Mar 20 2013
OTTAWA - Per capita spending on criminal justice - including federal and provincial jails, court costs and policing - has climbed 23 per cent over the last decade even as Canada's crime rate fell 23 per cent, says a new study by the Parliamentary Budget Office.
The report, a first-of-its kind, comprehensive look at criminal justice costs over time, put the price tag at $20.3 billion in 2011-12.
The authors looked at direct public spending on policing, courts and corrections, including parole. They excluded costs such as victims compensation, private security and non-criminal matters such as family, environmental and competition law.
Almost $15 billion of the total last year, or 73 per cent, was carried by the provinces and municipalities.
"It is important to note that in Canada, the federal government has exclusive jurisdiction to make criminal law, unlike the United Sates where each state has this power,'' the study states.
"With regards to the enforcement of criminal law, it is the responsibility of the provinces and territories.''
The Conservative government has been on a seven-year push to increase sentences and introduce new laws, citing its own internal study that claims crime costs victims $100 billion a year in Canada.
In January, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews warned a policing conference in Ottawa that rising police costs cannot be maintained.
"A decade ago, the average Canadian readily accepted, almost without question, steady increases in police budgets,'' Toews told the conference in a prepared speech.
"Today, however, there are increasing calls to demonstrate the value of the investments that all governments make in public services, including policing.''
The PBO report released Wednesday shows a direct correlation between Prime Minister Stephen Harper taking office in 2006 and a jump in criminal justice spending, both in Ottawa and elsewhere.
Crime rates, meanwhile, have been on a steady decline since 2003 - a trend the PBO says it included in the report "for illustrative purposes only.''
"This paper is not policy advice,'' state the authors.
The report is the last to be released under the watch of Kevin Page, Parliament's first fiscal watchdog whose eventful five-year term ends Monday.
Provincial security and court costs, as well as federal corrections costs all climbed by more than 40 per cent between 2002 and 2012, while federal security costs rose 53 per cent, according to the study.
Policing costs were "relatively flat'' before beginning a steady climb in 2007, the same year corrections costs reversed course and began trending up. Court costs - including judges, prosecutors, legal aid and youth justice - had been decreasing but began rising again in 2006, although they still haven't reached 2002 levels.
Court costs shifted toward the provinces and territories and off Ottawa over the study period.
In 2002, the federal government carried 32 per cent of criminal court costs, but that had fallen to 22 per cent by 2012. The provincial share, meanwhile rose 10 points to 78 per cent.
Provincial incarceration rates were also on the rise, while federal rates actually fell, says the report.