Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners Act

An Act to amend the Old Age Security Act

This bill was last introduced in the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session, which ended in March 2011.


Diane Finley  Conservative


This bill has received Royal Assent and is now law.


This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment amends the Old Age Security Act to preclude incarcerated persons from receiving benefits under this Act while maintaining entitlement to benefits for, and avoiding a reduction in the amounts payable to, their spouse or common-law partner under this Act.


All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, an excellent resource from the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

September 23rd, 2010 / 3:35 p.m.
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Haldimand—Norfolk Ontario


Diane Finley ConservativeMinister of Human Resources and Skills Development

moved that Bill C-31, An Act to amend the Old Age Security Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to this important bill, Bill C-31, the eliminating entitlements for prisoners act.

Our Conservative government is committed to ensuring fairness for hardworking taxpayers, and we will continue to put victims and taxpayers first, ahead of criminals. Our government believes that Canadians who work hard, contribute to the system, and play by the rules deserve benefits such as old age security. It is wrong and obviously unfair that prisoners who broke the law should receive these same benefits.

Bill C-31 will ensure that mass murderers like Clifford Olson do not receive benefits while they are in jail. This mass murderer is receiving these government benefits, even though he actually admitted to brutally murdering eleven children, forever altering the lives of their families and traumatizing the communities in which he committed these dreadful crimes.

In a few short years, Paul Bernardo is supposed to receive the same benefits. So is Robert Pickton. This is offensive and outrageous to our Prime Minister, to me, to our government, and to Canadians right across the country. As soon as this shocking process was discovered, the Prime Minister asked me to take action quickly to put a stop to incarcerated criminals' receiving old age security and guaranteed income supplement benefits. That is exactly what we are doing today. We are doing exactly what Canadians want.

Canadians know that when our Conservative government makes a commitment, we follow through, and unlike the tax and spend opposition, we will use their hard-earned tax dollars fairly, responsibly, and prudently.

Before I continue, I want to explain exactly what this legislation aims to do. The purpose of the old age security program is to help seniors, many of whom live on a fixed income, meet their immediate basic needs and maintain a minimum standard of living in retirement. This is in recognition of the contributions seniors have made to Canadian society, our economy, and their communities.

However, an inmate’s needs, such as food and shelter, are already met and paid for by hard-working Canadian taxpayers. Canadians accept these costs because they want to make sure criminals stay off their streets and stay in jail where they belong.

What Canadians are not okay with are benefits meant for law-abiding, hard-working seniors going to incarcerated prisoners. Since an inmate's basic needs are already paid for by public funds, Canadian taxpayers should not be paying for income support through OAS benefits. It is grossly unfair to make law-abiding Canadian taxpayers pay for incarcerated criminals twice.

In short, whether someone is in jail for two months, two years, or twenty years, the fact is that taxpayers are already footing the bill for their room and board, so the criminals should not be receiving old age security benefits intended to help low-income seniors pay for their basic expenses. Accordingly, once passed, this bill would terminate old age security benefits for prisoners sentenced to more than two years in a federal penitentiary. The federal government would then work with provinces and territories to sign information-sharing agreements to proceed with the termination of these benefits for incarcerated criminals serving 90 days or more in a provincial or territorial institution.

I was very pleased that the government of British Colombia was the first to announce its support for our legislation and its willingness to work with us, if and when this bill becomes law. I have written to all of the provinces and territories to gauge their support and I hope to hear from all of them. What is more, I really hope that they all agree to move forward on this very important initiative.

This bill will affect approximately 400 federal inmates and about 600 provincial and territorial inmates each year. In total, implementing this bill will result in a savings to Canadian taxpayers of $2 million annually once the change is made federally. The savings will increase another $8 million to $10 million per year if every province and every territory signs on.

I would like to point out that this bill would put the OAS Act in line with other federal and provincial, as well as international, practices. For example, the working income tax benefit and the employment insurance program both cease payments of benefits when an individual is incarcerated. In addition, most of the provinces and territories, including British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and the Northwest Territories, already do not make social assistance available to inmates. The United Kingdom, Australia, and the United States, among others, all suspend the payment of pensions to prisoners as well.

We have been very careful to ensure that the innocent spouses and common-law partners do not suffer as a result of the actions of their criminal spouses. They will not lose their individual entitlement to the guaranteed income supplement and the allowances as a result of these proposed amendments. They will still receive benefits, but based on their individual income rather than the combined income of the couple.

In summary, Bill C-31 would put an end to the practice of prisoners receiving taxpayer-funded old age security benefits. Our Conservative government believes that this is the fair thing to do and we believe it is the right thing to do.

What matters more than what we think, or what anyone across the aisle thinks, is what hard-working Canadians across the country think. Let me tell the House that support for this legislation has been overwhelming. Victims of Clifford Olson and the organizations that support them have praised this bill.

