Evidence of meeting #26 for Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities in the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was prisoners.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Kevin Gaudet  Federal Director, Canadian Taxpayers Federation
  • Sharon Rosenfeldt  President, Victims of Violence
  • Ruth Gagnon  Member of the Board of Directors, Director General of the Elisabeth Fry Society of Quebec, Association des services de réhabilitation sociale du Québec Inc.
  • Clerk of the Committee  Mr. Georges Etoka

9:20 a.m.

Liberal

The Vice-Chair Raymonde Folco

We will now begin the 26th meeting of the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities on this day of Tuesday, October 19, 2010.

On the agenda, in accordance with the order of reference of Friday, September 24, 2010, we will study Bill C-31, An Act to amend the Old Age Security Act.

I would like to welcome, from the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, Mr. Kevin Gaudet, federal director, and from Victims of Violence, Madame Sharon Rosenfeldt, president. I understand that Madame Ruth Gagnon, member of the board of directors and director general of the Elisabeth Fry Society of Quebec, will not be here until 9 o'clock, but I propose that we begin the meeting right away.

One little note, simply to remind you, is that this part of the meeting will last until 11 a.m. At 11 a.m. until 1 o'clock this afternoon we will go in camera to discuss and hopefully finish our work on the poverty report.

We'll begin with Monsieur Gaudet and Madame Rosenfeldt.

Mr. Martin.

9:20 a.m.

NDP

Tony Martin Sault Ste. Marie, ON

I am wondering if you were going to approve the order of business that we agreed to.

9:20 a.m.

Liberal

The Vice-Chair Raymonde Folco

You are absolutely right. Why don't we do that after the witnesses have finished? Would you remind me in case I forget?

Since the witnesses are here, let's use their time first.

Monsieur Gaudet and Madame Rosenfeldt, you each have seven minutes to present. We'll begin with Mr. Gaudet. Once both of you have presented, we'll then go around the table to allow our members to ask you some questions.

Monsieur Gaudet, s'il vous plaît.

9:20 a.m.

Kevin Gaudet Federal Director, Canadian Taxpayers Federation

Thank you.

Good morning, Madam Chairman and ladies and gentlemen of the committee.

My name is Kevin Gaudet and I am the federal director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. We are a national, non-partisan, not-for-profit organization with more than 74,000 supporters across the country. We have offices in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, two offices in Ontario--Toronto and Ottawa--and recently we've opened an office, we're pleased to say, in Atlantic Canada. That office is located in Halifax.

The mandate of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation is to advocate for lower taxes, less waste, and more accountable government. We've been doing this for a long time now; this is a year in which we celebrate our 20th anniversary.

We don't take government money nor do we issue charitable tax receipts. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the supporters of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation who made generous contributions to help bring me here today, as we did not accept the offer of the committee for its financial assistance to get here.

I'm pleased to be here today on behalf of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation to speak in support of Bill C-31, what we call the Clifford Olson bill.

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation has played a large role in getting this bill introduced. I'd like to commend the government and the opposition parties for their rare speed in responding to this issue once it became public.

If I may, I would remind the committee as to how we came to be here today and the role the Canadian Taxpayers Federation has played in this issue. In late March, this last spring, an article appeared in the Toronto Sun in which Clifford Olson had bragged to Peter Worthington that he, Clifford Olson, was receiving old age security and guaranteed income supplement payments courtesy of the federal government and of course courtesy of the federal taxpayer. This amounts to some $1,169 a month, $14,000 a year for him and for every prisoner like him.

As soon as this story ran, my organization started to receive contacts from our supporters expressing great dismay with the situation. They were upset that such a heinous criminal should receive such generous and unnecessary largesse at their expense.

We decided that on behalf of our supporters we would put forth a petition calling on the federal government to cease the provision of OAS and GIS payments to prisoners like Clifford Olson. I must say, I was surprised and overwhelmed with the response. In my four years of involvement with the Canadian Taxpayers Federation I have not experienced that type of explosive response before in the number of petitions we've issued. It only took us about six weeks to receive more than 50,000 signatures on the petition. We've had a few other petitions in our past that have generated substantial support, arguably even more numbers, but to get 50,000 responses in six weeks is I think undeniably noteworthy.

We took the petition to Ottawa, where we were very pleased to present the petition to the Minister for Human Resources and Skills Development, Diane Finley. During our meeting with the minister, she did promise to act on the petition and put forth legislation in short order. She kept her promise and here we are at committee some six months later. I know that's relatively Herculean speed given the usual pace at which Parliament works. I think the government needs to be commended in that context.

