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.

Sponsor

Diane Finley  Conservative

Status

This bill has received Royal Assent and is now law.

Summary

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.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

November 16th, 2010 / 5:10 p.m.
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Oxford Ontario

Conservative

Dave MacKenzie ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety

Mr. Speaker, I have listened to my colleague across the floor. He frequently mentions that he was a labour lawyer before he came here. What I notice is he talks, as other members of his party have, about not liking the short-form titles of bills. The people in my riding like the short-form titles, because they know what we are talking about and they agree with these bills.

I am puzzled as to why the member would be locked into issues of 31 years ago and why he would think there is something wrong in changing legislation that is 31 years old. In this case, with respect to people doing long sentences in federal institutions, I would like to know why he thinks for one minute that the government should even consider allowing them to continue to receive benefits.

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

November 16th, 2010 / 5:15 p.m.
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NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask the member a question. He has probably been a member of the Conservative Party for 30 years. I wonder what his position was in 1979 when his Conservative party was giving pensions to prisoners in the federal system. I do not know that there was any great hue and cry.

If this was such a big issue, I wonder why my friend sat on his hands in 2006. Where was the government in 2007, 2008, and 2009 if this was such a big issue? Conservatives sat there, because they gave prisoners pensions. They do not like it when we point that out, because they want to look as if they are tough on prisoners in our federal institutions. They do not want to have Canadians know they are the ones who gave pensions to prisoners.

Of course, that is what Canadians need to know. People should ask the Conservatives why they gave prisoners pensions. If it was a bad idea, what did Conservatives say about it in 1982, 1988, 1992, 1996, 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2009? That is what Canadians want to ask. Why are they making policy off headlines?

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

November 16th, 2010 / 5:15 p.m.
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NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, I often make the mistake of referring to the member as the member for Edmonton Kingsway only because I would like to bring him back to my fair city, but I am glad he is representing his area well. It has been brought to my attention by another one of my colleagues, the member for Nanaimo—Cowichan, that a critical publication in my city, the Edmonton Senior, has spoken out on this issue in a way that does not seem well represented in the House. We heard there are polls where people are saying it is reprehensible that prisoners should receive pensions. But let me repeat the statement in the Edmonton Senior , which said that 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”.

I wonder if the member could speak to this very thoughtful commentary, which reflects on a more measured response, reflects on the broader issue of what gets people into prison in the first place and what we are doing to prepare them for their release. Further, I would like to hear his thoughts on where those moneys should go other than to general revenue.

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

November 16th, 2010 / 5:15 p.m.
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NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, that is a thoughtful question, as is usually the case, from the member from Edmonton—Strathcona. It gets to the nub of the matter.

I think Canadians want parliamentarians to focus on the programs being delivered in prisons. This is not because we feel bad for them or because we feel a sense of compassion, although that may be the case for many people. It is because we have a vested interest in making sure that people who come out of prison do not reoffend.

A full 96% of those individuals will return to society. It is not a question of if; it is a question of when. Think of that person in federal prison coming out and taking a bus in our communities, or walking near our schools, or shopping in our shopping centres, or walking down our alleys. We have a vested interest in how that person behaves.

I think that the question asked by the seniors in the hon. member's fair city is a thoughtful one. We need to ensure that those people have the kind of assistance they need in prison, so that when they come out they do not reoffend. That is what I would like all members of this House to focus on. This is how we can best ensure that the people in our federal institutions come out less likely to offend.

Taking away inmates' money may be justified. I understand the argument that the taxpayer is already paying for their stay and their food, and that is a compelling argument. On that basis, our party will support this bill. However, let us not be overpowered by a gut reaction to Clifford Olson and make legislation on the fly, as this government has done. We need a thoughtful, mature, and effective approach to prison policy in this country, and we have not seen that from this government.

Our prisons are full of mentally ill people. They are full of people with addictions and alcoholism. They are full of people with FASD, brain damage, and cognitive malfunctioning of all types. It is an absolute fact that these people are not getting anywhere near the kind of support or programming that they need, not only to improve their lives, but to keep Canadians safe.

Cheap politics such as we see practised by this government, politics that prey on people's fear, is not the way to improve safety in our streets.

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

November 16th, 2010 / 5:20 p.m.
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Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I think the answer to the last question was in itself a very good speech. The member has drawn on input received from a large number of parliamentarians today in this debate, at least from the opposition side.

