Canada’s prison population at all-time high

New figures show the number of visible minorities in Canadian prisons has increased by 75 per cent in the past decade, while the number and proportion of inmates who are Caucasian has declined significantly.

As well, Canada’s prison population is now at its highest level ever, even though the crime rate has been decreasing over the past two decades. Ten years ago, the number of inmates in federal prisons was close to 12,000. It’s now more than 15,000.

These are just some of the statistics expected to be examined Tuesday, when the annual report of Correctional Investigator of Canada Howard Sapers is tabled in Parliament. His report is widely expected to be a scathing indictment of federal correctional policy.

“You cannot reasonably claim to have a just society with incarceration rates like these,” Sapers said Sunday in a speech he gave at a church in Toronto. 

Sapers gave his audience a litany of grim figures. He pointed out that close to a quarter of all inmates are aboriginal even thought they make up only four per cent of the population. The rate of incarceration of aboriginal women increased by 80 per cent in the past decade.

Sapers said the situation is particularly critical for black and aboriginal inmates.

“These groups are over-represented in maximum security institutions and segregation placements. They are more likely to be subject to use of force interventions and incur a disproportionate number of institutional disciplinary charges. They are released later in their sentences and less likely to be granted day or full parole,” he said.

The statistics show that:

  • One in five inmates is over age 50.
  • The average level of education is Grade 8.
  • 80% of offenders have addiction or substance abuse problems.
  • 80% of federally sentenced women have been sexually abused.
  • 31% have Hepatitis C and 5% have HIV.
  • Almost half of all offenders required mental health care in the past year.

Sapers adds that overall spending in the Canadian justice system rose 23 per cent in the past decade. “During that same period, Canada’s crime rate fell by exactly the same proportion,” he said.  It now costs an average of $110,000 a year to house a male inmate, nearly twice as much to imprison a female inmate.

“The growth in the custody population appears to be policy, not crime driven. After all, crime rates are down while incarceration rates grow,” he said, adding that crime across Canada has been declining for more than a decade, long before the current government’s “tough on crime” agenda.

Sapers said the United States, with one of the highest incarceration rates in the world, has changed course, having realized that more people in prison doesn’t mean safer streets. “If there was a relationship between public safety and incarceration, then the downtowns of the big American cities would be the safest environments in the world; they’re not,” he said.

The federal budget for the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) has increased 40 per cent to $2.6 billion in the past five years, most of it being spent on building 2,700 new cells. Even then, Sapers said more than 20 per cent of inmates are now double-bunked in cells designed for one inmate. It’s a practice that was uncommon in the past and Sapers says is now leading to growing tensions inside prisons.

He compares it to a time 40 years ago when prison riots in Canada were common, including the infamous riot at the now-closed Kingston Penitentiary. “Many of the same problems that fuelled that explosion are still with us, crowding, too much time spent in cells; lack of contact with the outside world, lack of program capacity, the paucity of meaningful prison work or vocational skills training and polarization between inmates and custodial staff.”

Sapers said many of the inmates are sick and elderly and by law require health care which last year cost the corrections system $210 million.  

Under Canadian law, prison is supposed to be seen as a last resort and should be used as little as possible for the shortest time necessary.  As well, it says prisoners continue to have human rights and are sent to prison as punishment, not for punishment.

Sapers says recent changes by the government that see inmates serving longer sentences, cuts in prison pay and imposing austere conditions do little to improve public safety; instead, he says it makes it more difficult to rehabilitate and reintegrate them back into society upon their release.

By Maureen Brosnahan, via CBC News!/httpImage/image.jpg_gen/derivatives/16x9_620/image.jpg

One Down, Nine to Go: Quebec Will Limit the Clout of the Omnibus Crime Bill C10

A few months ago, after the Omnibus Crime Bill C10 passed first reading in the House of Commons, we suggested a three-pronged approach to prevent things from getting worse: Pressure Your Premiers, Seduce The Senate and Mobilize the Media. Now that the bill has passed second reading in the house, it looks like defeating the bill at the provincial level is starting to work.

The Quebec government is refusing to fully implement the bill. According to The Globe and Mail:

“The province announced Tuesday that it would do everything in its power to limit the clout of the legislation that passed a day earlier.

Because the provinces are responsible for applying the laws passed in Ottawa, Quebec says it will work to soften Bill C-10 where possible.”

Now that the precedent has been set, one wonders (and Omnibusters at ItCouldGetWorse hope) if other provinces will follow suit, and if so, how many. This is the new front in the battle to prevent Canada from going down a wrong-headed path that puts retribution ahead of rehabilitation and wrongheaded politics ahead of logic. Omnibusters should be ready.

