Pubdate: Mon, 05 Dec 2011
Source: Winnipeg Free Press (CN MB)
Copyright: 2011 Winnipeg Free Press


There can be no illusion about the enormous costs of the Harper 
government's tough-on-crime agenda -- locking more people up for 
longer periods will add tens of millions of dollars more every year 
to the tab. Parliamentary budget officer Kevin Page, in fact, has 
estimated all the government's new measures combined, including the 
elimination of double credit for pre-sentence jail time, will cost 
billions more annually.

Attorney General Andrew Swan's demand now for more cash from Ottawa 
to share the cost of legal aid that will rise when the federal 
omnibus crime bill is passed is a sign of poor strategy. Manitoba's 
NDP government has been leading the charge for many of the amendments 
that will get tougher on criminals. Negotiating costs ought to have 
been part of the lobby early.

All provinces, however, have grounds to demand the Harper government 
help pay for the predictable fallout of more trials -- defence 
lawyers have long warned that mandatory sentences will cut plea 
bargaining and cause accused persons to fight their charges -- and 
the added cost of locking up more people, which requires building 
more jails. Ontario and Quebec, in fact, have stated outright they're 
not paying, which seems untenable.

Cost-sharing is negotiable. But expensive as this bill will be, money 
is not the biggest worry. Bill C-10 is not just unnecessarily 
expensive but unjust, in that it will lock up people who should not 
be in prison -- those growing marijuana for their own pleasure are 
bound to be caught up in a law that ostensibly targets traffickers. 
Further, the mandatory jail time elements give no latitude to judges 
in sentencing an offender with a mental illness. Jail is the wrong 
place to try to address mental health issues.

Justice Minister Rob Nicholson has ignored requests from a criminal 
defence lawyers' group to give back judicial discretion in such 
circumstances. Nicholson noted that such services are a provincial 
responsibility. A cascade of entrenched problems and costs will flow 
from such a blunt, lock-'em-up approach to law and order. Mr. 
Nicholson cannot avoid talking about the cost-sharing issue of Bill 
C-10. He should also resolve the problem his bill presents to those 
with mental illnesses before he passes a law that tramples on the 
quality of justice that Canadians expect from their courts.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom