Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Don't leave home with hot sauce in your pocket!

Yesterday (Tuesday June 29th), it was with great pride that Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair called in Canada's mainstream media and their cameras to view the display that had been set up showing the weapons that had been seized over the weekend from G20 demonstrators. This was done in large part to justify the heavy-handed tactics used by the G20 security forces in their attempts to quell the destructive elements of the demonstrators.

While watching the staged photo op yesterday, a couple of items really drew my attention, probably because they stood out from the rest of the items which seemed to consist of a lot of knives, clubs and crude homemade weapons. I noticed an item that appeared to be chain mail body armour and a couple of shields emblazoned with clenched red fists which, in particular, seemed to fit well with the picture being painted of very angry anarchists. The first thought that went through my mind was "Man, that was a demonstrator that was really going to protect themselves from whatever violence was headed their way.". As I later found out while reading the Globe and Mail this morning, it turns out that the body armour belonged to 25 year old Brian Barrett who was headed to a role-playing fantasy game when he was stopped by police at Union Station and had his gear confiscated. Apparently police also confiscated some arrows that he had modified by replacing the tips with pool noodles and socks and plastic clubs covered with foam and plastic. Chief Blair singled out the arrows stating that they could have been soaked in a flammable liquid and set on fire before being shot. Apparently not in this particular case, according to the owner and I would guess that he should know. As well, police displayed the chainsaw and crossbow that were seized from a 53 year old man on Friday June 25th in a matter that even they admitted was completely unrelated to the G20 shortly after the owner's car was pulled over and the items seized. I guess they thought the items made for a better show and tell.

I noticed that the National Post covered the same story yesterday; here's a quote from their coverage:

"Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair displayed a shocking array of weapons and tools obtained from arrested G20 protesters this morning at police headquarters. The recovered items included body armor, sledgehammers, machetes, an electric drill, saws, crowbars, shields, aluminum bats, dog repellent, bamboo rods and bottles of hot sauce. Although the display of items took up half the lobby of the headquarters, officers on hand said more than five times the amount on display had been seized by police. Speaking to reporters, Mr. Blair said the items on display demonstrated the extent of the criminal conspiracy surrounding the violent G20 protests over the weekend. “No one should be so na├»ve as to think these people were there for the purpose of lawful protest,” he said, noting that the items were capable of “delivering deadly force.”

I'm hoping to see a correction in the National Post.

I would have to imagine that Mr. Harper would have been quite happy that his security chief during the G20 was putting on such a show. Maybe, at last, non-thinking voters would now agree that spending a billion dollars to protect G8 and G20 leaders along with a $5 million security fence could be justified. Maybe there really was a reason to be afraid now that we've been told that there was a criminal conspiracy afoot!

Perhaps the police did seize many more items, however, I would have to imagine that they put the attention-grabbing items on display for the media, leaving the more mundane items like vinegar-soaked bandanas in baggies in the back rooms. As well, even the mention of hot sauce reminds me of the RCMP being threatened by a stapler at the Vancouver International Airport. The way most of the front-line security personnel were outfitted in their storm trooper garb with full face shields, it is highly unlikely that most of the items seized would have had any impact on their well-being. As for criminal conspiracy, I think the Chief is giving way too much credit to a small group of thugs bent on breaking windows, spray painting buildings and hurling epithets and whatever else was handy at security forces.

If Chief Blair wants to re-establish the legitimacy of the actions of the security forces under his command during the G20 demonstrations this past weekend, this is hardly the way to do it. He has done nothing to create trust in the public over the past few days and his actions of yesterday reinforced the stereotypical police forces that Canadians trust less and less to look out after their rights and their freedoms.

Please Chief Blair, don't treat the public and media like fools. Please don't try to justify the actions of your security personnel by deliberately misleading the public who pay your salary. We're just a wee bit smarter than what you may think. Most importantly, please give us some credit for being able to ascertain what is the truth and what is not.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Bill C-42: Legislation that will impact your trip to Cancun

This morning, the Montreal Gazette reported that the United States wants access to Canadian data that shows exactly who is flying over their airspace, even if the flight does not land on American soil. Under authority that will be granted to the Minster of Transport with the passing of Bill C-42, Canadian airlines will release the name, date of birth and gender of the all passengers on flights over the United States to U.S. authorities. This move would give the United States Homeland Security personnel final approval over who will be allowed to board an aircraft in Canada should that flight pass merely pass into United States airspace. While this may seem to be a relatively harmless idea, should your name appear on their watch list in error because it is similar to the name of someone actually on the list which is rife with errors, you could be prevented from boarding a flight to Cancun or Europe or you could be subjected to questioning or delay. As well, this takes information requests by the United States in the name of security one step further into Canada's sovereignty.