Canadians and CTF supporters should be pleased to see some of the comments from Ms. Sgro, on behalf of the Liberals, who advocated speedy passage of the bill, and the qualified support expressed by Mr. Desnoyers of the Bloc Québécois and Mr. Maloway of the NDP. Of course, the CTF is happy again to see the support of the government on this issue.

In my role as the spokesperson for the CTF, I do spend a great deal of time being critical of government. However, when government and politicians do things right, we're mindful of the need to give credit where it is due, and we'd like to give it today in that context and this is just that case.

Parliament is moving quickly to end this injustice in providing these benefit entitlements to those who don't deserve them. Thank you for that. Only in Canada would someone serving 11 consecutive 25-year sentences for murder--I think they are concurrent actually, forgive me--collect more than $1,100 a month for old age security and guaranteed income supplements, but this is the case with Clifford Olson.

With federal and provincial prisoners combined, this could amount to some $7 million a year in payments to those who don't deserve them, for purposes that aren't required--payments that we argue ought to be stopped.

Old age security was created in 1951 and the guaranteed income supplement was added in 1966. They were, and still are, programs designed to help seniors make ends meet so that Canadians with little or no income have enough to live on. Robert Clifford Olson is a Canadian over the age of 65. He turns 70 on New Year's day. He is eligible and receiving his OAS and GIS. He will likely die in jail. He has no meaningful living expenses while there.

According to the most recent statistics on the Corrections Canada website, the average annual taxpayer cost of keeping a prisoner like him, a maximum security male, incarcerated was some $121,294 a year. That is $121,294 a year. That was for fiscal year 2006-07.

Mr. Olson was arrested in 1981 and admitted into federal custody in 1982, 28 years ago. It has cost taxpayers more than enough to keep him behind bars already. It adds insult to injury to pay him to be there as well by giving him important support entitlements that were designed to help seniors make ends meet. These entitlements were never meant to help line the pockets of people like him.

As a result of this petition, there have been a number of media stories and opportunities for people to provide e-mails and comments on websites. Let me bring to the committee one of the comments on one of those websites. It's the voice of a victim of Clifford Olson. Let me share her brief posting. It reads as follows: “I'm the stepmother of one of Olson's victims. I live on the same amount he receives, but I pay for my own food, clothing, and essentials.” She wrote that in capital letters. “Colleen's sister is struggling as a single mom to raise three children, and he wants his money.”

One of the other people posting on the website mentioned that the $2 million should go to families of the victims of his crimes: “Just put it into the old age pension and give us a better income”, she writes. “It's terrible how I have to struggle and pay taxes for him to never have to need anything. I also agree that he's grandstanding once again. How sad that there is even a group of people out there that think prisoners have rights.” Those are her comments. “He took my daughter's right to live, and with her went pieces of our hearts. This is really a very sad society”, she writes.

She points out how outrageous it is that struggling taxpayers are squeezed twice, first to house such criminals and then again by lining their pockets with those entitlements. It's this injustice that has to stop, and Bill C-31 does just that.

Thank you for having invited me today. I'd be pleased to take any questions in due course, should you have any for me.

9:25 a.m.

Liberal

The Vice-Chair Raymonde Folco

Thank you, Mr. Gaudet.

I'd like to welcome Madame Ruth Gagnon. Madame Gagnon, just to keep you in the loop, Madame Rosenfeldt will speak and then it'll be your turn. You each have seven minutes, after which there will be questions from the floor.

Welcome, Madame Rosenfeldt.

9:25 a.m.

Sharon Rosenfeldt President, Victims of Violence

Thank you. Good morning to all committee members and everyone present.

My name is Sharon Rosenfeldt and I am president of Victims of Violence. Victims of Violence was started 29 years ago by my late husband, Gary, me, and a few other individuals who had a loved one murdered. We found there were not any services for people like us in our situation. There was no one to turn to for answers in our individual cases, and above all, there was no support, and we felt so alone. We were all thrust into a justice system we did not understand.

The organization grew and grew, due to other individuals contacting us looking for answers in their particular set of circumstances regarding their victimization. We did not have those answers, but we did our utmost to help them find out. Most of the time it resulted in changes having to be made to legislation, mostly to the Criminal Code.

