Evidence of meeting #43 for Public Safety and National Security in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was million.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Don Head  Commissioner, Correctional Service of Canada
  • Bob Paulson  Commissioner, Royal Canadian Mounted Police
  • Graham Flack  Associate Deputy Minister, Department of Public Safety

3:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Kevin Sorenson

Good afternoon, everyone. This is meeting number 43 of the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security, on Thursday, May 31, 2012. Today we are considering the main estimates for 2012-13.

We're very pleased this afternoon to have a number of individuals appearing at our committee, but certainly the Honourable Vic Toews, Minister of Public Safety and national security, we welcome you back. It's been good having the minister here on a number of occasions.

He is accompanied by his departmental officials: first of all, Graham Flack, associate deputy minister. We also have Commissioner Robert Paulson, commissioner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police—welcome; Monsieur Luc Portelance, president of the Canada Border Services Agency; Don Head, commissioner of the Correctional Services of Canada; Richard Fadden, director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service; and last, but certainly not least, Mr. Harvey Cenaiko, the chair of the National Parole Board.

Our committee very much appreciates your appearing today. Our committee takes this opportunity to express to these officials our support and appreciation for the work that the many public servants under their command perform on behalf of Canadians every day.

I would now invite the minister to make opening statements. As most of you know, we will then go into a number of rounds. The minister has one hour with us.

Welcome, Minister.

May 31st, 2012 / 3:30 p.m.

Provencher
Manitoba

Conservative

Vic Toews Minister of Public Safety

Thank you, Mr. Chair and members of the committee. l'm very pleased to have had this invitation to appear here to discuss the Public Safety portfolio's main estimates for this fiscal year.

As you indicated, senior officials from Public Safety and the agencies I am responsible for are here as well. I'm truly a fortunate person in terms of the quality of individuals who assist me in protecting Canadians on a day-to-day basis.

The committee has before it the main estimates for fiscal year 2012-13 which, if ratified by Parliament, will result in funding approvals of $8.37 billion for the portfolio. This represents a net decrease of $323.8 million, or 4%, from the 2011-12 main estimates.

The main estimates for this fiscal year, I should point out, do not reflect anticipated savings for the portfolio under the deficit reduction action plan, as outlined in the economic action plan of 2012.

As a result of its strong work on safety and security issues, this committee is very familiar with the portfolio and the vital role it plays in tackling crime, strengthening our borders, protecting our children, and making our communities safe. You would also know that protecting Canadians is a priority for our government.

Getting safety and security right matters in a very practical way. The first duty of any government is the safety of its citizens. The right to be secure from harm is at the foundation of every other right of citizenship. It is the essential condition for every other freedom. Our government remains firmly committed to protecting the safety and security of Canadians.

We remain firmly committed to cracking down on crime and to strengthening the security of our borders while working to accelerate the legitimate flow of goods and people across our joint border with the United States.

In an era of fiscal restraint, we are focused on the core responsibilities of government while finding all possible efficiencies and savings. This is what the main estimates for fiscal year 2012-13 will allow us to accomplish.

The total funding sought in main estimates for Public Safety Canada this fiscal year is $432.7 million, which represents a modest increase of $18.1 million over the previous fiscal year. The net spending increase of the total departmental authorities is due to an increase in grants of $8.4 million as well as an increase in contributions of $21 million, which is offset by a net decrease in operating costs of $11.3 million.

The increase in grants and contributions includes $15 million for the sustainability of the first nations policing program; $7.9 million for the ex gratia payments to the families of the victims of Air India flight 182; $6.1 million for the renewal of the youth gang prevention fund; as well as $1 million for the Kanishka Project research initiative. Yesterday, as some of you may know, I announced the first round of funding worth just over $1 million. This goes toward six innovative research projects that will help build Canada's knowledge and understanding of the complex issue of terrorism. That fund is actually $10 million over five years.