One of the people by whom I was most touched was Sharon Rosenfeldt. She is the president of Victims of Violence. She is also the mother of one of Olson's victims and her life is forever altered by his heinous crimes. When this bill was introduced, Ms. Rosenfeldt said, “It's great to see that this government is putting victims and taxpayers first ahead of criminals. The suspension of OAS benefit payments to inmates is just that. I commend [the Prime Minister] and [the minister] for taking leadership on this important issue and ending entitlements for convicted criminals”.

Ray King is the father of another victim of Clifford Olson. When he learned that the government introduced this bill, he said this “is the best news I have heard in a long time. I am quite pleased the government has actually done something”.

David Toner, president of Families Against Crime and Trauma, also praised this bill saying, “We are thrilled that the Prime Minister and the minister have taken leadership and are putting victims ahead of the entitlements of prisoners. I commend the Harper government for introducing this legislation”.

It is not just the families of victims that support this bill; law enforcement has also been very supportive. I have heard from police officers across the country who believe that this bill is the fair and right thing to do.

As an example, Vancouver Police Chief Jim Chu applauded the bill, saying, “It would be my hope that the innocent victims will no longer feel further victimized by watching their attackers receive old age pensions during their forced retirement from their careers of crime. I am sure this evolutionary change in legislation will be greeted warmly by the many victims of these criminals”.

Taxpayers across the country have made their voices heard by signing a Canadian Taxpayers Federation petition in support of this bill. In fact almost 50,000 Canadians signed the petition. When the bill was introduced, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation said, “When the government does something right, they deserve credit”.

As we can see, victims and other major organizations strongly support this piece of legislation. What has really made an impact on me is the reaction from everyday Canadians. The number of Canadians who care about this issue and who took time out of their busy lives to write, email, and call in support of this bill has been truly remarkable. In fact I have received more correspondence from Canadians who support this bill than I have on almost any other issue.

I believe that it is important that their voices be heard, so I want to share with you a very small sample of what Canadians are saying.

From Cornwall, Ontario: “It is ludicrous that Clifford Olson is entitled to benefits he does not need, does not deserve, and has not earned”.

From Campbell River, British Columbia: “Thank you so much for introducing Bill C-31 so quickly to the House. You are to be commended for listening to the people who were so shocked to hear of the outrageous amount of money going to incarcerated men and women in the form of OAS”.

From Winnipeg, Manitoba: “Thank you for saying what most Canadians think. It is truly an outrage that Clifford Olson would get a pension on top of what he has in prison”.

From Saskatoon, Saskatchewan: “Canadian taxpayers have too long been held to ransom by those in our society and nation who flaunt the mores and break the laws of decent, law-abiding citizens”.

From Edmonton, Alberta: “Thank you for bringing the issue of prisoner pensions forward and I wish you much success with your initiative. I am hopeful that wisdom prevails from all parties on this issue”.

From Oshawa, Ontario: “I am glad that Bill C-31 has been introduced. It is a step in the right direction. Let us just hope this bill moves swiftly through to becoming law, putting an end to this insane practice in Canada”.

And from Halifax, Nova Scotia: “You are correct, Canadians who have spent their whole lives working and obeying the rules are the only ones entitled to these benefits, and I applaud the Conservatives for recognizing this and actually doing something about it quickly. Again, thank you for your good work, much appreciated”.

The overwhelming support that we have received from Canadians across this great country is proof that this bill is the right thing to do.

As members may be aware, shortly after this bill was introduced, the government received a letter from Clifford Olson himself, written from prison. In it he states that he is against this bill and is going to take the government to court if it passes.

Well, if a criminal who brutally murdered 11 children does not agree with this bill, then I think that is even more proof that this bill is the fair and right thing to do.

It is very unfortunate that for decades previous governments ignored this unfair and wrong practice, but it is not surprising.

There is a fundamental difference between our Conservative government and the opposition members. They are more concerned with the rights of prisoners who break the law and terrorize innocent families than they are with the rights of victims and law-abiding citizens.

Our Conservative government, on the other hand, continues to stand up for the rights of victims and their families. And we have a strong record of action to prove it.

For example, we created the Office of the Federal Ombudsman of Victims of Crime to serve as an independent resource for victims in Canada.

Over the last three years, we have committed $52 million to respond to a variety of needs of victims of crime, including the victims fund, which provides resources for victims of crime; support for Canadians victimized abroad; National Parole Board hearings; testimonial aids to assist child victims and witnesses with videoconferencing testimony; and support for under-served victims, including northern and aboriginal victims.

Furthermore, budget 2010 provided additional funding of $6.6 million over two years, and we will introduce legislation to make the victim surcharge mandatory to better fund victim services.

We are also taking action to facilitate access to employment insurance sickness benefits for eligible Canadians who have lost a family member as a result of a crime.