Needless to say, criminal justice issues are many and, for the most part, very complex. Sometimes these issues fall under other ministries, such as the case today.

A significant observation we found was that the issues we were addressing and asking to have change were always quite controversial and sometimes emotional, simply because they were usually affecting the lives of human beings, the lives of the offenders and the lives of the innocent victims of crime.

On behalf of our membership, I would like to thank you for this opportunity to present to this committee on the importance of Bill C-31, An Act to amend the Old Age Security Act. I must admit, I do not know how this particular issue got by our organization. However, it did, and I am pleased to have been invited here today to present our views.

Having said that, I would like to thank journalist Peter Worthington, who brought this important issue to the forefront, and the Canadian Taxpayers Federation for its work in having 50,000 Canadian citizens sign a petition.

We agree with and are in support of the principle of Bill C-31. The principle of Bill C-31 is clear in that the old age security program is funded through general tax revenues and is designed to help seniors meet their immediate basic needs and maintain a minimum standard of living in retirement. Since a prisoner's basic needs, such as food and shelter, are already met and paid by public funds, there is no reason for Canadian taxpayers to also fund income support for prisoners through old age security benefits.

We do not support the concept of having this bill only pertain to multiple murderers such as Motion No. 507 suggests. We look upon that motion as simply a Clifford Olson solution. That motion does not address the principle of Bill C-31 with which Canadians are outraged.

Clifford Olson's name is only the symptom of the issue we are here discussing today. His name only brought this issue to the forefront. The focus must be on the principle of Bill C-31.

In our research in relation to other countries, we found the U.K. to be the strictest in its legislation of payments of pension to convicted prisoners. The U.K. legislation states that convicted prisoners are not entitled to social security benefits. This includes state pensions even where people have contributed to them for many years. It applies irrespective of whether the prisoner is imprisoned in the U.K. or anywhere else in the world. The general rule is that convicted prisoners in the United Kingdom do not get any social security benefit at all, although payment of certain war pensions and industrial disablement benefits are suspended for up to a year and paid upon release.

Austria, Denmark, Ireland, and Luxembourg also do not pay state pensions during the duration of the prison sentence. Prisoners are entitled to their full pension rights on completion of their sentence.

France does pay state pensions, although its system is somewhat different. The state pension payment is made into the prisoner's account; however, 10% is deducted and allocated to the prosecution, when applicable, and 10% is set apart and goes into the prisoner's release allowance. Prisoners who do paid work while serving their prison sentence pay contributions that are taken into account for calculation of their state pension upon their release.

Greece does pay state pensions to some convicted prisoners. The prisoners who do not qualify for state pensions are those convicted of financial-related crimes such as fraud, theft, robbery, and damage to public property. They are excluded from receiving their state pension.

The Province of Ontario already prohibits inmates from receiving the provincial guaranteed annual income, the Ontario sales tax credit, Ontario sales tax transition benefit, and the northern Ontario energy credit.

In a statement, Minister Bradley stated:

These benefits are designed to help honest, hard working families pay for their necessities, and we are not allowing convicted prisoners to receive those benefits. Taxpayers are already paying for prisoners’ food and shelter.

The executive director of the John Howard Society is quoted as saying that he believes government could make a principled argument for inmates who will probably never leave prison and have all their needs met.

But clawing back OAS is another matter because it is a right of citizenship, and would require carving out an amendment for 'despised minorities'.

We believe that using the Olson angle is just a smokescreen. Citizenship is indeed part of the criteria, and it likely could be considered to be a right. But most seniors who qualify for old age security do not have their basic needs, such as food and shelter, paid for by the taxpayer, nor can they bank their old age security and guaranteed income supplement benefits, such as senior prisoners are allowed to do today.

I do not believe that senior prisoners are looked upon as “despised minorities”. That is very rude. Rather, it is common sense that one cannot benefit twice at the expense of Canadian taxpayers. That is why Canadians are upset and outraged. If you took the Clifford Olson name out of the headlines, taxpayers would still be upset, simply because they are paying twice. This bill is important for the principles of fairness.

In closing, I will quote from a pensioner who said:

If seniors go to a long-term care facility and cannot afford to pay, the government takes back their pension and gives them a small amount for spending.

Senior prison inmates receive free room and board, and they are allowed to keep or save almost $1,200 per month from their OAS and GIS benefits. As well, they receive the best of medical services, whereby a senior is only eligible for the basic needs.