Honourable members will know that our government recently completed successful negotiations with the provinces and territories for a renewed 20-year contract policing agreement with the RCMP. I certainly want to thank officials from the Public Safety department who worked very closely with the RCMP and with the heads of the relevant provincial authorities in making that a reality. It was a challenging but very worthwhile exercise.

I'm also pleased to hear that the committee has decided to undertake a study into the economics of policing. This is a timely study, and I look forward to hearing of your deliberations and eventual report in this matter.

The main estimates for this fiscal year reflect a decrease of $205.6 million due to the expiry of the previous 20-year policing services agreement that expired on March 31. Funding requirements for the new agreement will be met through supplementary estimates as the individual contracts are ratified with the provincial and territorial governments.

The total funding sought in main estimates for the RCMP this fiscal year is $2.55 billion. This represents a decrease of $329 million, or 11.4%, over the previous fiscal years, the majority of which, as I indicated, is comprised of the adjustment to the funding for contract police services that will then be dealt with in the supplementary estimates.

One of our government's top priorities since we were first elected has been cracking down on crime and holding offenders to full account for their actions. That is why the main estimates for fiscal year 2012-13 seek funding of $3.03 billion for Correctional Service of Canada, an increase of $44.2 million, or a slight 1.5% increase over the previous fiscal year.

As the committee knows, our government's new laws to tackle crime are starting to end the revolving door of justice by keeping dangerous criminals behind bars longer. But what is more important to note is that our efforts have not resulted in the significant increase in the number of federal prisoners predicted by officials or indeed in the outrageous figures that certain members of the opposition predicted. They indicated that there would be a $19 billion increase in capital costs and $3 billion to $4 billion in operating costs.

Now, due to this reality, the determination was made to close two federal prisons—Kingston and Leclerc. Despite the misinformation being put out by various special interest groups, I can confirm for all the committee that our government has not built a single new prison and has no intention of building a single new prison. We did build the 2,700 individual units in various prisons, and that was announced in early 2010. These closures will save the government approximately $120 million per year, and combined with the fact that the offender population has not increased as CSC expected, we expect that CSC's future appropriation requests will be significantly reduced.

The main estimates for 2012-13 also request funds of $1.78 billion for the Canada Border Services Agency. This represents a decrease of $70.4 million, or 4% over the previous year. The CBSA's decrease in net spending is due to a decrease in operating costs of $61.8 million, a decrease in capital costs of $9.2 million, and an increase of $0.6 million in statutory costs.

This fiscal year's main estimates request moderate increases or decreases in funding for the other Public Safety portfolio agencies. The funding requests are: $520.6 million for CSIS, and that's an increase of $11.6 million over the previous year; $51.5 million for the National Parole Board, an increase of $2.3 million, or 4.5%, over the previous year; $4.7 million for the Office of the Correctional Investigator, an increase of 8% over the previous year; $0.9 million for the RCMP external review committee; and $5.4 million for the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP, a decrease of less than 1% over the previous fiscal year.

Mr. Chair and members of the committee, Canadians have made it clear that protecting our children and our communities is one of their top priorities. Our government is listening, and it has made that its priority as well. l'm sure you would agree that this is one of the most important responsibilities of government. The spending plans outlined in these main estimates will help us meet that obligation. These expenditures are critical to ensuring that the men and women on the front lines of the Public Safety portfolio continue to have the tools and resources they need to do their job in a time of fiscal restraint.

I trust that we can count on this committee's continued support for this work. I welcome any questions you may have at this time.

Thank you.

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Kevin Sorenson

Thank you very much, Mr. Minister.

We'll move into the first round of questioning very quickly.

We'll go to Ms. Hoeppner, please, for seven minutes.

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

Candice Bergen Portage—Lisgar, MB

Thanks very much, Mr. Chair.

Thank you, Minister, for being here. As well, I want to thank each one of the directors here today. Looking across the table, we can see the vast amount of work that is covered under Public Safety. I think each one of us serving on this committee are privileged that we can.... It remains a very interesting portfolio to work on.