Bill C-42 changes Canada's Aeronautics Act; it will allow airlines to communicate passenger information to foreign countries, but more specifically the United States, in compliance with their Secure Flight Program. As it stands now, Canadian airlines are only allowed to give out this information to American authorities should the plane in question actually be landing in the United States. As part of the current ticketing process, Canadian airlines are required to register all passengers 72 hours prior to departure for flights landing in the United States with the Transportation Security Administration's Secure Flight Program, developed by the Department of Homeland Security. If your name should appear on their watch list, you will most likely not be given a boarding pass for your flight, however, the ultimate decision is in the hands of the Canadian airline.

Here is a screen cap from the TSA website giving an overview of the program for United States citizens:

Since there are quite a number of problems with the accuracy of the security watch list (i.e. you could have the same name as a person that is on the watch list), they have a Travel Redress Inquiry Program (TRIP - who thinks of these acronyms?) that will make travel easier for those who have been misidentified in the past. Here is a screen cap of that part of the TSA website:

Under Part 1 Amendments to the Aeronautics Act of Bill C-42, the following passage is found:

Note that under the new legislation, the information about your reservation "may" be provided to the Minister of Transport and that the Minister "may" disclose that information if it is necessary for transportation security (i.e. to a foreign country). Therein lies the crux of the new legislation.

The United States has assured Canada that they will delete passenger data from their database seven days after the flight, however, it will be extremely difficult for Canadian authorities to ensure that this has taken place. I suspect that privacy will be the last thing American officials will be concerned with; the European Parliament has already determined that the passenger data collected under their agreement with the United States was not sufficiently safeguarded; that the data was retained for too long (3 to 15 years) and that there was no limit to which United States agencies that would be allowed to access the data. Here is's take on the story.

It is becoming quite apparent that those terrorists who attacked United States soil on September 11th, 2001 have had a significant impact on Canadian government policy, including the expenditure of $1 billion on security to protect the leaders of the "free" world. Apparently, we have all sacrificed a little bit of our freedom and our privacy over the past 9 years, thanks in no small part to 20 men flying airplanes.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Rubbernecking MSM Coverage of the G20 Toronto Summit

Like many Canadians, I spent part of Saturday afternoon watching the 24 hour news channel, mainstream media coverage of the G8/G20 summits and their accompanying demonstrations. By mid-day the CBC, in particular, was pretty much covering only the melee in downtown Toronto. They were broadcasting the same old tired video loop of someone climbing a tree with a video camera, someone smashing and kicking in a store window, someone dancing a jig on the hood of a police car followed by flames leaping out of the windows of the same car. We heard nothing about what (if anything) had been accomplished at the G8 meeting in Huntsville that was already long over. As well, there was very spotty coverage of the legitimate demonstrations; the efforts of those organizers, including bringing busloads of demonstrators attempting to raise valid issues to the attention of the G20 leaders, was all for naught.

The mainstream media played right into the hands of the Black Bloc and the other fringe players which I presume is at least part of their modus operandi. Their activities or the results of their activities garnered nearly 100% of the coverage all Saturday afternoon and evening with occasional interruptions to hear Toronto's Mayor David Miller (the same man who complained about the $1 billion spent on security) lament about the out-of-town vandals that had landed in Toronto and who had wreaked havoc on parts of the city's downtown core much to his surprise. I also found it really interesting that there were basically no demonstrators in Huntsville, in fact, on Friday night, the mainstream media noted that the only arrests made that day were for marijuana possession and shoplifting. Thank goodness that CSIS agents, the RCMP, the OPP and other Canadian police forces were handy to prevent an outbreak of violent shoplifting or joint lighting!