Bill C-31 is in keeping with our Conservative government's commitment to put victims and law-abiding Canadians first, ahead of prisoners.

Our government took quick action to put an end to incarcerated criminals receiving taxpayer funded benefits that are meant to help Canadian seniors who have contributed so much and so many positive things to our country.

Bill C-31, the eliminating entitlements for prisoners act, puts an end to hard-working Canadian taxpayers paying twice for prisoners. The bill is all about the responsible use of public funds and the fair treatment of Canadian taxpayers. We are taking action to put an end to entitlements for prisoners and to ensure that those Canadians who have spent their lives working hard and playing by the rules receive the benefits that they deserve.

This bill is the fair and right thing to do. It is what Canadians want us to do. I implore the opposition to listen to Canadians, to put victims and taxpayers first ahead of criminals and pass this bill quickly.

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

September 23rd, 2010 / 3:55 p.m.
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Judy Sgro Liberal York West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to this issue today. It would be nice, given the fact that this is our first week back, if everybody would be respectful and people would get along with each other. Unfortunately, the insults continue to be there, no matter how hard we try.

This bill was first introduced at the beginning of June and, as the critic, I immediately got up to speed on it. However, I was quite disappointed that it took until now to actually deal with it. I would have preferred to have dealt with it as speedily as possible back in June because I and my colleagues feel very similar to the minister on this particular issue.

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. Therefore, I will not be throwing any insults around as I speak to this.

Today we begin the exploration of Bill C-31, legislation, as outlined by the minister, that would prevent convicted criminals from being eligible to receive old age security benefits during their term of incarceration.

The old age security pension is intended to help seniors pay for their housing, clothing, food and transportation, an expectation that many seniors struggle with each and every day. All of us in the House, and myself as the critic for seniors and pensions, get calls every week about the difficulty seniors have, especially those at the low income levels, coping with everyday challenges, the low interest rates, the $1.35 increase in their OAS pension cheque, the difficulty many of them have finding housing and so on. Naturally, when Canadians or seniors hear about this they are clearly upset.

For thousands of seniors who are struggling with these growing bills on a fixed income, the thought that convicted and imprisoned criminals would be eligible for the same OAS benefits is offensive and totally unacceptable to all of us.

Moreover, given that OAS is meant to help the recipient pay for housing, clothing, food and transportation, it seems somewhat unnecessary for prisoners to get the cheque given when their housing, clothing, food and transportation are already paid as a condition of their incarceration. As a legislator, I see the current reality to be redundant, unacceptable and something that should be changed without delay.

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 to ensure we analyze it efficiently and properly, get it back to the House and get it through.

I believe it is important that we be prudent as legislators to ensure that the things we do here do not have any unintended consequences in our rush and in our enthusiasm to pass the bill. Again, the only outstanding concern that I have centres on my desire to be sure, as indicated by the minister, that the changes in Bill C-31 do not prompt any unintended consequences that may place hardships on the spouse and family of a convicted or incarcerated person.

Of course, the Old Age Security Act is the legislation from which the monthly old age security benefit is derived but it also offers the guaranteed income supplement, a spousal allowance and a survivors benefit. Often the spouses of incarcerated criminals were not complicit in the crimes of their spouses and, as such, should not be further victimized by the removal of these important benefits.

I know the government has signalled that it agrees with these sentiments but, on a personal note, we should take the time to ensure that all is as it seems and as it should be. It is our duty as responsible legislators to do due diligence on every piece of legislation, to set aside our emotions at times and to ensure we are doing due diligence on everything we are passing on behalf of all Canadians.

Our position here as Liberals is very clear. We support the intent of Bill C-31. We agree that convicted and incarcerated criminals should not receive sizeable benefits, like the monthly OAS cheque. I stand ready to do whatever it takes to achieve these goals and look forward to working with my colleagues and with the government to pass the measures geared to the same.

The minister also talked about the $8 million to $12 million in savings as a result of this bill. I certainly hope those savings will be passed on to the seniors in this country and to the victims of crime.

Cuts continue to go to a variety of people. We know things will be difficult in the coming months and years when we deal with the massive deficit, but I would not like to see that deficit paid for on the backs of our seniors and other vulnerable people in our society. I implore the government to reinvest these savings, to which the minister referred, into the seniors of our country.

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

September 23rd, 2010 / 4 p.m.
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Luc Desnoyers Bloc Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, QC

Mr. Speaker, on June 1, when the Conservative government introduced its bill aimed at eliminating old age pension benefits for prisoners, the Bloc Québécois clearly indicated that it planned on supporting this new measure. We will be supporting it, but only once we are certain that this bill, which was written at the last-minute, has been studied in detail.