The member for Windsor—Tecumseh raised a concern about whether or not this bill was charter proof. His opinion was that, given the small number of people involved, 600 or less, and taking away all those who have enough resources that they do not want to go into that battle, as well as those who cannot afford to, leaves it to the middle core. These people probably will not do it. His view was that we would not have a charter challenge by any of the people affected by this.

I wonder if the member cares to comment on whether Parliament should be put in this position. The Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada has already opined, and signed off on the bill, that it is charter proof. Yet, organizations that came to committee stated, as their first point of concern, that the bill was not charter proof and probably would be challenged.

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

November 16th, 2010 / 5:20 p.m.
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NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, one thing that is absolutely clear is there will be a charter challenge to this legislation. I would find it very surprising if there were not an offender or group that deals with offenders or the criminal justice system that does not make a charter challenge. Right then and there it will probably cost the government $2 million in defending a charter challenge as it inevitably winds its way up to the Supreme Court of Canada.

There is no way to know if the legislation is in compliance with the charter or not at this point. Some of it depends on whether it is applied on a proactive basis. Certainly any person who is in prison now and has his or her pension taken away could argue that this amounts to the imposition of a sentence by Parliament beyond the sentence imposed by the judge.

At the time of sentencing, an offender may have received a fine, a period of incarceration or an order for restitution. If we now say we are taking away his or her pension for a period of time, there very well could be a challenge by that offender, saying that we are attempting to unjustly and illegitimately add to that person's sentence. I am not sure if that will prevail or not, but that is definitely a risk.

I want to make it clear that my party will support the legislation on the basis that taxpayers ought not to be paying twice. I know that people in the community wonder why someone who goes to prison gets to bank his or her old age security and GIS. It could be argued that people are in better shape going to prison than those in the community and we have to be sympathetic to that argument. That is why my party will support the bill. However, let us not pretend that this bill is going to do anything for community safety or is getting at the real issues on the minds of Canadians and the issues taking place in our prisons because the bill does not do that.

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

November 16th, 2010 / 5:20 p.m.
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NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-31. I have listened to a number of good presentations today on the bill. The member for Windsor—Tecumseh spoke at length about how the government had missed a good opportunity to offer restitution to victims of crime.

It was either in 1970 or 1971 when the Manitoba NDP government of Ed Schreyer became the first in Canada to bring in the criminal injuries compensation program. The program has been updated since that time. Compensation for victims of crime has been an issue in Manitoba for the NDP since 1971.

The member for Windsor—Tecumseh pointed out that Ontario had a similar fund as did some other provinces, but the federal government did not. For the enterprising Conservatives on the government side, it seems to me that this would be a logical thing for them to consider because they want to align themselves with victims. They want to do the right thing for victims. Setting up a parallel federal compensation program for victims of crime would be a well-received government initiative.

In terms of funding for the initiative, the member for Windsor—Tecumseh has suggested that the moneys that would be received in general revenue by cutting off the pensions to federal inmates could be put into that fund for compensation to the victims.

I know I only have a few minutes today, but tomorrow I can read out a list of the rules and restrictions on the compensation fund for Manitoba and I am sure the federal government could set up a similar type of fund.

In terms of how much money would be put in that fund, the parliamentary secretary mentioned today that the government was looking at saving a potential $2 million on federal prisoners alone, all 400 of them, and another $10 million perhaps on the 600 provincial prisoners provided the government could get all the provinces to sign on to the program.

The member for Windsor—Tecumseh pointed that when the bill went through committee, members were unable to determine exactly how many prisoners were drawing a pension. There is really no way for the government to know how many people are collecting pensions while in prison. This $2 million may be more or less a bogus figure that the government is perpetuating when it says that it plans to save on the federal portion of the pensions to prisoners.

Nevertheless, this is just another example of the government proceeding on the basis of projections without having them fully worked out, thought through and written down. We proved that with the government's crime bills earlier this year. The Parliamentary Budget Officer has provided information indicating that these bills will cost a lot of money. If we base it on the parliamentary secretary's assumption, we are already proving that $2 million is not really an accurate figure. Regardless of what the money is, if the government could at least use this opportunity to put the money into a compensation fund for victims that would be a positive thing.

As has been mentioned, there are a number of court ordered restitution orders that prisoners have to follow. They may be impacted when we take away these pensions. There is also the possibility of opening up lawsuits against perpetrators. Russell Williams certainly would have assets that some of the victims could access.

