OTTAWA - The federal budget promises no new prisons will be built, and says branches of Canada's security apparatus will face $688 million in spending cuts between now and 2015.
The move comes despite the Conservative government's recently passed tough-on-crime omnibus bill, which heralds larger inmate populations because of new mandatory incarceration provisions for several offences.
Moreover, the budget contains no specific explanation of how or where the widely predicted increase in Canada's prison population will be accommodated in the coming years.
Ottawa still plans to add 2,700 beds to men’s and women’s prisons across Canada in the coming years.
"Our new units, on existing lands within existing budgets, will be coming on-line as they are constructed," said Mike Patton, a spokesman for Public Safety Minister Vic Toews.
Patton maintained that the government's new crime legislation would not lead to an increase of inmates in Canadian correctional facilities.
"The thrust of our legislation is keeping dangerous and repeat offenders behind bars. We are not creating new offenders, we are stopping the revolving door," he said in an email.
Neither Patton nor the budget document itself offered specifics on where major public safety portfolio cost savings will be found — to Correctional Services, to the Mounties, to the border service, to the spy service.
"This is all the detail we've got," said one finance official.
The official was referring to a single page in the 498-page budget document that outlines the bare bones of a plan to cut spending in the Public Safety Department by finding annual savings of $688 million over three fiscal years, to 2015.
The RCMP faces $195.2 million in cuts over three years to its current $2.6-billion budget. The Mounties will be "pursuing administrative and operational support efficiencies, with minimal impacts on direct policing operations," the budget says.
The Canada Border Services Agency faces a reduction of $143.4 million to its current $3-billion budget. This will be accomplished because the agency "will streamline internal services and low-performing processes."
Public Safety Canada and Canada's spy agency, the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service, each face almost $25 million in cuts in the next three years.
The proposed $295.4 million in savings to the current $3 billion budget of the Correctional Service of Canada also raises questions.
"The Correctional Service of Canada will find efficiencies in its operations and will continue to use existing facilities," the budget document states.
"The Government has not built a single new prison since 2006 and has no intention of building any new prisons."
After several fits and starts under the previous Conservative minority governments, the measures in the controversial omnibus crime bill were recently passed through the new majority Parliament.
Bill C-10 faced widespread opposition from some provinces, and major players in the criminal justice system.
Many experts argued that the law will put more people behind bars, for longer periods of time.
Saskatchewan's justice minister has said the province is trying to find ways to increase the capacity of its already packed jails because the passage of C-10 will put more people behind bars.
"I can't speak to the Saskatchewan provincial correctional facilities, but I will tell you that we have not and will not build new prisons," Patton said in his email.
The new law essentially takes away the discretion of trial judges to impose non-custodial sentences for some offences.
And it specifies mandatory minimum jail time for a wide range of drug and sex offences.
It also eliminates the option of house arrest for a variety of crimes.
The Tories have steadfastly maintained the new law addresses the concerns of victims of crime.