Today on CBC's Power & Politics (view minutes 16:50 to 30:50), host Evan Solomon continued his discussion on the costs of the Conservative incarceration agenda by asking "has the government really lived up to its promise to strengthen victims' rights, to stand up for victims of crimes?"
To address this issue, Solomon invited Steve Sullivan, the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime (read bio), to share his thoughts on the rising federal prison budget and the dearth in federal funding for 'crime' victims.
In response to the multi-billion dollar gap between federal prison and victims' expenditure, as well as the 41% cut to the Grants for the Victims of Crime Initiative and the 34% decrease in the Contributions to the Victims of Crime Initiative (see previous 6 April 2010 post), the Ombudsman noted that those cuts would impact research conducted and services offered by "totally underfunded" community-based victims' organizations.
Contrasting these developments to the massive budget increase for the Correctional Service of Canada, Solomon asked Sullivan the following question: "Now I know this is an austerity budget, but we've seen statistics saying that there's more money to be spent on putting people in prison, but it looks like, even though there is a slight increase, key programs around victims are being slashed. What does that tell you?"
Sullivan responded as follows: "When you're in government it's about making decisions and you have to make choices. So if you spend money on this area that means you can't spend it anywhere else. In this case, we're spending millions of more dollars on building prisons and that's a fairly popular position... the public seems to support that. But it also means we're not spending money elsewhere. We can't spend that money in two places, and victims of crime, I got to tell you, the stuff we hear from victims of crime on a daily basis - the problems they have meeting their mortgages, needing counseling, not being able to assist their children who are sexually abused. Building more prisons aren't going to address those problems. And we could put a child treatment centre in every major city in this country. We could build shelters for kids who are selling themselves on the street to come off the streets and try to live a different kind of life. The rates of Aboriginal victimization are so high... by spending so much money on prisons we're not spending money on those key needs for victims."
Later in the interview, Sullivan stated that the current legislative push is insufficient noting that "the needs of victims of crime are very complex. They're not easy solutions. It's not about a tag line about building more prisons or getting tougher on criminals. Their needs are complex and they're very in-depth and they're long-term. I guess what I would be telling the government is, if you have a pot of money and you have a choice to build more prisons or help more victims, to help more victims".
Solomon then asked "So as the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime, that's your message to the Minister... put more money into helping victims?" Sullivan's answer: "One of my last recommendations to the government will be to take the money they're spending on prisons to helping victims". "Away from prisons towards victims", Evan remarked as Sullivan nodded.
The discussion then turned to MP's, including Conservative Ed Fast, New Democrat Don Davies and Liberal Mark Holland. Amazingly, one of the first words out of Fast's mouth after seeing a table highlighting the $2.46 billion CSC budget for 2010-2011 was that the Governement is pursuing a "balance" between prisons which are said to keep the public safe from future victimization versus resources to ensure that the needs of victims are met. He then cited the $6.6 million increase over two years for the federal victims of 'crime' budget as evidence of this "balance".
In response, Holland argued that not only are victims under-served by the Conservative agenda but that expanding prisons will undermine safety in our communities in the long-run. He proposed, instead, that front-line prevention efforts that would stop "victims from happening in the first place" need to be implemented. Davies then added that "we need to beef up our funding on crime prevention. We need to also beef up our funding for victims' groups and also start attacking the causes of crime instead of putting so much money into the after-effects, which is building prisons".
After this exchange, the discussion shifted to the validity of Statistics Canada figures on the decline in volume and severity of 'crime'. In support of his colleague Shelly Glover's comments pertaining to the invisible figure of unreported 'crime' (see 1 April 2010 post), Fast stated: "First of all, I make no apologies for our position as a government that we're going to protect Canadians in their communities, on our streets - and Ms. Glover is correct. The crime rates that are reported by Statistics Canada are manipulated by those who want to make this a politically partisan issue. In fact, if you look at the statistics over the last five to ten years, violent crimes, the ones' that concern my community of Abbotsford, have actually gone up significantly and I would invite Mr. Holland, I would invite Mr. Davies, to speak to our police chief. Last year, Abbotsford was named the 'murder capital of Canada'. We know the kind of crime rates we have in our community. Speak to the people of the Fraser Valley and Vancouver. It's important that we address the issue of the protection of society as well as making sure there is enough support for the victims who have been victimized by predators in our communities."
The on-going Conservative attack on Statistics Canada figures and their so-called manipulation prompted Davies to call the use of invisible and unverifiable statistics by Fast and his colleagues a "complete absurdity" because they set up a situation where "if the crime rates rise, they want to put more money into the crime agenda, and if they don't, they want to put more money in the crime agenda because they think that it must be rising anyway, we just can't see it and that's just ludicrous". Holland joined in by noting that when he asked the Minister where he was getting his statistics from, Toews responded the "Vancouver Board of Trade" - hardly a reliable source for 'crime' statistics.
There are many things we can take from the discussion on Power & Politics today which were captured in some of the headlines accompanying the segment on the little federal resources provided to victims versus the amount of funds invested in our failing prisons including "Victimized Again: Victims' groups underfunded", "Victims Left Behind?", "Tough on Crime, Soft on Support" and "Punishment VS Support". As the casualties of the Conservative tough of truth campaign continue to pile up, it is perhaps the moment to, in the words of Against Me, "Stop! Take some time to think and figure out what's important to you".