It could get worse, don’t let it!

The Omnibus Crime Bill has moved from a small Senate committee into a final debate in front of the whole Senate.

Dear friends,

The Omnibus Crime Bill has moved from a small Senate committee into a final debate in front of the whole Senate.

If Bill C-10 passes in its present form, it will fundamentally shift Canada’s justice system away from prevention and rehabilitation, and towards punishment and exclusion for our most vulnerable.

Since the Senate committee has not provided the “sober second thought” Canadians deserve, our only option is to ask key Senators to vote against Bill C-10, forcing our Parliament to go back to the drawing board.

Together, our community has already sent 30,000 messages to the Senate and helped persuade the Liberals, and some Conservatives, in the Senate to oppose the Crime Bill. Now, we urgently need to encourage more moderate Conservative Senators to take a stand for Canadian justice by voting against Bill-C10.

The Senate committee has made some amendments, but they have ignored the evidence and regional concerns. Texas Republicans have warned us that the Crime Bill’s fill-the-prisons approach to justice has been an expensive failure everywhere it has been tried.1 Independent Canadian researchers have calculated that the bill could cost tens of billions of dollars. Yet, we still do not know the full social and fiscal costs this bill will impose on our communities, provinces and territories, even though they pay for most of the justice system.2

Mandatory sentences and prison expansion backfired in the United States, a country with only 5% of the global population and 25% of all the world’s prisoners. Today, state after state is in crisis and is repealing those laws.1 Experience shows that we should focus on proven strategies to prevent crime, rehabilitate people and reintegrate them into society.3,4

Many of the moderate Conservative Senators know that, and they can still do the right thing.

Thank you so much for taking action. Let’s start ringing their phones off the hooks.

Crime bill falls short for victims, ombudsman says

Omnibus crime bill ‘doesn’t go far enough’

By Meagan Fitzpatrick, CBC News

Posted: Feb 2, 2012 12:15 PM ET

Canada needs to focus more on the rights of victims and less on offenders, and the omnibus crime bill doesn’t do enough to shift the focus, the country’s top advocate for victims said Thursday.

Sue O’Sullivan, the federal ombudsman for victims of crime, released a report that contains a number of recommendations to improve the treatment of victims in the criminal justice system.

“All aspects of the justice continuum are important, but the time has come in this country to take a step back and look at not only how we’re managing offenders, but how we are treating victims,” she told a news conference in Ottawa.

Victims often don’t feel respected or listened to, and the system often re-victimizes them, O’Sullivan said. They need more access to information about their rights and their offenders, increased support, and better participation in the justice system, she said.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has tried to portray his party as the one that stands up for victims, and getting tough on crime has been a cornerstone of Conservative platforms. The safe streets and communities act, now in the hands of the Senate, is aimed at holding criminals accountable and protecting victims, according to the government.

The omnibus bill, introduced in the fall after the Conservatives won their first majority government, combines nine previous bills that were never passed.

It has caused controversy because of the changes it proposes to the corrections and justice systems, and the costs the provinces are expecting as a result of increased prison populations.

Nunavut Justice Minister Daniel Shewchuk was among the witnesses at the Senate committee studying the bill Thursday and he said the proposed legislation would overburden the courts and corrections system and divert resources from rehabilitation programs.

Tom Stamatakis, president of the Canadian Police Association, also testified and said while he supports the bill he also was concerned about its cost. He said police budgets are already “close to the breaking point.”

When defending the bill against critics, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews and Justice Minister Rob Nicholson have said the cost to federal and provincial budgets is far outweighed by the cost of crime to society and the psychological cost to victims.

O’Sullivan said Bill C-10 addresses some of the recommendations in her report, “but it doesn’t go far enough.”

“We’ve made what we think are very practical and reasonable recommendations for the government to implement in order to further enhance these,” she said.

She has met with Toews and Nicholson about her report and said she was encouraged by the meeting.

Rights for victims still limited

O’Sullivan said Canada has come a long way in protecting the rights of victims but that most Canadians would probably be surprised to learn how limited they still are.

Victims, for example, don’t have the automatic right to attend parole hearings and have to apply like every other member of the public. If they want to read a statement it has to be pre-approved and they cannot stray from it during the meeting. No transcripts or audio recordings of the meeting are made available to victims who cannot attend and it is rare for a videoconference to be facilitated, according to O’Sullivan.

More financial support for victims should be available, the ombudsman said. Most compensation issues are dealt with at the provincial level, but federally, the victim surcharge and restitution are two mechanisms designed to help victims and hold criminals accountable.