Once again, the Conservative government, still severely blinkered by its right wing, Reform mindset, wants to pass this bill quickly to impress the voters with its ideology of stark, severe repression. It is hoping that the House will stand behind it and rush to pass this bill so that we can speed up the procedures needed to implement it.

The Bloc Québécois is not buying it. Let us be clear: this bill does not deal with an urgent issue. No one is in danger and no one is being unfairly penalized if this bill is not passed immediately.

I could list many urgent matters that are far more important than the measure proposed in Bill C-31, even if I only talk about current issues for seniors. I will stick to two of the seniors' issues that I feel are the most urgent.

Since last spring, advocacy groups for seniors' and retirees' rights in Quebec have taken to the streets to send a very clear message. Like the entire income security program, the guaranteed income supplement, or GIS, does not meet the basic needs of low-income seniors. In my opinion, it is far more urgent to pass legislation to improve the GIS.

That is why the Bloc Québécois has been proposing significant changes to the GIS for years. I sincerely hope that this Conservative government will hear the message that seniors will soon be sending them through petitions that the FADOQ network has been collecting since last spring to call for improvements to the GIS.

Despite the new indexing recently announced, the maximum amount paid in old age security benefits is clearly still not enough for seniors to pay for their housing, clothing, food and medication. Over 78,000 seniors in Quebec are living below the low-income line. The maximum GIS allowance is not even enough to get seniors out of poverty. I think this constitutes a genuine emergency.

For years now, the federal government has been unfairly depriving these people of the money owing to them. In order to access the GIS, one must apply. Tens of thousands of seniors in Quebec have been cheated because they have not applied for the GIS.

The Bloc Québécois will continue to work to improve the GIS in order to: increase the guaranteed income supplement by $110 per month; continue paying both pension and survivor benefits, for a period of six months, to a surviving spouse; automatically enrol people over 65 who are eligible for the GIS; ensure full retroactive payment of the GIS for all those who were shortchanged; and increase the surviving spouse's allowance to the same amount as the GIS.

I plan to address this matter again in the House in the very near future, because this issue is very important to me.

There is another urgent matter. In the previous budget, I reminded the Conservatives of the pressing need to bring back a real income support program for older workers, formerly known as POWA. Older workers who cannot find another job by the end of their EI benefit period are forced to turn to social assistance, now known in Quebec as employment assistance. They have to deplete all of their hard-earned assets to get that employment assistance.

Is that justice? Is that what we really want for the men and women who have spent years building our society? No, of course not. Urgent action is needed, but the Conservatives will not even consider it.

Today, we are being asked to pass at second reading a bill to amend the Old Age Security Act, which naturally deserves the attention of this House.

I am pleased to have the opportunity to fully explain the Bloc Québécois position to my fellow citizens. I believe this is a perfect example of the right approach to take when passing legislation that, for some, may once again reflect the rhetoric so often behind the bills proposed by our Conservative friends.

The Bloc Québécois will support Bill C-31 at second reading in order to study it in committee where, without rushing things, without blindly following the Conservative ship—which could soon sink as it navigates troubled waters—we will examine it in detail.

Passing legislation, establishing regulations and anticipating exceptions are some of the fundamental tasks that this House must carry out with diligence and discernment. Elected representatives must foresee all the effects and repercussion of the laws they adopt. That is the work of a good parliament and that is why, in this House, bills are customarily studied in committee after second reading.

Once the early enthusiasm disappears and calmer heads prevail, unfortunate gaps are sometimes discovered. Wisdom prevails.

This bill has three clear objectives. First, it precludes incarcerated persons from receiving old age security benefits when those persons are serving a sentence of two years or more in a federal penitentiary.

Once their sentence has been served, the person can notify the minister in writing of their release in order to re-register for old age security.

It goes without saying that the same applies to the guaranteed income supplement associated with OAS. With this measure that would affect roughly 400 inmates, the government hopes to save $2 million a year. We must, however, clearly identify here the pension program that Bill C-31 will affect.

The benefits that would be cut by this bill are not those from the Canada pension plan or the Quebec pension plan, which are benefits based on contributions received during years of work. Eliminated instead would be the benefits based on years of residence in the country, the benefits known as old age security, which also provide access to the guaranteed income supplement. OAS is given to almost everyone 65 and over.

It is therefore important to distinguish between the two plans and identify the real target of Bill C-31, namely OAS.

Second, Bill C-31 stipulates that an incarcerated person's spouse who is 65 or older be considered single. This would allow them to receive benefits as a single person, which are more generous than for persons married to a pensioner, in order to compensate in part for the drop in their household income.

The bill also allows an incarcerated person's spouse aged between 60 and 64 to continue receiving the spousal allocation even though in practice they no longer live together, again to compensate for the drop in household income. The Bloc Québécois feels that these are essential measures to avoid making spouses suffer unfairly for the incarceration of their partner.

