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

September 23rd, 2010 / 5 p.m.
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Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

I will try once again, Mr. Speaker. I understand that if one person does not get OAS and another one who is in the same position does and it is taken away, then they would both get nothing. The issue is that someone had a financial entitlement and there is real value being taken away. Therefore, this is the term of sentence prescribed by the judge for both persons, but the law would also say that, “And should you be entitled to anything else, we will take that away too and it is only applicable to you”. Therefore, there is that differential in terms of the two cases.

I raise simply about whether there could be a problem that the punishment, whether it be in time or in other consequences, is different for two persons who commit exactly the same crime.

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

September 23rd, 2010 / 5:05 p.m.
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Conservative

Brent Rathgeber Conservative Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

Mr. Speaker, assuming this is relevant, and I do not know that it is, I suppose the member made a point, but there is nothing unique about a situation where individuals who receive a disposition from a criminal court ultimately have that disposition changed.

An obvious example would be if an individual received a life sentence and died while he was in prison. He would end up serving less time than another lifer who was able to serve more time.

These differentiations are irrelevant and certainly take away from the good content of this legislation which is to disentitle federal inmates from tax-paid supplements, such as old age security and the guaranteed income supplement, paid for by taxpayers who are concurrently paying for those prisoners to be housed in federal institutions.

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

September 23rd, 2010 / 5:05 p.m.
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NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, what did the government of the day and the prime minister of the day have in mind when they initiated the program in the first place? It is my understanding it was the Joe Clark Conservative government in 1979 which initiated the program. The Clark government changed the rules.

I would like to ask the member whether he has read anything in terms of what sort of arguments were in play to allow the Conservative government of Joe Clark to change the rules to allow prisoners to get OAS and GIS in the first place?

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

September 23rd, 2010 / 5:05 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Brent Rathgeber Conservative Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

Mr. Speaker, I was not a member of the House when Mr. Clark was the prime minister of Canada. What I can speak to is this legislation that is before the House.

All members must fairly admit that in the spring of 2010 when the newspapers published the story about Mr. Olson's entitlements and how much money he had actually saved from those entitlements and what his monthly stipend was, we were all caught off guard. We all bear some responsibility for the fact that this went unnoticed for so long.

Canadians were rightfully outraged when they found out that federal prisoners were receiving slightly in excess of $1,100 per month. The hon. member represents people in Winnipeg. I am sure a lot of the seniors in his constituency do not bank $1,100 per month. They use these stipends, this government assistance, to pay their mortgage, rent or heating bills. They do not bank $1,100 a month like a federal prisoner does.

When this government found out about this inequality and that the taxpayers were paying twice, paying prisoners' room and board and also paying the monthly stipend, it acted quickly. That brings us to the debate today on Bill C-31.

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

September 23rd, 2010 / 5:05 p.m.
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Liberal

Shawn Murphy Liberal Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, I thank you for the opportunity to participate in this debate.

The bill is fairly simple. It is not lengthy by any means. The bill would amend the Old Age Security Act to preclude incarcerated persons from receiving benefits under that act while maintaining entitlement to benefits for, and avoiding a reduction in the amounts payable to, their spouse or common-law partner. It would preclude individuals, who of course are over the age of 65, from receiving benefits under the old age pension or the old age supplement when they are incarcerated in an institution.

We are dealing with a principle here and I agree with the principle. It probably does not apply to a lot of people. My research indicates it is in the vicinity of 400 individuals across Canada. We are not talking about an awful lot of money. It is $2 million on a pan-Canadian basis, but it is the principle. I would suggest it was an anomaly that was never caught by anyone. The situation right now is that there are approximately 400 individuals who are perhaps not receiving all the GIS, as it would depend on other sources of income they have, but they are receiving benefits from the taxpayer while they are incarcerated in a federal institution.

Again the standard situation is probably individuals who committed serious crimes. They probably turned 65 while they were incarcerated and they are getting this money. I think I speak for most Canadians that they are offended when they hear this. They do not think their taxpayers' money should be used for that purpose and they think it should be stopped. I think the vast majority of Canadians certainly will support this legislation.

Mr. Speaker, there is a lot of noise in the House and I would ask for your assistance.

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

September 23rd, 2010 / 5:10 p.m.
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Liberal

Shawn Murphy Liberal Charlottetown, PE

I thank you for your assistance, Mr. Speaker.

I have been around the House long enough to know that sometimes when something looks and sounds simple and is something that should be done quickly and expeditiously without a whole lot of debate or deliberation, we get into the whole area of unintended consequences. Sometimes what we did not really expect to happen happens, and sometimes we do not find out until a year or two later.