I sincerely hope that if Canada hosts another G8 or G20 summit, or heaven help us a combination of the two again, that the Prime Minister of the day shows a modicum of common sense and holds the meeting either in a remote area (of which there are many in Canada that are very beautiful - no fake lakes required) or on a Canadian Forces base where security is built-in. It seemed that the demonstrators left Huntsville alone; maybe they'll accord the same respect for the wilds of Canada.

The coverage this weekend says a lot about Canada's media establishment and their reportage. It reminded me of rubber-necking at a car accident; you know you should keep on moving but you just can't help but take another peak . This weekend, the mainstream media coverage played right into what at least some Canadians want and what generates the best ratings. The legitimacy of other stories seems to matter very little.

As an aside, just in case we've forgotten, here's a very different David Miller back in November 2009, just before Toronto was designated as the G20 summit city:

"Toronto would be ready to host the G20 summit of world leaders if Ottawa chooses to move the meeting here, says Mayor David Miller. Speculation has grown this week that the event will be moved here from Huntsville, because the rural Ontario town cannot handle the security and hotel needs of the delegations. Even though such a gathering would bring heightened security, road closings and possibly large groups of protesters, Miller said Toronto would be able to handle it. "We're not going to turn into an armed fortress," he said Friday. Toronto is a major conference-hosting city that has just opened the new Allstream Centre at Exhibition Place meant to hold meetings of this scale, he said. "If the G20 is here, we will be known all around the world. We are a place that can host the world because we have the world here," he added."

...and just in case you haven't heard enough about the benefits of holding the G20 meeting in Toronto from Mayor David Miller, here's a quick quote from another newspaper article on May 22nd, 2010:

"After taking several questions on security preparations, Tourism Toronto president David Whitaker (on a promotional tour of Washington D.C. with Mayor David Miller) sought to steer journalists back to a discussion about "celebrating" what the city had to offer. "There's a tug of war between the story being the protests, of the story being the agenda of the G20 or the story being the story of the host community celebrating what we are very very proud of," he admonished reporters. "It's a real tug of war for hearts and minds and you are helping shape that story. I encourage you professionally and respectfully to have a balanced approach to that story.""

One thing is for certain, it would appear that David Miller and his minions are not prophets.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Looking for a "Creative Penalty" for Syncrude

Earlier in June, I had a post about the court case in Alberta that involved charges that had been laid against Syncrude's in the death of 1600 waterfowl. Last Friday, Provincial Court Judge Ken Tjsovold released his verdict in the case. He found that Syncrude was responsible for the tailings ponds where the dead and dying ducks were found and that Syncrude did not act with due diligence in their efforts to ensure that migrating waterfowl did not land in the 12 square kilometre Aurora tailings pond that contained a toxic soup of water, sediment, heavy metals and bitumen. From the decision document, here is the description of the tailings pond:

"The tailings include water, sand and bitumen. When deposited, the tailings still retain heat from the extraction process so ice on the Basin will melt before ice on nearby natural water bodies. Bitumen is found throughout the pond in strands or lumps. It is also found in a mat of the type that trapped the waterfowl on April 28, 2008. The mat was described as being several inches thick, viscous and cohesive with the consistency of a frothy roofing tar. It moves within the pond and eventually sinks, taking birds with it in this case. The mat found on April 28, 2008 covered a significant part of the pond. "

From the same document, here's what happens to the birds when the land on the ponds:

"A significant amount of the bitumen in tar sands, probably between 3 and 10%, cannot be recovered and ends up in tailings ponds. Bitumen mat on the surface of the tailings pond can trap the waterfowl that land on it and the birds will eventually sink with the bitumen. As bitumen contamination increases, birds lose buoyancy and the insulating effect of feathers. There is a loss of the feathers’ waterproofing, leading to hypothermia or drowning. Birds will lose their ability to fly. A heavily oiled bird will almost certainly die...

Birds that attempt to preen bitumen from their feathers and those that forage on the shores of the pond may ingest bitumen which is toxic to them. Even a light oiling can interfere with a bird’s reproductive abilities. Relatively small amounts of some petroleum products may also result in high levels of mortality for bird embryos."