This senior citizen gets it. That is why Canadians are outraged. They want their tax dollars to be used responsibly, and above all respectfully.

Thank you.

9:35 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair (Ms. Candice Hoeppner (Portage—Lisgar, CPC)) Candice Bergen

Thank you very much, Madame Rosenfeldt.

I believe we'll now go to Madame Gagnon.

Thank you very much.

9:35 a.m.

Ruth Gagnon Member of the Board of Directors, Director General of the Elisabeth Fry Society of Quebec, Association des services de réhabilitation sociale du Québec Inc.

Madam Chair, members of the committee, I would like to thank you, on behalf of the Association des services de réhabilitation sociale du Québec, Inc., for having invited us to present our position.

The amendments proposed in Bill C-31contain, in our view, serious flaws. On the one hand, the amendments seriously infringe on the principle of universality of our social security programs. Instead of providing solutions, the bill raises many more questions which can only cause concern, to our mind. On the other hand, the bill does not take into account the repercussions it will have on the people it targets, because it falsely assumes that all of their basic needs are already being met by taxpayers.

I will now address the systemic aspects of the bill's repercussions. The Old Age Security Act was created to provide a social safety net for the elderly to help them meet their most basic needs and maintain their human dignity. This act recognizes the vulnerability of the people who are part of this group, which is due to their specific needs and limitations. Therefore, it is precisely because these are elderly people that the bill provides them with protection, and it is solely this characteristic which makes it necessary to have a social safety net, notwithstanding any other attributes these people may have.

The amounts paid out under Old Age Security and the Guaranteed Income Supplement are not there to only help with food and lodging, which are, of course, very basic needs. These minimal amounts also help people with other needs, such as the purchase of clothing, good and services, which allow them to flourish as human beings.

The principle of the universality of social programs, more particularly social security and the right to an adequate standard of living, have been enshrined in various legal instruments, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

On September 24 last, member of Parliament Jim Maloway of the NDP mentioned that the right of federal inmates to Old Age Security and the Guaranteed Income Supplement was introduced by the Conservative government of Joe Clark in 1979. Therefore, this right was recognized, as were many other rights and freedoms, and this eventually culminated in the adoption of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms three years later in 1982.

Then and now, our Canadian society defended the principle of inclusion and the abolition of discriminatory measures. Yet this bill is the antithesis of these hard-won values. The bill proposes to exclude a group of citizens because they are different—they are inmates—although these citizens have the same needs and limitations as their age-related peers. Even worse, these citizens are in a far more vulnerable situation because of their incarceration.

The universality of Old Age Security is based on the equality of all senior citizens. If we exclude inmates from this social security program, it is not only discriminatory, but it contradicts the very essence of the Old Age Security Act, the purpose of which is to provide the necessary support to a vulnerable group, namely senior citizens. Violating the principle of universality is indeed of great concern. Who will be excluded next? A breach in the principle of universality can open the door to precedents which might lead to further exceptions.

Regarding the consequences for the group in question, not only does the bill violate the principle of universality, but it will also have serious repercussions for elderly inmates. It would be completely false to claim that should they be excluded from the program, the government would meet their needs to the same extent as it does those of other senior citizens.

I will now talk about the situation of elderly inmates. According to the Correctional Service of Canada, these elderly inmates have all kinds of problems during their incarceration, specifically health problems. Because of their previous lifestyle and due to their incarceration, elderly inmates grow old more quickly than Canadians in general. This situation was described by the Correctional Investigator, Mr. Howard Sapers, to the Special Senate Committee on Aging in 2008.

We will not revisit any of those issues.

The Correctional Service of Canada provides certain services to inmates, including housing, food and health care.

Nevertheless, anything that falls outside of the obligations of the Correctional Service of Canada must be provided by the inmate out of his own pockets. This includes anything relating to personal hygiene, or to recreational activities, for instance. The inmate pays for these things. It also includes all kinds of other things, such as toothpaste and clothing, basic personal hygiene products and recreational items. In short, if an inmate wants to have articles for personal use, he must pay for them himself at market rates, or sometimes pay even more, because these institutions only have a single supplier, which eliminates competition.

But the Correctional Service of Canada has implemented programs to help inmates transition into civilian life. Federal inmates can work in jail. Depending on how hard they work, they can earn between $5.00 and $6.90 per day.

