Prisoners not entitled to own cells, public safety minister says
Andrea Janus, CTVNews.ca
Published Tuesday, May 6, 2014 12:10PM EDT
Last Updated Tuesday, May 6, 2014 7:35PM EDT
The opposition had a wide range of criticisms for the federal government Tuesday after the release of auditor general’s latest report, including concerns about double-bunking in the federal prison system.
The federal prison population could one day outgrow the required capacity, even as new prisons are built, Auditor General Michael Ferguson warned in his report. This means that double-bunking -- putting two prisoners in a cell -- could become a problem in the future, he said.
Asked about this by reporters Tuesday afternoon, Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney said “double-bunking is a normal practice in all Western countries.” He added that the Correctional Service of Canada has failed to find a link between double-bunking and increased violence in prisons.
“We don’t feel that prisoners are entitled to their own cell,” Blaney said. “We feel (double-bunking is) part of normal management practices. This being said, we have most of the inmates in private cells.”
The federal prison population currently sits at 15,276 inmates, far short of the 19,000 that his department projected a few years ago, Blaney said. Some 1,700 cells have been added to the system, he noted, “and what’s why we are ready to deal with the modest growth that is expected in years to come.”
He added that if double-bunking is necessary in the future, “we won’t be afraid to use it.”
NDP MP Mathieu Ravignat said despite Blaney’s claims, double-bunking “increases concerns for the safety of the workers and the detainees.”
NDP MP Malcolm Allen acknowledged that having a single cell while incarcerated is not a Charter right, but said double-bunking raises the issue of “how we treat those we incarcerate.”
In his report, Ferguson also noted that the government made decisions about building new prison space based on the availability of land, rather than where it was needed, which has also led to higher costs of transferring prisoners from province to province to find them a cell.
Transferring prisoners comes at a cost, the NDP noted, saying the concerns about Canada’s prisons goes beyond double-bunking, Allen said. “It’s about spending money poorly.”
And Ferguson said the government’s decisions to expand facilities were “decisions of convenience” to relieve some of the short-term pressure since the government had originally planned to close eight of those facilities.
“They need to put in place a long-term accommodation plan to show how they’re going to deal with accommodation issues into the future,” he told CTV's Power Play.
Feds 'undermining' StatsCan: opposition
Earlier Tuesday, the Liberals accused the federal government of “undermining” Statistics Canada’s ability to gather adequate jobs data, following the release of Ferguson’s report.
Ferguson said that Statistics Canada’s survey on employment, payrolls and hours does not provide an accurate picture of where jobs are available in Canada.
He said the data agency needs to have a better understanding of what its users are looking for.
“For example, in their employment survey, they get information about job vacancies at the national and provincial level, but they don’t have information on the local level, and some of their users are asking for that type of information,” he said.
The survey fails to indicate the exact city within a province that a job vacancy is located, Ferguson said, and often only points to the industry in which a particular job is available, rather than details on the job itself.
The auditor general’s report “clearly confirms that the Conservatives’ undermining of Statistics Canada has left the government unable to accurately address the economic needs of Canadian communities,” the Liberals said in a statement.
The findings suggest that the federal government has “no plan to deliver economic growth for middle class families,” said Liberal finance critic Scott Brison.
“Despite years of recommendations to collect better labour market information, the Conservatives have failed to provide job vacancy data that would help ensure the Temporary Foreign Worker Program and other policies actually contribute to economic growth in Canada,” Brison said.
The report comes as the federal government faces criticism for reported abuses of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, which is designed to address labour shortages in unskilled jobs.
Last month, Employment Minister Jason Kenney suspended the food services industry from the program over reports that some companies are abusing the program. McDonald’s, one of the companies accused of misusing the program, announced it has temporarily halted its involvement and has launched an internal review.
The government has also come under fire for including information from online job ads posted to Kijiji in its employment data as it assesses labour needs across the country.
In the wake of the criticism, the government announced it will no longer include Kijiji ads in its research.
On Tuesday, the Liberals said Ferguson’s report is “a stunning rebuke of the Conservatives’ ability to make informed decisions on jobs and the economy, including on the Temporary Foreign Worker Program.”
NDP Leader Tom Mulcair asked Prime Minister Stephen Harper during question period Tuesday whether he will “mandate the auditor general to investigate” the program.
Kenney answered the question, though not directly, saying only that while there are no general labour shortages in Canada there are “particular skills gaps” in particular regions and industries.
The government is committed to making Canada’s immigration system “work for Canada’s economy,” he said.