I certainly will agree that this bill as drafted should be passed by the House. The bill should go to committee to allow the committee to study it. In principle, I agree with it, but are there any unintended consequences that should be looked at? We do not want to cause anyone harm, especially people who are not involved in the particular situation.

Some unintended consequences have been raised this afternoon, such as the whole issue of universality. I do not see that as an issue myself. We have to look at why a person is eligible for the guaranteed income supplement, which is approximately $1,100 a month. The reason is it is a benefit available to every Canadian so that people can pay for their accommodation, food, transportation and other personal needs. This, or most of it, is all taken care of under the prison system. That is the situation.

Another situation that has developed and will be looked at by the committee is what the obligations are of the senior to a spouse or a child. I would not think it likely that there would be a child, but there could be, or maybe a dependent child. These are situations that will have to be looked at very carefully by the committee.

I do not know how a 65-year-old person living separate and apart from his or her spouse is treated with regard to GIS. I know the GIS per couple is less than that for two single people. I do not know how that situation is treated, but it is something that will have to be looked at because at the end of the day, we certainly do not want any adverse repercussions for the spouse, whose life is probably difficult enough. We do not want any adverse repercussions to him or her, especially not having been involved in the crime nor being in prison. Spouses certainly do not need any more grief in their lives by having their existing benefits cut.

Restitution orders have been raised by other members. Again, that will have to be looked at by the committee. There will have to be discussion about any ongoing support obligations to previous spouses or dependent children who are disabled. Is there an obligation to support that individual in the unlikely situation the prisoner may actually have children? Those situations will have to be looked at before the bill gets final approval by the House.

This point was also raised by a previous speaker, but I want to reiterate that this does not involve the eligibility of benefits under the Canada pension plan. In that particular case, if the incarcerated person was receiving CPP benefits, he or she would have paid into them when he or she was working. The person is certainly entitled to those benefits and will continue to receive them. This bill does not affect that entitlement whatsoever.

An issue has been raised, and this is where it gets very interesting, where I do see unintended consequences, although it does not affect the bill in its present form. The bill contemplates that the provinces may opt in and not pay the benefits to anyone who is incarcerated for more than 90 days. In the federal system the incarceration is in excess of two years. It is a much simpler system. I do not have the confidence in the provincial and federal governments to administratively deal with this issue.

I will describe a situation. If a senior citizen were incarcerated for 90 days, administratively that would mean that at a certain time of the month the person would have his or her benefits cancelled. Let us say that the person went to jail on September 15 and three months later the person was released, which would, of course, depend on a lot of circumstances. We can see the administrative nightmare. These people, because they are receiving GIS, which means they have no other income whatsoever and are living hand to mouth, I have a real concern administratively as to the capability of the provincial and federal governments to coordinate all their efforts to ensure these payments are stopped on time and, more important, started on time.

I know that is not the issue before the House today but I see that as a serious issue going forward if all the provinces opt in. From my dealings, I do not think the capabilities are there to make it a seamless administrative procedure to do this without causing all kinds of problems. Given the numbers we are talking about, I can see a situation in which the administrative costs would certainly exceed the benefits that would be saved on that particular issue when they start cancelling benefits for short periods of time. However, that is something for the committee.

I support the legislation because I, like most Canadians, was appalled when I first read about it. It is a situation that I, like most members of Parliament, never thought about. It was raised in one particular instance. I do not like making laws and discussing public policy based on one particular incident or one particular individual but this goes right to a public policy situation where approximately 400 eligible recipients are receiving benefits as we speak. In that particular case, it does warrant some response from the house.

It is my position that the bill should be passed by the House at second reading and go to committee for further study.

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

September 23rd, 2010 / 5:15 p.m.
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NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate my good friend's comments regarding Bill C-31.

I, too, am very curious to know what the arguments were for making the OAS and GIC available to federal inmates back in 1979. If this is true, that was when Joe Clark, a Conservative prime minister, was in office. I would like to know whether this was an administrative directive on his part or whether it came to Parliament. If it came to Parliament for debate, surely there would be Hansard records of the day as to why that government would want to extend OAS and GIS to federal inmates in 1979.

Is the member aware of the discussions that went on in Parliament at the time or did the Joe Clark government simply issue a directive without any debate to provide these OAS and GIC benefits to federal inmates in 1979 when the Conservatives were in power?

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

September 23rd, 2010 / 5:20 p.m.
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Liberal

Shawn Murphy Liberal Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, as my friend knows, I was not here in 1979 so I am not aware of any discussions.

We perhaps should not talk about suspicions but my suspicion is that this particular situation was not thought about nor debated. Of course, 31 years have transpired since then and it has not been raised in the House that I am aware of since then. Therefore, I think that is the situation.

