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.