The system is therefore based on social reintegration. It strongly encourages inmates to work. However, it is hard to apply this logic to elderly inmates because of their age and health problems. Do we really want to encourage them, or even force them, to work? The vast majority of them generally do not have any savings to help them go back to civilian life. This means that Old Age Security can help them afford food, lodging and basic practical things when they are released.

In fact, paying them Old Age Security is in keeping with the current correctional legislative framework.

9:40 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Candice Bergen

I'm sorry to interrupt, but your time is actually up. Would you be able to just quickly wrap up your presentation, because you've had a 10-minute allotment?

Thank you.

October 19th, 2010 / 9:40 a.m.

Member of the Board of Directors, Director General of the Elisabeth Fry Society of Quebec, Association des services de réhabilitation sociale du Québec Inc.

Ruth Gagnon

I agree, Madam Chair.

Do we really want to believe that seniors should be punished even more because of their age and their health? I do not think this is the direction we want to take.

Here are our recommendations. For these reasons, we reject Bill C-31 as it is currently worded. We believe that the proposed amendments will violate the principle of the universality of social programs, as well as adversely affect the people targeted by this bill.

Of course, there is a certain logic which dictates that an inmate should not receive the entire amount he is entitled to under Old Age Security, since he is already provided with food and lodging. It seems normal that elderly inmates make a contribution.

9:40 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Candice Bergen

I'm sorry, Madame, but I have to stop you at this time. Maybe during the question time you'll be able to complete some of your presentation. You've gone well over the 10 minutes.

9:40 a.m.

A voice

Seven.

9:40 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Candice Bergen

I'm sorry, aren't the presentations seven minutes? Yes, they're seven, and you've gone well over the seven minutes.

So if you just want to hang onto some of the comments, you'll probably have an opportunity to bring them forward during the questioning time. Thank you so much.

We will begin our questions and answers, and our first round is a seven-minute round. That includes questions and answers.

We'll begin with Mr. Savage, please.

9:40 a.m.

Liberal

Michael Savage Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Thank you, Madam Chair, and I want to thank the witnesses who took time to be here today.

I know, Mr. Gaudet, that the Canadian Taxpayers Federation has been active in bringing this issue along.

And, Ms. Rosenfeldt, I know the minister referenced you in the House for the work you've done and the attention you've brought to this issue.

Mr. Gaudet mentioned how quickly this has moved. I think it could have moved even more quickly. On March 26 we heard reports in the media that Mr. Olson was getting a pension. Minister Finley made comments in question period that same day that she would bring forward a bill. It wasn't till June 1 that the bill was introduced, and then the House recessed and we went into summer.

Our critic on this issue, Judy Sgro, had indicated well before that we were prepared to move it along. In fact, in her speech when this eventually did come to the House, she said:

Despite our often fierce partisan differences, today we are looking at an issue that I believe should unite all of us, regardless of our political affiliations.

... With that in mind, I intend to keep my remarks brief today because I believe we should all work together to forward the bill to committee....

That is where we are today.

So we want to deal with this as quickly as we possibly can, but we also want to make sure that in the process of dealing with the Clifford Olsons, there aren't some unforeseen circumstances with people who have made mistakes and are paying for those mistakes but may have spouses or family members who would also be severely hurt by this.

I guess my first question would be to you, Mr. Gaudet, and that is on the issue of the provinces. I note that you've done some work on this too. I think you've been urging people to contact the provinces to sign onto this bill. We heard recently that a number of provinces had signed on, but some had not.

Can you give us an update on where the provinces are in terms of cooperating with this specific bill?

9:45 a.m.

Federal Director, Canadian Taxpayers Federation

Kevin Gaudet

Thank you for your question. It's always a pleasure to hear parliamentarians fight among themselves with respect to who wants to take credit for how fast they can get something done, because that's so rare.

With respect to the provinces, from what I understand, Ontario has recently signed on. We're pleased to see that. We would obviously have preferred they were faster. My understanding is that Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick and Nova Scotia have not yet signed on to the program. I don't work for the department, so of course I don't know the exact status, and I stand to be corrected by information that may be made public. I'm not privy to the inside details, to be candid, although I wish I were. Manitoba, as well, and Quebec, is my understanding, are the provinces that have not yet signed on.

My understanding of the argument from the non-Quebec provinces--I don't know Quebec's argument, to be candid, but the non-Quebec provinces have said that they think their populations are insufficiently large to merit their involvement in the program. I would argue that no matter how large they are, the smaller they are, the less cost to the program of their involvement. So I would argue they ought to be involved regardless of the size of the population, sir.