
Given the fact crime rates are declining, we should be investing in the community, creating jobs, taking care of people who don’t have employment,” said NDP critic Jagmeet Singh.
“Instead, we’re shifting to create more prisons and expanding the prison complex.”
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version identified the spokeswoman as being from Toews’ ministry and misspelled Singh’s name.