Third, Bill C-31 proposes applying the same denial of benefits to persons incarcerated for at least 90 days in a provincial prison, if the province concerned concludes an agreement with the federal government. This type of agreement does not exist for now between Quebec and Ottawa.

If ever this type of agreement between Ottawa and each province went through, this could affect roughly 600 seniors held in provincial prisons and would save $8 million a year.

Those are the main points of the bill we are debating today at second reading. The Bloc Québécois has done its homework since June 1, and we have carefully analyzed the impact of this government bill, as we should.

Over the course of our analysis, three questions in particular came to mind.

First, does the practice of suspending social benefits exist in Quebec? Is it part of our social practices, and if so, how does it work?

In Quebec, pursuant to section 27 of the Individual and Family Assistance Act, and sections 19 and 26 of its regulation, an individual who is incarcerated in a penitentiary or prison is no longer eligible for last resort financial assistance as of the third month following the month of their incarceration.

Individuals become eligible again once they are released from the prison or penitentiary even if, for example, they are living in a half-way house as part of their rehabilitation.

Therefore, Bill C-31 does correspond to a practice that already exists within Quebec society.

The second question we have is the following: since this seems to violate the principle of the universality of old age security benefits, does Bill C-31 violate the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms by creating a discriminatory measure?

It seems not to be the case. If someone made a claim of discrimination, they would have a hard time proving it, because the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age, or mental or physical disability.

The discrimination established by Bill C-31 does not involve any of the grounds listed in the charter and could not be considered an affront to human dignity. Basically, Bill C-31 does not contravene the Canadian charter.

And the third question is this: what real effect will this punitive measure have on the spouses of incarcerated persons?

The effect will vary, depending on the age of the spouse. The bill allows spouses aged 65 or over to be considered single, which would allow them to receive higher benefits than those paid to someone married to a pensioner. In addition, they can receive the maximum guaranteed income supplement of $652.51, as opposed to $430.90 for someone married to a pensioner.

As for spouses aged 60 to 64, they can still receive their spouse's allowance even though, in practice, they do not live with their partner. The loss of financial support from the imprisoned spouse could then be partially compensated through an increased allowance of up to $947.86 a month.

The Bloc Québécois is in favour of Bill C-31, which would keep prisoners from receiving old age security benefits and the guaranteed income supplement. It is in favour of having this studied in committee. We still have some specific questions to ask, notably to the civil servants who created the bill, those who will implement it and those who work at the parole board.

The responses we receive to our questions will determine the amendments we can introduce, if necessary, in order to ensure that the bill works well.

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

September 23rd, 2010 / 4:10 p.m.
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Jean Dorion Bloc Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by congratulating my colleague on his speech about the problems this bill could cause. We are not completely opposed to the underlying principle of this bill. However, we are concerned that the bill as written contains the element of revenge that often motivates this government when it comes to cracking down on crime.

My colleague raised the issue of families being affected. I would like him to expand on that, even if it means being somewhat repetitive, because this is a very important bill. I would like him to talk about what we can do to protect the standard of living of spouses and family members and about how we can make sure that this bill does not punish families. We must remember that family members are not necessarily criminals—far from it. In fact, I would even suggest that they are, indirectly, victims of the father's or spouse's criminal lifestyle.

I would like him to talk about what he thinks we should do to make sure that this bill, which is well-intentioned overall, is not just a way to exact vengeance on a person, but rather a way to ensure that crime does not pay.

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

September 23rd, 2010 / 4:15 p.m.
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Luc Desnoyers Bloc Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague from Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher for his pertinent question.

As I have already said, the Bloc Québécois has been doing its homework on this issue since June 1, since this bill raises a number of questions and could have a significant impact on families—children and spouses.

In committee, the right questions need to be addressed to the various public servants who will have to manage this bill, which could have a significant impact on spouses. We must establish how this bill will protect a spouse under the age of 65 and the children of a man who was receiving old age security. We will have to pay particular attention to this issue in committee and establish all of the parameters and protections needed to ensure that the spouses, and especially the children, are protected.

As parliamentarians, we must work diligently when analyzing such bills and not backtrack, saying we forgot this or that or we are sorry but we did not think about how it might affect such and such a person.

We must take our time, do our work seriously and not rush when examining this kind of bill. There is no urgency. Our seniors need a substantial increase in the guaranteed income supplement in order to survive.

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

September 23rd, 2010 / 4:15 p.m.
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Gérard Asselin Bloc Manicouagan, QC

Mr. Speaker, I gather from my colleague's speech that the bill would apply to all inmates who have been sentenced to two years or more in federal jails.

I also gather that, pending an agreement with the provinces, this would apply to inmates of provincial jails sentenced to 90 days or less. Perhaps he meant 90 days or more.

I would like the member to clarify whether it is 90 days or less or 90 days or more in provincial facilities.