Exposing criminally obtained assets to the victims would be something positive. The government has now sort of missed the opportunity to do this. This is an opportunity on which it should have perhaps followed up.

In terms of why the government—

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

September 24th, 2010 / 10 a.m.
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NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to continue with my speech on this bill. As indicated, I spoke yesterday on it for a number of minutes and I have about 11 minutes left, but for those who are listening in today and who did not have the benefit of listening to the presentations yesterday on this bill, I will recap and then point out some of the things that this bill would do.

It would suspend payments of old age security, OAS, and guaranteed income supplement, GIS, to all persons 65 years of age and older while they are serving time in a federal correctional facility, which, of course, would be a sentence of two years or more.

It would suspend payments of the spousal or survivor allowance to eligible individuals between 60 and 64 years old while the individual is serving time in a federal facility.

It would maintain OAS and GIS payments to spouses and partners of those who are incarcerated, and provide to receive these payments at the higher single rate based on the individual rather than the combined spousal income. It also would maintain the spousal allowance benefits to the spouses of incarcerated individuals.

The bill would allow the provinces to opt in by entering into agreements with the federal government to suspend OAS, GIS and spousal allowance benefits on the above terms to all individuals incarcerated for a sentence that exceeds 90 days in a provincial facility. This would take a process of having all of the provinces opt into this bill. Notwithstanding the above, the benefit payments could still be paid during the first month of the incarceration. Benefit payments would resume the month that an individual was released on earned remission, parole, statutory release or a warrant expiry.

In terms of some of the positive aspects of the bill, which speakers on this side of the House have noted, there is an inherent and undeniable logic to suspending payments designed to provide for the basic necessities of life in cases when the taxpayer is already funding the basic necessities of life, and that has been mentioned by almost all of the speakers to this bill.

Another positive aspect of suspending pensions for prisoners is that it does have a lot of support out in the public. It would save between $2 million a year and up to $10 million per year if all of the provinces and the territories were to opt in. The bill would also mitigate, to an extent, the financial impact on spouses by allowing them to receive OAS and GIS payments at the single rate based on their individual rather than a combined spousal income.

I did deal with an issue here yesterday to which I still do not have an answer. I asked at what point, what year and what government was in place when the OAS and GIS benefits were initially provided to inmates of federal institutions. I understand that the year was 1979 when Joe Clark was the Conservative prime minister. It was the Conservative government of Joe Clark that started paying OAS and GIS payments to federal prisoners in the first place. I asked whether, in developing this bill, the government had gone back to those days to determine the debates that had occurred and why the government in those days decided to provide these payments to the prisoners in the first place.

Was there Hansard debate available here in the House at the time? I am sure this must have come before the House of Commons for debate. If there is no Hansard available, then how did this measure start? Was it an administrative decision on the part of Joe Clark and the Conservative government to provide these pension benefits to federal inmates? Exactly what was the process? Was there a court intervention? Did somebody take the issue to court and win a court case and that is why the federal government made that move?

We know that when we get this bill to committee there will be an opportunity to ask these questions and more so we can get a full understanding of where this issue came from. Essentially, like a lot of the government's justice initiatives, it is basically knee-jerk. It is based on what the latest polling shows or what the latest press articles are. When an article comes out, the next week the government introduces a bill to deal with that issue. When in actual fact we know, and the member for Nanaimo—Cowichan pointed out very well yesterday, that what we need is complete pension reform in this country

We need to move forward. We have seen some good signals coming from the Conservative government that it is prepared to look at doubling the benefits of the CPP as opposed to taking the private route and rewarding private insurance companies on Bay Street. I applaud the Conservatives for that because that is to the benefit of Canadian citizens and not something we would necessarily expect coming out of a Conservative government.

In the area of the Criminal Code, it has been mentioned several times in the House that the Criminal Code that is 100-plus years old, that it is out of date and that it needs a lot of revisions. It is time for the government to take a total view of things and make an announcement that the Criminal Code will be revised, get all the parties involved and embark on this process.

I still go back to what has not been accomplished under this minority government. When we compare the minority government period of Lester Pearson from 1962 to 1968, those six years, to this government which is pushing five years, it is only a year away from actually exceeding being probably the longest minority government in history and it has very little to show for its now five years in office.

