What is Canada’s federal prison system worth? It’s a sprawling network of 75 properties that cover more than 6,000 hectares (that’s roughly the size of 10,000 Canadian football fields) across the country and includes 56 institutions. The figures come from an internal 2008 Corrections Canada document (after the jump) that was made public some time ago by the Information Transparency Project, a group based in Kingston, Ontario. The group says it obtained the document through Access to Information law. Though the doc is five years old, it contains a fascinating figure, the estimated replacement cost for the entire prison system. The price tag is a whopping $5 billion. That’s enough cash to build more than 450 typical elementary schools.
The new political boss of Canada’s prison system appears to have ignored privacy laws, interfered politically in a system governed strictly by the law and intentionally sought to mislead the public. At least, this is what we can infer from the public statement of rookie Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney, issued with lightning speed soon after media across Canada matched the story reported first at Cancrime that serial sex killer Paul Bernardo asked for a transfer to a lower security prison. Blaney was quick to announce that he had been assured by Corrections Canada that there there are “no plans” to move Bernardo to a medium-security penitentiary. Blaney’s terse statement was confirmation that Corrections had refused to provide about Bernardo’s intentions and an indication that the minister stuck his nose in where he had no business.
The federal politician who has stage managed some of the biggest changes in the federal prison system in its 178-year history is calling it quits. Public Safety Minister Vic Toews (inset) announced he’s quitting the federal cabinet and politics “in order to focus on my family and to pursue opportunities in the private sector.” (his full statement after the jump). Under Toews, the budget of Corrections Canada has swollen by more than 50%, from roughly $2 billion in 2006-07 to an estimated $3 billion in projected spending in 2012-13. Toews legacy likely will be that he permitted the creation of a dysfunctional, tax-sucking system more like the repressive penitentiary regime of the 19th century – a system that spews out angrier, more violent and embittered ex-convicts who are just as likely to commit more crimes. (UPDATE: July 15, 2013 Prime Minister Stephen Harper named Quebec MP Steven Blaney as Toews’ replacement)
Federal prison bosses in Ontario are struggling to complete urgent repairs to crumbling penitentiaries, while simultaneously juggling tens of millions of dollars worth of new construction projects, internal Corrections Canada documents obtained by Cancrime reveal (read them after the jump). The records, summaries of the status of major renovation and construction projects underway at prisons across Ontario, reveal that some projects are behind schedule, plagued by cost-overruns and faulty work. In one case, some repairs to the perimeter security wall that encircles Collins Bay Institution in Kingston “have failed and must be re-done.”
Federal Correctional Officers are sticking it to Treasury Board President Tony Clement, during nationwide information pickets today at more than 50 federal penitentiaries. Pickets are toting banners that mimic a billboard that was posted in Clement’s Ontario riding. It chides him for his apparent public support for 7,500 workers, at the same time that the government has dragged out contract talks. The prison staff have been working without a contract for three years, as of today, and they’re accusing Clement of talking out of both sides of his mouth.
Carmen Robinson should be 56, a greying boomer, perhaps an early retiree discovering the joy of life untethered from the daily grind. Time to sip mid morning lattes. Time to lounge with a favourite book. Time for family. Instead, Carmen (inset) is a smiling snapshot, a memory, a life with no conclusion. She also is a statistic, one of thousands of unsolved murders that have been accumulating in Canada in the past half century. Carmen was just 17 when she stepped off a bus a few blocks from her home in Victoria, British Columbia, on December 8, 1973. She vanished and was, it is presumed, murdered. Her body has not been found and her killer remains unknown.
A meagre, last-minute grant from the federal government has rescued the Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime. The independent agency faced imminent shutdown without funding for 2013. Ottawa came through with $50,000, a paltry amount, that will allow the agency to function next year, though it will still have to scratch together additional cash.
An invaluable agency that operates on a shoestring budget, and provides critical service to victims in the criminal justice system, is in danger of shutting its doors. The Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime is one of the few organizations that assists victims who wish to attend parole hearings of the criminals who victimized them. At a time when Ottawa is spending billions of additional dollars on prisons, how could it possibly allow this agency to disappear when it requires a minimum of just $100,000 to continue functioning?