O’Sullivan said the surcharge is often waived with no explanation, and restitution, which is ordered at the discretion of the courts, is underused and poorly enforced.

“Offenders should be held accountable, period,” said O’Sullivan.

The victim surcharge is a maximum of $100, and her office wants it doubled and made mandatory with no exceptions.

The ombudsman’s report was raised in question period Thursday by NDP MP Francoise Boivin, who said the government’s approach to crime and victims “makes no sense” and it should be doing more to act on the recommendations.

Nicholson responded that the Conservatives were the ones to create the ombudsman’s office for victims in the first place and that he is “proud to be a member of the only party that will do the right thing by vics in this county.”

One Senator’s Response from Letter Against C-10

Thank you for contacting me about the omnibus crime bill (C-10). I concur with the Canadian Bar Association’s views.

As you are well aware, the Conservative government has been trying to push much of this legislation through both the House of Commons and the Senate for several years now. Senators have made many thoughtful amendments in the past. The government rejected all of them.

Recently, when confronted with the latest crime statistics which continue to show a steady decline, Justice Minister Nicholson replied “We don’t govern on the basis of statistics.” I am therefore, not optimistic that the government will see reason to modify its position this time round either.

Traditionally, senators acted somewhat independently of the government to give Canadians the benefit of our traditional sober second thought (click here for examples). That is no longer happening with Conservative senators who vote the way Mr. Harper tells them. Now that they have a majority in the Senate, I anticipate the Conservatives will pass Bill C-10.

Nevertheless, it is important for Canadians like yourself to continue to speak out. We must be diligent in reminding one another that our nation fundamentally values compassion over coersion, ideals over ideology and rehabilitation over punishment. Thank you for taking the time to do just that. Please don’t stop.

Best regards,

Elaine McCoy

Alberta Senator (Progressive Conservative)


(Thanks Redditor: OriginalSyn for posting this to Reddit)

Tell the Senate: Don’t rubber stamp the Crime Bill

Tell the Senate: Don’t rubber stamp the Crime Bill

Update & New Action: Thursday Dec 8, 2011

On Monday, Prime Minister Harper’s Conservative MPs voted for the cruel Crime Bill. That night, the NDP, Liberal, Bloc and Green MPs stood together against the bill, and many of them were wearing “Safer, not meaner” buttons in solidarity with our campaign.

Now, the struggle for Canadian justice moves to the Senate. The Senate’s job is to provide a “sober second thought.” Senators are appointed for life, and free to make their own choices. They can review the evidence, change the bill, and force another vote.

Every day, opposition grows as Canadians learn more about the Crime Bill, but Prime Minister Harper is putting enormous pressure on Senators to rubber-stamp the bill quickly so it can pass before Christmas. There is only one thing that can balance the scales: a massive public outcry from Canadians like you, right now.

Send an urgent message to the Senators that represent your province, asking them to rise above partisan politics, look at the evidence, and make Canada safer, not meaner.

Together, you are taking on the strongest force in Canadian politics: a newly elected government with a majority of seats working to pass a core plank of its election platform on a hot-button issue.

And, thanks to your messages to your representatives, your letters to the editor, your local actions, and your phone calls, we have helped shift the national conversation decisively against this bill in a way that no one thought possible just a few months ago.

Catherine Latimer, the Executive Director of the amazing John Howard Society of Canada, just wrote about this shift:

“Organizations like the John Howard Society, which have been lampooned for simply advocating for effective, just, and humane responses to the causes and consequences of crime, sense a change in the winds. More and more people have been persuaded by the evidence and are speaking up for a more effective, fairer, and less mean approach to achieving our shared objective of reducing crime than is proposed in Bill C-10.” [1]

Don’t let anyone tell you that this is over!

On Tuesday, Newfoundland’s Justice Minister spoke out firmly against the Crime Bill, saying it has not been properly studied, and the actual costs will be “astronomical”. [2] On Wednesday, Grand Chief Derik Nepinak of Manitoba’s Assembly of Chiefs, called a national press conference to say that the bill’s mandatory sentences would continue the legacy of residential schools, and must be opposed. Nepinak said that “instead of investing in jails we need to invest in healing.” [3]

The Manitoba Chiefs are calling on our Senate to provide the sober second thought that our country so desperately needs. Let’s join them.

This action is about checks and balances. Remember that every time you write, every time you speak out, you give people the courage to join you. You give people courage to speak truth to power. And we are so grateful to you, because to change the world, we must first change the conversation.

It’s time to speak out, and ask your province’s Senators to rise above partisan politics, look at the evidence, and make Canada safer, not meaner.