Sounds lovely doesn't it? Here's Syncrude's defence to the provincial charge:

"Respecting the provincial charge, Syncrude argues that:

1. By adding the word “fail” to the charge, the Crown has alleged an offence unknown to law.

2. The word “fail” imposes on the Crown the obligation to prove Syncrude’s conscious dereliction of the duty to ensure that a harmful substance did not come into contact with birds.

3. The Crown has failed to prove that Syncrude did “keep” or “store” a hazardous substance.

4. The Crown has failed to prove that a hazardous substance did “come into contact with” or “contaminate” any animals."

You've got to love how lawyers can spin these things. I particularly like points three and four. I guess no birds died and there was no bitumen kept or stored in the tailings ponds that the non-existent birds didn't die in! In the words of Syncrude's lawyer, the bitumen had been "disposed of" by the company; I guess once the waste bitumen left their upgrader, it's like it never existed.

Fortunately, Judge Tjosvold didn't see things the way the defence lawyer saw them. Syncrude was found guilty of two charges: a charge of failing to prevent a toxic substance from harming wildlife under the provincial act and a federal charge of depositing a substance that is harmful to migratory birds. Judge Tjosvold noted in his ruling that Syncrude simply did not do enough to ensure the safety of the birds. They had inadequate staffing levels and vehicles for bird deterrence and were weeks late in deploying bird deterrent equipment.

The federal charges could bring a fine of $300,000, which could be applied per bird, for a total of as much as $481 million (extremely unlikely), with the provincial price tag ringing in at a maximum of $500,000.

What I found quite interesting was that Alberta Provincial Crown prosecutor Susan McRory said the prosecution wants to pursue a “creative” sentence in this case. In light of that, I have come up with three suggestions for a "creative" sentence:

1.) Require the three top executives of Syncrude to swim or wade across one of the tailings ponds with no protective gear.

2.) Require the three top executives of Syncrude to drink one glass of water from the tailings pond.

3.) Require the three top executives to publicly re-enact the deaths of the waterfowl (since the death of one of the birds was caught on video) after which they will recite in unison an apology to the families of the waterfowl killed in the incident.

You don't need to thank me for my suggestions, Ms. McRory, but credit given in a mainstream newspaper would be nice.

By the way, Syncrude's lawyer, Mr. Robert White, is recommending that his client appeal the verdict. Lawyers will return to the courtroom on August 20th, 2010 to argue whether Syncrude should be convicted on one or two charges.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Five metres or Six metres: Is there a big difference?

Today we learned that the police standing guard outside the G8 and G20 summits have been granted special temporary powers by legislation that was passed by Ontario's cabinet on June 2nd, 2010 without debate. These powers will only last for the seven days around the time of the summit and are set to expire on June 28th. The laws require anyone that approaches within 5 metres of the security fence to supply security personnel with identification, submit to a search and explain why they are in the area. If they refuse to co-operate, they can be arrested and fined up to $500 and cold face up to 2 months in jail.

The regulation was passed under the province's Public Works Protection Act; the cabinet responded to an "extraordinary request" made by Toronto's Police Chief Bill Blair. The 5 metre buffer zone is being used to protect the fence itself since the police want to ensure that no one has an opportunity to pull down the fence that is being used to separate the world's VIPs from the unwashed masses of Canadian society. I'd like to know who came up with the seemingly random distance of 5 metres since it appears nowhere in the Act. What happens if you stand precisely 6 metres from the fence; are you in violation of the Act? The Act also refers constantly to "public works". If you live in a condo that you own within the secure zone but require access through a publicly owned street, does the law still apply in the same fashion since the condo is obviously privately owned? If I thought that the fence was actually there to protect the VIPs from terrorists, I would feel somewhat differently but I believe that it exists solely to keep the "small people" (us) away from the "important people (them).

From the Public Works Protection Act, here is the pertinent section about identifying yourself. Remember, don't leave home without it (your wallet that is)!

Powers of guard or peace officer

3.A guard or peace officer,

(a) may require any person entering or attempting to enter any public work or any approach thereto to furnish his or her name and address, to identify himself or herself and to state the purpose for which he or she desires to enter the public work, in writing or otherwise;

(b) may search, without warrant, any person entering or attempting to enter a public work or a vehicle in the charge or under the control of any such person or which has recently been or is suspected of having been in the charge or under the control of any such person or in which any such person is a passenger; and

(c) may refuse permission to any person to enter a public work and use such force as is necessary to prevent any such person from so entering. R.S.O. 1990, c. P.55, s. 3.