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

September 23rd, 2010 / 5:20 p.m.
See context

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to Bill C-31. This is a controversial subject that has certainly prompted the government to spin itself into action when it became public information that Clifford Olson was receiving OAS and GIS benefits. However, no mention has been made at all about how, why and when these benefits were originally made available to federal inmates. I for one have been trying to find out just how that came about. My information is that the benefits were given to federal inmates under a Conservative government in 1979, the government of Joe Clark.

I would like somebody on the government side to stand and tell me why the Conservative government proceeded to give federal inmates OAS and GIS benefits back in 1979. Perhaps there is some Hansard of the day that we could refer to. Perhaps there was a directive. Perhaps it was done as a result of a court decision upon which the government had to act. However, certainly in the fullness of debate that we would expect in this House over a bill, or any bill for that matter, that information should be made available.

In dealing with the actual provisions of Bill C-31 and other related measures, the member for Nanaimo—Cowichan, in her presentation, pointed out that the NDP member for Burnaby—New Westminster did introduce into this House Motion No. 507.

I want to read Motion No. 507 for the members. It reads:

That, in the opinion of the House, the government should prohibit the payment of Old Age Security and Guaranteed Income Supplement payments to individuals serving life sentences for multiple murders, except where the individual is released from prison, and allocate the proceeds to a Victims Compensation Program administered by the provinces.

That particular motion, which was introduced by one of our NDP members, is currently before the House and I am certain that it will be debated in due course.

However, in terms of the provisions of the bill, as we know from the debate this afternoon, the bill would suspend payment of the OAS and the guaranteed income supplement to all persons 65 years of age and older while they are serving time in a federal correctional facility, and that, as we know, would be a sentence of two years or more. The bill would also suspend payment of the spousal or survivor allowance to eligible individuals between 60 and 64 while that individual is serving time in a federal facility.

It also maintains the OAS and GIS payments to spouses and partners of those who are incarcerated and provides to receive these payments at the higher single rate based under individual not combined spousal program.

We also know that the CPP provisions would stay in place. They would not be affected by this bill.

Also, the bill would maintain spousal allowance benefits to the spouses of incarcerated individuals.

It would allow the 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 exceeds 90 days in a provincial facility.

The member who just spoke showed some concern about how this would work vis-à-vis the provinces. He was fairly clear that the federal component would not be a problem but when we were dealing with the provinces he has some concerns.

I believe all these issues can be dealt with when this bill goes to committee. We are dealing with second reading here. We are dealing with the principle of the bill. However, as the members know, when we get into the committee structure, many more aspects to this bill will be dealt with and amendments will be made at that time.

Notwithstanding the above, the benefit payments would still be paid during the first month of incarceration. The benefit payments would resume the month that an individual was released on earned remission, parole, statutory release or warrant expiry.

In terms of some of the positive aspects of the bill, and I think we have heard some comments this afternoon about that, there is a certain logic to suspending payments designed to provide for the basic necessities of life in cases where the taxpayer is already funding the basic needs of necessities of life. Suspending pensions for prisoners meets a test for a lot of Canadians. We have heard from Canadians on this issue in large numbers.

We know that $2 million would be saved immediately under the program and up to, I believe, $10 million a year if all of the provinces and territories were to opt in. We also know that the bill would mitigate to an extent the financial impact on the spouses because it would allow spouses to receive the OAS and GIS payments at the single rate based on their individual rather than their combined spousal income.

I want to retreat to the motion that was tabled by the NDP member for Burnaby—New Westminster, Motion No. 507, where he specifically deals with the issue and very narrowly focuses the resolution on the issue of payments to individuals serving life sentences for multiple murders, of which I understand there are approximately 19 people in that category at the current time. Except where the individual is released from prison, it allocates the proceeds to a victims compensation program administered by the provinces. We would not only have the benefit of stopping payments to serial murderers but we would have the added benefit of taking the money and presenting it to the victims.

If we are a Parliament that believes in help for victims, it seems to me that the member has thought of a proper approach to this problem by earmarking the OAS and GIS amounts to a victims compensation program administered by the provinces. To me, that is a much more sensible approach to the problem as opposed to the broader forum that this bill implies.

Having said that, I do not have any problem at all with this bill going to committee. I do not have a problem with it in principle. In the committee, the debate will follow through and get to all of the issues. Hopefully we will consider the suggestion by the member for Burnaby—New Westminster to confine it to multiple murderers, that we take the money and put it in a compensation fund to help victims, which is where it should go, and that perhaps we can make some amendments to the issue.