OTTAWA — New hiring of prosecutors and judges in Canada’s most remote and crime-ridden region signals increased federal spending on the Conservatives’ self-described public safety agenda, documents show.
Yet government authorities refuse to say how many new lawyers and judges the government will hire nationwide following the introduction of 18 crime-related bills in the likely short-lived 40th Parliament.
“We can’t comment on that if it is in the budget,” said one Justice Department official.
The government was cited for contempt on March 11 by the House of Commons’ standing committee on procedure and house affairs for failing to detail all of the costs of enforcing new crime legislation.
Measures introduced by the Conservative government have ranged from clamping down on conditional sentences to restrictions on parole for first-degree murderers.
“The Conservatives have been asked over and over and over to account for costs,” said Liberal MP and justice critic Marlene Jennings. “I don’t think this entire program has been worked out.”
While the budget tabled last Tuesday is on hold pending the results of the election campaign, documents tabled last Tuesday confirmed the first but brief details of new hiring with the appointment of at least one additional judge and four new federal prosecutors at the Nunavut Court of Justice. The new postings will cost $4.2 million over two years.
The territory’s unified court currently operates with four judges and 16 prosecutors.
“Attorneys general in several provinces have been asking the federal government to do this,” Jennings tells Law Times.
“The government is desperate to say they are taking all the steps to ensure resources are there, but this has not been true.”
Jennings noted additional funding for the Nunavut court came the same day Quebec announced the hiring of 94 more prosecutors and 66 jurists and researchers.
Justice Minister Rob Nicholson refused to comment, as did the Department of Justice and the Public Prosecution Service. Documents tabled in Parliament show the prosecution service has 920 federal lawyers, paralegals, and staff, with an additional 556 counsel retained through 226 agent firms nationwide.
“I know from feedback I’m getting from prosecutors that they’re overwhelmed because of new legislation,” said NDP MP and justice critic Joe Comartin. “The government’s reluctance to put information out is an admission of how much their tough-on-crime program is going to cost.”
The comments come as recent media reports noted the Justice Department had put out a call for proposals to deliver stress-reduction workshops for its staff.
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, however, provided no details of new spending on prosecutions but told reporters the government will reintroduce his budget in its entirety in the next Parliament if the Conservatives win re-election.
“Oh, absolutely,” said Flaherty. “This is a good budget. I look forward to the Canadian people supporting it.”
Documents show the office of the director of public prosecutions is one of the fastest-growing agencies in the government with forecasted spending of $172 million in the new fiscal year compared to $158 million two years ago. That’s a nine-per-cent increase.
The single budget reference to new hiring in Nunavut affects a territory with the highest police-reported crime rate in the nation, including the top homicide rate of 18.6 per 100,000.
That’s twice the rate in neighbouring Northwest Territories and 14 times Ontario’s homicide rate.
Nunavut has a population of 33,000 residents over a land mass three times the size of France. About 130 officers police it.