Here is the pertinent section about the penalties for disobeying your local security official:

Refusal to obey guard, etc.

5.(1)Every person who neglects or refuses to comply with a request or direction made under this Act by a guard or peace officer, and every person found upon a public work or any approach thereto without lawful authority, the proof whereof lies on him or her, is guilty of an offence and on conviction is liable to a fine of not more than $500 or to imprisonment for a term of not more than two months, or to both.


(2)A guard or peace officer may arrest, without warrant, any person who neglects or refuses to comply with a request or direction of a guard or peace officer, or who is found upon or attempting to enter a public work without lawful authority. R.S.O. 1990, c. P.55, s. 5.

What I found interesting was flipping through the pages of comments posted by online readers following the articles in the online versions of the major Canadian newspapers (Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, National Post). It seemed that there was about a 50;50 split between those that thought the law was a good idea to maintain control over the "protesting hoodlum element" and those that thought that the law was a very bad idea and that it infringed on the rights of people to pass freely through the society. I also took into account the "thumbs up" and "thumbs down" that other readers use to rank comments made. I had actually expected a far stronger anti-legislation movement than there appeared to be. I'm not certain whether readers responses in favour of the use of this legislation reflects the movement of Canadian society to the right, people's frustration with the hooligan element who actually negate the power of protests by legitimate interest groups or that it just reflects the nature of Canadians that take the time to post their feelings online.

On a personal note, I'm totally against the use of this legislation in this particular case, unfortunately, the powers that we have elected "democratically" seem helpless in the face of a few thugs who may cause problems for the rest of society. It's kind of like being back in junior high when the teacher threatened detentions for the entire class for the misdeeds of one or two students. We are all being tarred with the same brush whether we are guilty or not. One thing I do think; the implementation of this legislation for the duration of these summits should have been made public long before today. That is the least that our elected officials could have done for those who voted them into positions of power. We deserve to know exactly what you are doing on our behalf.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Wouldn't It Be Nice to Recall Canada's Politicians?

It seems that our elected officials are able to come up with more and more legislation that Canadians don't like and that more and more of them behave in ways that are hardly seemly. I'd love the idea of being able to recall an incompetent politician between elections. I'd also really like to participate in an action that would see legislation that is unpopular overturned. Maybe I should be living in British Columbia.

British Columbia is the only jurisdiction in Canada (and I believe in the Commonwealth) that allows the electorate the right to petition for the removal of an MP or MLA between elections or to present voter-initiated referenda. It also allows citizens to propose both new laws and changes to existing laws. The Recall and Initiative Act came into effect in 1995 after being approved by voters in a province-wide referendum. This Act allows citizens to hold their MPs accountable to those who elect them during the term of their service rather than having to wait for the next election to turf them from office.

Voters in Canada are increasingly disengaged from the electoral process. In the 2008 federal election, only 58.8% of registered voters took the time to drive, bike, take transit or walk to their designated polling station, hold their nose, pick up a pencil and mark an "X" beside the name of the candidate that they deemed least likely to offend them. Voter turnout has been dropping over the past 3 decades, hitting a high of 75.3% in the 1984 and 1988 elections. If the electorate felt that they had more power to "unelect" their MP/MLA/MPP between elections, the elected official may feel that he/she has to be more responsive to the demands of the majority of their constitutuents. Likewise, their constituents may find themselves more interested in voting because they have an "out" should the politician turn out to be less than satisfactory. It also balances the power away from the politician; the balance of power between the electorate and the elected shifts toward the electorate. As the system is now, the electorate holds power only during the election resulting in the politician pandering to his electors only when absolutely necessary. I believe that, as a side-effect, such legislation would also make whipped voting more difficult for party leaders. Politicians would be more likely to vote with the will of their constituents when they are threatened with grassroots mid-term removal.