Minister, I don't know about you, but over the last year and a half or two years, I have consistently heard from the opposition—all of us on the government side have heard—that we were going to be building new prisons. We were accused time and again of having plans to build new prisons. Then we announced we wouldn't be building any new prisons, and the opposition didn't like no for an answer. Then we told them we were going to be able to close prisons because the population that had been projected to grow didn't materialize.

I'm wondering if you could speak directly to what the prison population was a year ago, what that growth has been, and how we are able to accommodate.... In dealing with prison closures—I'm thinking specifically of Kingston, where there has been so much misinformation and so many inaccurate numbers—can you give us some of the accurate numbers and tell us what has happened with the population growth and what has not happened, and where these offenders are going to be going?

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

Vic Toews Provencher, MB

Thank you very much. I am going to make some very brief introductory comments, and then I will turn it over to Commissioner Head, who has been instrumental in handling this file.

The present federal population is 14,973. That has remained fairly constant, or has been increasing slightly over the past few months. The projections that were made back in March 2010, when it was stated that the Truth in Sentencing Act would come into effect and would rapidly increase the number of prisoners, have not materialized.

When I became Minister of Public Safety, that was a discussion the commissioner and I had. At that time we decided we would go ahead with the 2,700 units in existing prisons. What this would do, committee member, is we would be able to replace some of the older infrastructure that did need to be replaced, and also this would help us should the increase be more than we had expected. The capacity of our federal prison system at that time was about 15,000—just over 14,000 at that time.

The increase in population has been about one-third, give or take, of what CSC had predicted, and certainly many times less than what the opposition had predicted. What the opposition doesn't understand is that there aren't that many really bad criminals out there, but there are bad criminals out there. Those are the ones we want to focus on. Those are the ones we want to stop from using the revolving door of justice, and make sure they stay in until it's safe for them to be released. Rather than bringing all kinds of new people into the system, for the most part what we are seeing is that many of the same old guys, instead of getting a vacation to go out and commit more crimes, are staying in. That is what is causing some of the increase.

Perhaps Commissioner Head can give you some more details in that respect. I have to say, we have had a very good discussion over the last number of years about where we are going. I feel very comfortable with the advice I have been receiving from Commissioner Head.

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Kevin Sorenson

Commissioner.

3:45 p.m.

Don Head Commissioner, Correctional Service of Canada

Thank you, Minister and Mr. Chair.

As the minister has pointed out, our projections, which were based on remand data that was three to four years old, from 2005, originally projected a population growth much higher than what we've seen. The actual growth is only about one-third.

In March 2010, when Bill C-25 came into effect, we started at a population level of 14,027. As the minister has pointed out, our count today is 14,973, so around a 950 increase, as opposed to the 3,000 that was originally projected.

The 2,752 new cells that will be coming on line over the next two to three years are going to give us exactly what the minister pointed out, the opportunity to address some of the levels of double-bunking that we have in some of our institutions across the country and to deal with some of the aging infrastructure we have. The average age of our infrastructure is 40 years old, and as this committee has learned in the past, it's an infrastructure that's used 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. You can imagine the wear and tear that's there.

So we have aging infrastructure and we have some double-bunking issues to address. Any new growth that we're predicting, which is much less than the original projections, will be able to be accommodated in the capacity we have across the country, including the 2,752 cells.

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

Candice Bergen Portage—Lisgar, MB

Thank you very much.

Minister, will you be able to just comment very quickly? Bill C-19 was passed a few months ago and reached royal assent, and the long-gun registry has ended in Canada. There have been some efforts...it appears that a backdoor registry has been created. Can you comment on the government's position on the long-gun registry and what's happening in some of the provinces right now?

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

Vic Toews Provencher, MB

Well, we've made it very clear that Bill C-19 abolishes the long-gun registry and that Bill C-19 takes away any power to create an alternative registry even at the provincial level.