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

September 23rd, 2010 / 4:15 p.m.
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Luc Desnoyers Bloc Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague. It is 90 days or more in provincial jails. There would have to be an agreement with the provinces for this to be implemented. This would mean a lot of work. It would affect 600 inmates and the amount involved is nearly $8 million. The committee will conduct a thorough analysis of the impact of the bill on those involved.

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

September 23rd, 2010 / 4:20 p.m.
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Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am rising to speak to Bill C-31. I want to start out with a very brief summary of what is included in the bill. I also want to acknowledge the fact that a number of other speakers have talked about the importance of turning full attention to the bill and studying it so that we are not looking at unintended consequences.

Many members of the House were here a couple of years back when the government of the day passed a bill on voter identification that resulted in thousands and thousands of rural voters being excluded from voting because of a flaw in the bill. It was a bill that was rushed through the House, despite the fact that the New Democrats protested loudly about the problems with the bill. The government subsequently needed to bring forward amendments to its own legislation, because the bill had unintended consequences. I raise that as an issue in the context of this particular bill so that we do not try to rush through a bill that has unintended consequences.

I also want to acknowledge the member for Windsor—Tecumseh who has, as usual, done stellar work on this, and also the member for Vancouver Kingsway and the member for Hamilton Centre. All of these members have contributed to the NDP process in considering this bill.

The bill suspends payments of old age security, OAS, and the guaranteed income supplement, GIS, to all persons 65 years of age and older while they are serving time in a federal correctional facility when they are sentenced to two years or more. It would suspend payment of the spousal and survival allowance to eligible individuals aged 60 to 64 if they were serving time in a federal facility. It would maintain OAS and GIS payments to spouses and partners of those who were incarcerated and would provide that they receive these payments at the higher single rate based on individual, not combined spousal, income. It would maintain spousal allowance benefits to the spouses of incarcerated individuals and allow provinces to opt in by entering into agreements with the federal government to suspend OAS and GIS and spousal allowance benefits on the above terms to all individuals incarcerated for a sentence that exceed 90 days in a provincial facility. Notwithstanding the above, benefit payments would still be paid during the first month of incarceration. Benefit payments would resume the month an individual was released on earned permission, parole, statutory release, or warrant expiry.

There are two aspects of the bill that are troubling. One is that it appears that this could be the wrong method for dealing with this situation. The member for Windsor—Tecumseh has suggested that in looking at this, what we really should do is look at the criminal jurisdiction. He suggested that an order could be put in place at the time of sentencing or thereafter that would deal with these payments. The concern that arises when it is dealt with under income security for seniors is the fact that it could undermine the universality of our old age security and guaranteed income supplement.

I talked about unintended consequences, which are a concern for New Democrats and for seniors across this country if we apply this logic to anybody who is in federal care, anybody who is receiving benefits and housing. Just look at veterans who might be in long-term care hospitals, even though we are closing vets hospitals as we speak. If a veteran were in a long-term care hospital and was being provided for under veterans' allowances, what would happen to universality? Would that also be an argument for the government to claw back OAS and GIS? The questions around universality are really critical.

I want to refer to some issues related to universality. This quote comes from the Historica-Dominion Institute, which did a number of studies on universality. It talks about the impact on our society of the change in universality. This is something the House and the committee, if this bill gets there, need to consider. The section entitled “Social Security in Canada - a Receding Tide” says that “[t]he direction of these cuts and their overall purpose in improving the Canadian economy was laid out by the Conservative government in Ottawa in 1984”.

That was the start of the clawback of universality.

From this perspective, the government moved to eliminate universality in family allowances and old-age security. In 1989 the government introduced a “clawback” to both universal programs that required upper-income families to repay all of their benefits. The same applied to the highest-income seniors.

It goes on to talk about the impact on child tax benefits and whatnot.

Later on in the article, it says:

The Liberals, on their return to power in 1993, completed the sweep against universality by announcing in 1996 that the Old Age Security program would be replaced by an income-tested Seniors Benefit in the year 2001.

There are some different models out there. What we saw is an impact on seniors and families in this country that we are still living with to this day.

In this article, the Historica-Dominion Institute argues that there could be a new direction for social security in Canada:

A contrasting model of social security, one that is more commonly found in western European countries, is an integrative-redistribution model that provides universalist services to broad categories of need. This model has egalitarian goals that aim to lift individuals and families out of poverty and away from social exclusion.

It concludes by saying:

Evidence of social exclusion in Canada abound - the homeless, Canadian children growing up in poverty, the clientele of food banks and the army of unemployed. The one shining example of a Canadian social security program which promotes inclusiveness and a sense of community is Canada's system of public, universal, prepaid health care.

Of course, we know that in recent years that has also been eroded as more people have been forced into a two-tier health care system by long waiting lists, lack of access to drugs, and so on. However, universality is one of the fundamental principles Canadians look to.