  1. “A bad day: what now?” by Alex Himelfarb:
  2. Ottawa’s omnibus crime bill criticized by Newfoundland justice minister
  3. Crime bill furthers legacy of residential schools: Nepinak

The Omnibus Crime Bill C-10 is not law yet!

The Omnibus Crime Bill C-10 is not law yet!

Omnibusters are keeping up the resistance and have some awesome ideas about what steps we can take now to prevent the “Safe Streets and Communities Act” from becoming the travesty of justice that it is.

The C-10 crime bill that puts prisons before communities, that imposes mandatory minimum sentences for minor crimes, and that denies rehabilitation passed yesterday in the House of Commons 157-127. The Bill, which was controversially rammed through Parliament, was passed 45 days from when it was tabled, excluding it from the due process of scrutiny to which such sweeping legislation would normally be subjected. C-10 was roundly and strongly criticized, not only by activists, but also by the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, the Canadian Bar Association, the Ligue des droits et libertés, as well as the justice ministers of Ontario, Québec, and Newfoundland. The costs of the bill, forewarned by Correctional Services Canada, have yet to be made public. In August CSC warned that there were not even double occupancy prison cells to accommodate the explosion of inmates that C-10 will engender.

So, what can we do next?

In tandem with our allies at, It Could Get Worse will be keeping up the fight to prevent this law from damaging Canadians’ lives and crippling provinces’ budgets. We will be taking a 3-pronged approach:

  • Pressure your Premiers! The MLAs (and MNA’s in Quebec) have an important role to play is halting the progress of this heinous piece of legislation. Your provincial governments will be forced to pay for the prisons that C-10 will build, unless we can stop it from going forward.
  • Seduce the Senate! In spite of Harper’s sweeping appointment to the Senate, remember that Senators are people too! Some of them have other careers and are public personalities. So while they may not be directly accountable to any constituents, they are not accountable to Stephen Harper. They are, however, susceptible to public opinion. Right now, the Senate party break-down looks like this: Tories 55, Libs 42, Independent 2. We will be releasing a statement with the names and contact info for the 10 Conservative Senators most likely to be swayed by reason and democratic principles later this week. We will be calling and e-mailing them, and will be urging Canadians to do the same. The power of the Senate is to introduce amendments that the Conservative Government was too short-sighted and cruel to introduce themselves.
  • Mobilize the Media! Our site contains tonnes of useful links to petitions, articles, and informative points on the dangers C-10 and its astronomic potential costs. The Toronto Star, Vancouver Sun, Ottawa Citizen, Huffington Post, Globe & Mail, The Economist, the CBC, CTV and countless independent media like rabble and Forget the Box have published articles and op-eds denouncing Bill C-10. Share the articles, share our videos, make your own, and get the word out: mandatory minimum sentences and more prisons are not the answer to crime in Canada, which was at 38-year all-time low at the time this bill was proposed.

It Could Get Worse – Don’t let it!

And here’s some inspiration from the Raging Grannies!

Break Down Prison Walls – Omnibuster Marlo

Omnibuster Marlo Turner Ritchie has been a youth activist in both BC and Quebec. She is the former director at Head and Hands Montreal and has been working with at risk youth for over 15 years. As a community leader she really know what works and doesn’t with our current legal system. She knows that the conservatives Crime Bill will not help the youth on our streets and begs that you join the fight against Bill C10. Bill C-10 will not help to reduce crime, it will only put already at risk youth in danger of becoming worse offenders and being locked up for longer periods of time. Please act now and contact your members of Parliament and help dissuade the Conservatives from passing this bill.

Défend la cause des jeunes – Omnibuster Isabelle

Omnibuster Isabelle Morin (Député parlementaire pour NDG-Lachine) défend la cause des jeunes et critique le projet de loi C10. “Plutôt que d’investir 500 millions $ pour la construction de prisons, on devrait plutôt prévenir et aider les jeunes dans la pauvreté à se trouver un emploi, à trouver une stratégie concrète pour qu’ils puissent aller vers le droit chemin.”

Omnibuster Isabelle Morin explains how the Omnibus Crime Bill is dangerous and will erode our rights and freedoms. This is not the direction we want Canada to be going in. Say NO to the Omnibus Crime Bill.


Proud that Canada is Compassionate – Omnibuster Jason

Omnibuster Jason C. McLean is an actor and writer based in Montreal, Quebec. He tells of Jason tells us how Canada is know for compassion towards its citizens and the world and that Bill C-10 would change that. We should not let it change. Say NO to the Omnibus Crime Bill.