During the same time, the Pearson government had resolved some very controversial issues. It brought in the new Canadian flag, which was very controversial to the members of the Conservatives at the time. It unified the armed forces, also extremely controversial, melding the air force, the navy and the army together in one unit. It brought in the Medicare Act. That government did a lot of things and the present government could be doing the same thing.

I look to Manitoba as well, under the Conservative government of Gary Filmon, where, in a minority situation, it got a lot of things done because it was trying to make parliament work.

However, here we have a group that is undecided as to how it wants to proceed. It develops a wedge politics attitude and every issue it looks at it wonders how it can drive wedges between the opposition parties and create division within the country. That is not how Lester Pearson ran the government.

I do not know how long it will take for the government to figure this out but I hope it does it soon because it may not be around that much longer. I would hate to see the Conservatives wake up years after the fact and realize that if only they had done this. I can see the Prime Minister, 10 years from now, saying, “I was the Prime Minister for five years and I could have done X, Y and Z but I let the opportunity pass”.

Once again I would call on the government and the Prime Minister to take the initiative, to do the comprehensive revisions to the pension system in this country, to initiate major changes to the Criminal Code and, by doing so, will develop a national vision for the government, which it does not have at this time.

As was pointed out yesterday, our member for Burnaby—New Westminster has a motion, Motion No. 507, tabled before the House where he requested that the government prohibit the payment of old age security and guaranteed income supplement payments to individuals serving life sentences for multiple murders, except for the individuals released from prison, and allocate the proceeds to a victims compensation program administered by the provinces. This is a very sensible approach in that it would cut the payments to mass murderers, 19 of them in the system right now, and it would take the proceeds from their pensions and put them into a compensation fund for the victims where it rightfully belongs. That would go a long way to helping victims in this country. It shows vision and it shows leadership, something that is severely lacking from the government on this particular issue.

We are offering solutions that try to contribute to the problems in the country.

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

September 24th, 2010 / 10:10 a.m.
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Liberal

Keith Martin Liberal Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, if we look at the demographic changes in our country, we will have an explosion of those people who will be needing pensions. We also know there is a significant problem today of people not having enough savings and not having enough pension security.

I would ask the member's opinion on one of the things I think we could do. When pensions were put together, the average life expectancy was roughly 60 to 62. Today, the average life expectancy of a woman is 82 and for a man it is 80. There is a large gap between the time of retirement and the average end of life.

I would ask the member whether one of the challenges that a government would have and one of the solutions would be to incentivize individuals to be able to work after the age of 65. Maybe one way to do this would to enable people to take a part of their CPP tax free in order to incent them to work after the age of 65, and that number would actually increase from 65 to 70. This way it would have less pressure on our CPP levels while providing an incentive for people to work.

We are also seeing a contraction in our workforce as our population ages. The amount of workforce we have will contract because we know our population reproduction rate now is about 1.5 children per woman and the number needed just to maintain a population is 2.1 children per women.

Does my friend believe that a significant reformation of our pension system to incent individuals to work beyond the age of 65 would be to allow them to keep part of their CPP tax free?.

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

September 24th, 2010 / 10:10 a.m.
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NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am always interested to hear from the member because he makes very insightful speeches on not only this but many topics.

I am sure the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance would be more than prepared to let him know this. In the last budget, and I am not sure whether it was in that 880-page omnibus budget bill that was presented before the House or whether it was in another part of the budgetary process, but the government actually did deal with part of what he just spoke of. It tinkered with the rules a bit to give incentive to people who wished to work an extra two or three years and they will get paid a little bit more than if they were to take early retirement. That is already on its radar and it was dealt with last year to that small extent.

I read an article about that issue where an analyst said that it was a bit of an incentive. People who stayed in the workforce an extra three or four years would gain a little bit but at the end of the day it really was not that much and therefore the incentive for staying probably was not worth staying the extra three years. It is not really quite enough. Perhaps what the member is suggesting, combined with what the government is already doing, might actually achieve the desired effect.

I do not think what has been done with the system right now will achieve the results that the government itself is looking for here. It did not offer a big enough incentive for people to stay in the workforce those extra two or three years.

The member is welcome to check with the parliamentary secretary on this issue because he has all the details. However, it was passed and I believe it is in force as we speak, or should be. What the hon. member has mentioned is certainly an added benefit that we should look at because I do not think what the government has done will give it the desired effect. I could be wrong but I do not think so.

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

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

Conservative

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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Liberal

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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Bloc

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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Bloc

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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Bloc

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.