A number of people have raised concerns about the approach the government chose to take by having this managed through Human Resources Development Canada under CPP/OAS/GIS instead of through a criminal jurisdiction.

I also want to raise a point. It is interesting that the first bill the Conservative government has brought forward to deal with pensions is this one that would strip federal old age security from federal offenders. It will save approximately $2 million. Those savings could go up if the provinces decide to opt in.

It is a sad comment on the approach to income security for seniors in this country. I would suggest that it probably fits in with the so-called tough on crime agenda the Conservatives are putting forward. The reality is that we have thousands of seniors in this country who are living in poverty. I wonder why the government did not choose to bring forward a pension reform bill that deals with the poverty facing these seniors in this country instead of this bill. I agree that the fact that federal prisoners are receiving old age security certainly warrants some attention, but I would question the current government's priorities.

I want to also mention that there is an alternative way to approach this. The member for Burnaby—New Westminster put forward a motion, Motion No. 507, which was much more narrowly defined, that would deal with clawing back the old age security/guaranteed income supplement from only murderers with life sentences for multiple murders. The Conservatives are actually proposing a fairly broad sweep of prisoners over the age of 65 in this proposed clawback of OAS/GIS.

Going back to seniors, recently we discovered that old age security was increased over the summer by 0.6% for seniors who live outside of prison. It was the first increase in over two years, and it amounted to $1.55 per senior. These are seniors. These are the poorest of the poor. These are the seniors who are worried about whether they can pay their rent, whether they can feed themselves, and whether they can pay their drug costs.

With all the attention we have placed on other matters in this House recently, seniors are simply being left off the agenda. There have been a number of groups and organizations working together that are calling on the current government for serious pension reform.

Certainly New Democrats have been front and centre on this. I also want to acknowledge the member for Sault Ste. Marie, who has been leading the charge to deal with poverty among seniors and other Canadians. Certainly seniors factor largely into a lot of the work the member for Sault. Ste. Marie has been doing.

In June, our leader announced a number of initiatives to deal with some of the income security issues for seniors. One of them, of course, was helping the quarter of a million seniors who are living below the poverty line. We can do it tomorrow by injecting $700 million into the guaranteed income supplement, which is part of old age security. That is one-twentieth of what the Prime Minister's corporate tax cuts will cost us annually by 2012.

Second, let us build on that bulletproof Canada pension plan. Let us phase in a doubling of maximum benefits to $22,000 per year. That means increasing the CPP deductions that appear on one's paycheque, but these deductions are savings, not taxes.

Of course, there are other organizations, such as the Canadian Labour Congress, that have also been calling for reforms to our income security system for seniors. Their first calls in asking the federal and provincial governments to work together, are one, to phase in a doubling of payouts from the Canada pension plan and the Quebec pension plan, and two, to immediately increase old age security and the guaranteed income supplement for all retirees.

They also go on to talk about the fact that what we really need to do is have a very broad strategy for dealing with all aspects of pensions in this country, whether it is for workers who have private sector pension plans that are under threat because their companies are going bankrupt, whether it is for workers who simply do not have another pension plan and are relying on the Canada pension plan, old age security, and the guaranteed income supplement to pay their bills, or whether it is to regulate some of the financial products and some of the risks for those people who actually have enough money left over to invest in RRSPs.

It is interesting that the very first approach to income security for seniors deals with federal prisoners. It does not look at those broad needs for our seniors.

There was an article in a paper called the Edmonton Senior in June, after this bill was announced, that said that ending prisoner pensions is not so simple. There were a number of interesting points, including some concerns about universality. The article in this seniors' magazine, which addresses issues that seniors are concerned about, also pointed out the fact that once again we are lacking an overall, comprehensive plan to prevent people from going to prison in the first place. Others, such as rabble.ca, have also raised the issue. For instance, there is the four-pillar approach to crime prevention that looks at all the things that can be done to keep people out of prison in the first place, whether that is a poverty reduction strategy, adequate alcohol and drug counselling, educational strategies, or adequate housing.

We acknowledge that people who commit crimes and are found guilty through our justice system need to have appropriate consequences.

I am the aboriginal affairs critic for the NDP. We know that aboriginal peoples are hugely overrepresented in federal and provincial prisons. Once they are in prison, they need appropriate programs for rehabilitation.

The article from Edmonton Seniors says:

The concern is not around whether or not senior prisoners should receive pension money, but what the correctional system is doing to prepare offenders for their release.

It goes on to quote Howard Sapers, the Correctional Investigator of Canada, who says:

We know that homelessness, we know that poverty, and we know that lack of resources in a number of areas are contributors to coming into conflict with the law. When an offender is released, whether they are 25 or 65, they face the same barriers that non-offenders would face if they don't have resources. And of course you want to encourage these folks to live peacefully and lawfully in the community. Simply put, there is some requirement to provide them with legitimate access to some financial means. That's the basis of income security programs in Canada to begin with.