One of the most notable North American recall campaigns in recent history was the removal of California Governor Gray Davis in 2003. It is estimated that this recall campaign cost approximately $66 million and ended up with the election of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. The costs involved with both recalls and the initiation and administration of recall petitions can be very expensive, especially in this time of limited government finances (although, the cost of a recall would only be a tiny fraction of what our federal government is spending on the G8/G20 summit security). As well, it can be difficult to "pin the legislative tail on the donkey" in most cases. Government policy is generally derived by only a small fraction of a caucus, often against the will of MPs from certain parts of Canada. For instance, changes to the Employment Insurance policy will affect parts of the Maritimes greatly. Should Atlantic Canada's MPs be recalled simply because their particular Party decided that changes to EI were necessary even though they personally may have been against it? The threat of recall may, however, prevent a Party from even thinking about introducing such legislation when they know that it will most likely be unpopular. It may put an end to the unfair practice of "whipped votes" as is anticipated when Bill C-391 returns to the House for its third reading.

The recall legislation is most useful when there is clearly incompetence or illegal behaviour involving a politician or there is a piece of legislation that the majority of the populace does not like such as the impending implementation of the much-loathed HST.

Right now, B.C. voters are signing a petition, the organization of which is led by former premier Bill Vander Zalm, that would see a referendum held to determine whether to rip up the agreement between the federal government and the province that brought about establishment of the HST. According to the Elections B.C. website, the expense limit for the petition is $921,448.30, not unreasonable given the scope of a province-wide petition. Organizers are using the threat of the recall legislation to warn individual MLAs that they could lose their seats if 40% of registered voters in any given riding sign a petition. Currently, 10% of registered voters in all provincial ridings have signed the petition but organizers are hoping to increase that to 15% so that their efforts are safeguarded from scrutiny by Elections B.C. This is the seventh attempt at using the Act to trigger a referendum; it appears that it will be the first to be successful. In case you're interested, here's the petitioner's website. I bet people in Ontario wish they had similar legislation right now!

Despite the limited potential for abuse, I am solidly behind the idea of recall legislation at all levels of government. In recent years it has become quite clear that, once elected, individuals very quickly show their true colours. It rapidly becomes apparent which MPs/MPPs/MLAs are in it for themselves and which ones truly are in office to improve the lives of their constituents. It would be nice to have an "out" between elections and to be able to replace incompetents with able politicians who are capable of thinking for themselves and act according to their consciences rather than following a Party line.

As honest Canadians, we promise that we won't abuse the privilege once we have it.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Kevin Page and the Cost of the One-For-One Deal

This week, Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page released his analysis of the cost of the new jails that would be required under the "tough on crime" Conservative Party agenda in a report entitled "The Funding Requirement and Impact of the "Truth in Sentencing Act" on the Correctional System of Canada. Mr. Page analyzed the cost of a single piece of legislation at the request of the Opposition Liberals.

Mr. Page does admit that the figures used in his report are best estimates only since the federal government would not release the data he requested. Join the club Mr. Page. Here's a screen cap from that page in the report:

The federal government's "Truth in Sentencing Act" (Bill C-25), which came into effect on February 22, 2010, would eliminate the two-for-one credits that prisoners now get for pre-remand time spent in jail once they are sentenced. Some Canadians charged with crimes wait for lengthy periods between the time of their arrest and the time of their sentencing because of delays in the court system. Originally the credit was in place because it was deemed that time spent in lock-up before sentencing was "harder time" than the time spent in real prison because of crowded conditions. Mr. Page's report deals only with the costs associated with this single change in legislation.

Here are the guts of Bill C-25:

"The bill amends the Criminal Code (the Code) to limit the credit a judge may allow for any time spent in pre-sentencing custody in order to reduce the punishment to be imposed at sentencing, commonly called “credit for time served.”(1) There are three scenarios:

  • In general, a judge may allow a maximum credit of one day for each day spent in pre-sentencing custody (“custody” in the bill) (clause 3 of the bill, new section 719(3) of the Code). On 8 October 2009, the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs proposed to amend the bill to allow a maximum credit of one and one-half days for each day spent in pre-sentencing custody. However, the Senate defeated the amendment on 20 October 2009.
  • However, if, and only if, the circumstances justify it, a judge may allow a maximum credit of one and one-half days for each day spent in pre-sentencing custody (clause 3 of the bill, new section 719(3.1) of the Code). On 8 October 2009, the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs proposed to amend the bill to allow a maximum credit of two days for each day spent in pre-sentencing custody. However, the Senate defeated the amendment on 20 October 2009.
  • If the person’s criminal record or breach of conditions of release on bail was the reason for the pre-sentencing custody,(2) a judge may not allow more than one day’s credit for each day spent in pre-sentencing custody (clause 3 of the bill, new section 719(3.1) of the Code).On 8 October 2009, the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs proposed to amend the bill to allow a maximum credit of one and one-half days for each day spent in pre-sentencing custody. However, the Senate defeated the amendment on 20 October 2009."

In his report, Mr. Page predicts that the additional 13 federal prisons required to house the 4000 additional offenders would cost federal and provincial taxpayers an additional $5 billion over the next 5 years as shown in this diagram from the report.

Mr. Page's analysis estimates that the total cost of federal and provincial corrections will increase to $9.5 billion by fiscal 2015 - 2016, up from the current level of $4.4 billion just for the implementation of Bill C-25 alone.

Some provinces had been in discussions with the federal government to abolish the two-for-one pre-sentencing credit; as such, the federal government claims that any additional costs incurred by the provinces will not be covered by the government because the changes were requested by the provinces.

Provincial facilities are used for inmates serving sentences of less than two years and federal facilities are used to house inmates that have been sentenced to terms greater than two years. The report estimates that the provinces would be responsible for 56% of the total new costs.

Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, quite naturally, disagrees with Mr. Page's analysis. He states that the Correctional Service of Canada estimated the increased cost to the federal government at $2 billion over five years. Minister Toews feels that no new facilities will be required because the government will rely on more double-bunking (housing two inmates in a cell designed for one) and that, at most, some new units will be built but only in existing facilities. He also claims that the provinces will be net beneficiaries of the new legislation because more inmates will be recipients of sentences longer than two years in duration meaning that the federal government will be responsible for their room and board.

It is interesting to note that the Liberal government voted for the passage of the Bill C-25 when it came to the house back in 2009. Now, their spokesperson Mark Holland claims that they were mislead about the costs involved. It surprises me that the Liberals went so far as to actually trust the government's estimates in the first place! They have no one to blame but themselves.

To put the new legislation into a broader perspective, the United States has the highest documented prison and jail population in the world with nearly 2.3 million inmates in local, state and federal prisons at the end of 2009. In fact, by some estimates, they have 25% of the world's prisoners. One in every 133 United States citizens is now in prison of some sort and at year end 2008, an additional 5.1 million citizens were under "correctional supervision" putting the total ratio of inmates and parolees at one in every 41 United States citizens. That is a rather shocking number, especially when you consider that the number of prisoners is up nearly 500% since the early 1980s as shown in this chart from the Justice Policy Institute Report "The Punishing Decade":

One would think that there has been a marked drop in crime considering the huge increase in the number of incarcerations; that is not necessarily the case. Here's a chart of statistics taken from the United States Bureau of Justice website:

While the violent crime rate has dropped since it peaked in 1991, it is still at the same level that it was at back in 1974 when the rate of incarceration per capita was lower by half. The rate of non-violent crime is similar; it is now at the same level that it was at back in 1966. Something just doesn't quite seem to be working.

I have no solutions to the problem of crime and punishment but it is apparent that throwing more people in jail and tossing away the key for a longer period of time is not necessarily the solution as seen int he example of the United States. Expediting the passage of the accused through the Canadian justice system would have eliminated at least some of the need for this specific legislation. Perhaps increasing the resources available to the judiciary and court system would have solved the two-for-one time credit issue for once and for all.

Sometimes, I think that it would be a good thing if government put a little more thought into solving society's problems before popping out another piece of legislation. Occasionally the best solutions are the simplest ones. But I guess pumping a few hundred million dollars into the court system to allow for speedier trials just isn't as appealing in the context of a "tough on crime" agenda as Bill C-25 is.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

How the United Kingdom will balance its budget

Yesterday in the United Kingdom, the coalition government of Prime Minister David Cameron released its emergency Budget. One item that caught my eye in this time of HST implementation was the change to the UK's Value Added Tax (VAT). On January 4th, 2011, the tax will increase from its current level of 17.5% to 20%. In proportion, it's similar to the increase in Nova Scotia's HST from 13% to 15%. What was particularly interesting was that this increase is expected to raise over £13.5 billion in a full year by 2014 - 2015. As well, the United Kingdom VAT rate still falls well short of the maximum of 25% allowed under European Union law.