If there are chief firearms officers in various provinces who are administering the Firearms Act, we've made it very clear to them that there is no authority to collect the kind of data that was being collected for the long-run registry under the Firearms Act. That authority no longer exists.

There is an injunction application that has taken place in Quebec, and we are respecting that injunction. But in the meantime we are moving to separate the information and discontinue the ability of anyone to access that information outside of the province of Quebec. That process is well under way.

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Kevin Sorenson

Thank you very much, Mr. Minister.

And thank you, Ms. Hoeppner.

We'll now move to the opposition side, to Mr. Garrison and Madam Lefebvre for seven minutes.

3:45 p.m.

NDP

Randall Garrison Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair, and thank you to the minister for being here, and also for bringing his senior team of very impressive public servants to the committee.

I think one of the things we've managed to establish in this committee is that there's an equal concern for public safety, although we might not always agree on how to get there among all parties in the House of Commons. And we appreciate the work that all of you do in ensuring that Canadians remain safe.

Today, of course, the topic is the main estimates, so there are many issues we could explore on public safety, but we're going to try, on this side, to stay focused on the impacts of the estimates as they're presented today.

One of the concerns we have is that the services that are provided in Public Safety are of course essential to the safety of the public. So the level of reductions—the 4% cut in this budget and the projected 10% cut eventually—give us some concern about whether existing functions can be maintained and whether some new initiatives, which might be necessary, such as some of the initiatives that have been talked about for dealing with the sexual harassment issues in the RCMP, can be dealt with in this declining budget.

One of the ones we want to focus on, and I'll try to be quick, is the question of the prison closures, and quite apart from all the numbers about prisons.

My colleague, Madame Doré Lefebvre, has visited Leclerc, and last Monday the NDP members of this committee visited Kingston Penitentiary and the Regional Treatment Centre. We came away with a lot of unanswered questions, which maybe you can address today, about the impacts of the closure of those institutions.

In the case of Kingston, we know we have highly qualified and highly experienced staff working in that institution who have dealt with some of the most dangerous and notorious criminals in the country, and we've heard nothing so far about the fate of those staff.

In terms of the Regional Treatment Centre, we have a very highly talented and highly experienced group dealing with mentally ill prisoners, and we know nothing about the fate of that unit as a whole.

I'm going to ask you three very specific things.

One, Mr. Minister, will you make a commitment today to retain the experienced staff of Kingston Penitentiary within the Correctional Service of Canada?

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Vic Toews Provencher, MB

What I can say is that our focus is on the safety of Canadians, and our intention is to focus on that in the most appropriate fashion possible.

When we're closing Kingston, when we're closing Leclerc, and when we're closing the Regional Treatment Centre, we're not putting these people out onto the street. These people are going somewhere, and they're going into other correctional facilities. There are a number of correctional facilities right in the area of Kingston that can accommodate these individuals; therefore, many of the guards and other staff will, of necessity, be transferred to those facilities, without even uprooting their families.

Are there efficiencies? Absolutely. We can save $120 million on an annual basis simply by closing those two prisons and then having these prisoners in other facilities.

What we are committed to doing is ensuring that the prisoners are secure, that the officers have appropriate working conditions, and mainly that the public is safe.

I think the guards themselves have been telling us for years that Kingston needs to be closed. I don't think there's any question about that. So we're on the right track in that respect, and we will work with the union and with the guards to ensure that as many individuals as can be retained will be retained in the overall plan.

Perhaps, Commissioner...?

3:50 p.m.

NDP

Randall Garrison Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

If I can, I want to keep the focus on your commitment here.

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Kevin Sorenson

[Inaudible—Editor]...questions going through the chair.

3:50 p.m.

NDP

Randall Garrison Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

I'd like to keep the focus then. The second question, since we didn't quite get a full commitment on that one, is, will you make a commitment to keep the regional treatment unit together at some site, whether it's at the Kingston site or a new site? We have there a highly skilled unit of people dealing with mentally ill prisoners, and it would be, I think, a real loss to Canadian public safety to have that unit broken up.