He goes on to do an analysis of what prisoners have to pay for when they are in the federal system and so on.

This piecemeal approach to the criminal justice system again is quite troubling. To reiterate, we need prevention, we need a criminal justice system, we need police resources and so on that can actually deal with offenders and incarcerate them where appropriate, make sure that when they are inside that what we are doing is looking at rehabilitation and the tools and resources, so that when they come out of the system they can be reintegrated into communities in a peaceful and law-abiding way.

The piecemeal approach that we have seen from the Conservative government simply is not addressing all of those issues. I turn to Insite, the safe drug injection site in Vancouver, which we know is helping to keep people safe and alive, and hopefully out of the prison system by providing with supports at the safe injection site. Yet, we see the Conservative government constantly trying to find ways to close it down.

Instead of taking a look at the issues around drug and alcohol addiction in a more holistic kind of way, it is--

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

September 23rd, 2010 / 4:35 p.m.
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Jason Kenney Conservative Calgary Southeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I have been listening with great attention to the member's speech. I have heard her speak about virtually every subject except the actual content of the bill that is before the House.

The Standing Orders require that speeches be relevant to the matter before the House. I would ask the member to respect that convention.

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

September 23rd, 2010 / 4:35 p.m.
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The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

I would ask the hon. member for Nanaimo--Cowichan to as much as possible bring the bulk of her remarks to the motion which is before the House.

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

September 23rd, 2010 / 4:35 p.m.
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Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

If the member was listening I started my speech with clearly outlining the elements of the bill, raising some concerns around the issue of universality, putting into the context the overall approach that the Conservative government is taking to crime and punishment in this country.

It is an interesting comment from the minister that he cannot acknowledge the relevance of the aspects that put people into prison to begin with, that deal with rehabilitation issues, including access to funds while they are in prison and access to funds once they come out of prison,

This is all part and parcel of this piece of legislation. It is unfortunate that the Conservative minister simply does not see that the piecemeal approach that the government is taking to crime and punishment in this country is causing significant problems for aboriginal Canadians and for many other Canadians.

I would argue that what I have been saying is absolutely relevant to Bill C-31.

I will conclude by indicating, as other members of the House have indicated, that we feel the bill requires further study, that some of the unintended consequences around the potential impact on universality of old age security and guaranteed income supplement must be considered, that there needs to be a thorough review about whether there is any possibility that this legislation is unconstitutional and could violate the universality of our old age security system.

We also encourage the government, in any study, to take a much broader approach both to the criminal justice system and to looking at income security for seniors in this country.

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

September 23rd, 2010 / 4:35 p.m.
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The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

It is my duty pursuant to Standing Order 38 to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member forElmwood—Transcona, Airline Industry; the hon. member for Ottawa—Vanier, Citizenship and Immigration.

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

September 23rd, 2010 / 4:35 p.m.
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Calgary Southeast Alberta


Jason Kenney ConservativeMinister of Citizenship

Mr. Speaker, I have a very simple question. Does the member opposite think that serial murderers who are in prison should be able to receive the GIS and the OAS?

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

September 23rd, 2010 / 4:40 p.m.
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Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I pointed out Motion No. 507 that the member for Burnaby—New Westminster has put forward already calling for the clawback of old age security-GIS for multiple murderers.

We were out there with that motion in the early days once this whole situation developed with the serial killer in British Columbia. New Democrats are supporting getting the bill to committee at second reading, so that we can deal with some of the potential unintended consequences which I outlined in my speech.

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

September 23rd, 2010 / 4:40 p.m.
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Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for her presentation on Bill C-31. I certainly found her remarks to be very relevant to the provisions in the bill. She outlined them very well.

Certainly, in regard to this government's approach to just crime in general, we have seen it for the last five years now looking at changes to the Criminal Code in a very piecemeal fashion based on whatever is happening in the news media at any particular time. In fact, the government should be doing a total revision and revamping of the Criminal Code of Canada which has not really been dealt with in a major way for 100 years. That is what the government should be doing in cooperation with the opposition.

With regard to the pension system, the member clearly pointed out that, once again, the government should be looking at a comprehensive approach to the pension system. It should be looking at doubling the CPP system. If we were to put $700 million toward the GIS for I believe one-quarter million seniors, mainly women, we would be bringing them out of poverty in this country.

That is the approach the government should be taking and that is what the member is pointing out. The government should be looking at a universal approach here dealing with the problem in the country rather than simply jumping from issues that happen to be popular at a certain time that it thinks helps its poll numbers.

I have news for the Conservatives. They have been doing this for five years and it has not helped their poll numbers at all. I suggest they pull back and come up with a comprehensive strategy in both the pension area and in the crime area.