The United Kingdom has reached the point of budgetary desperation. As it stands now, the United Kingdom is considered by many economists to be the most indebted nation in the world. Their national debt stands at nearly £924 billion. Their public sector net debt (as shown in the chart below) is projected to reach 70.3% of GDP by 2013 - 2014.

By comparison, the United States debt to GDP ratio is 88.9% and Canada's is in the neighbourhood of 35% depending on the source used. The United Kingdom's budget deficit is projected to be £148 billion for fiscal 2010 - 2011; it is hoped that the increased taxes (except corporate taxes) and reducing spending in today's budget will help balance the budget by 2014 - 2015. In today's budget, the government anticipates expenditures of £44 billion on debt interest alone in 2010 - 2011; this is projected to rise to £67 billion by 2014 - 2015. The UK had been threatened with cuts to their credit rating by two rating agencies unless the new government made major changes to their tax and spend philosophy; the UK had not balanced their budget since 2002 - 2003 and their debt growth far exceeded their economic growth.

If the United Kingdom feels that it is prudent to at least partially balance their budget deficit using an increase in their VAT, I suspect that they will be setting the trend for other jurisdictions. As I noted in yesterday's post, Nova Scotia has already increased its HST. Quebec is raising its QST in two stages from an effective rate of 12.875% to 13.925% on January 1, 2011 followed by another increase to 14.975% on January 1, 2010. In both cases, these consumption tax increases are being used to help their respective governments balance their rather frightening budget deficits. In the cases of Ontario with its net debt of $193 billion and 2009 - 2010 budget deficit of $19.7 billion and British Columbia's net debt of $29 billion and their 2009 - 2010 budget deficit of $1.7 billion, it will be very, very tempting for them to raise the provincial portion of the HST once the two year term of holding rates steady, agreed to with the federal government, has expired. Apparently, governments really do regard value added taxes as a cash cow despite their protestations to the contrary when they are trying to implement said taxes!

As an aside, here's an interesting twist on the HST story for Ontario residents who, unfortunately, don't have recall legislation. It seems that the McGuinty government has reached the point of desperation in their attempt to "sell" the HST to their electorate.

Ontario residents may be aware of this website, but I'll share it for those who aren't. It is part of the Liberal Party of Ontario website; when you click on the "Learn More" button on the opening page of the website, you are automatically redirected to the Strong Medicine for Ontario website.

It has a small Liberal Ontario logo in the upper corner and a selection of propaganda videos that you can watch which, quite naturally, do everything in their power to promote the massive advantages of implementing the HST. I really liked the column on the right side that had Twitter comments from various anonymous people with no political affiliation whatsoever (or so the Party would have us think). I particularly liked the postings by AMontgomery86 who informed me that she "Enjoyed the informative new video re: HST paid for with the Liberal's OWN money!" and "As a student, I'm looking forward to how much I know I'll benefit from the HST". Just wait until you're in the workforce and have to pay a whole pile of taxes Ms. AMontgomery86, then we'll see if you change your tune, that is, if you are a real person!

The first video on the list was released Monday; it is a video of Premier Dalton McGuinty doing a last minute, hail Mary promotion of the HST. The video is also posted on YouTube just in case you want to avoid the rest of the Liberal Party propaganda on the website:

Here's the YouTube video:

It's well worth a watch , even if just for the cinematographic value. Notice that Premier McGuinty is wearing a nice conservative blue dress shirt, but it's open at the collar so he looks a little more like "the small people on the street". If you listen carefully, you can hear the birds chirping merrily in the background; it seems that even they are convinced of the merits of the HST.

At the end of the video, the viewer is informed that the ad was "Paid for by the Liberal Party of Ontario". At least the Ontario Liberals have done that part right. I wonder if they'll do the same thing when they increase the HST in 2012?