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New crime laws may hold hidden costs

Flexing its majority muscle, the Tory government has delivered the get-tough crime bill promised in the last federal election.

But when those laws will be enforced — and at what cost to B.C. taxpayers — will be the subject of complex negotiations between federal and provincial officials.

Chilliwack-Fraser Canyon MP Mark Strahl said he hopes the effect of the stronger laws, especially those that better protect children from sexual predators and that end the practice of house arrest for serious crimes, will be seen "immediately" in B.C. courts.

"The measures contained in this legislation crack down on those who exploit children, traffic in illegal drugs and commit acts of violence and terror," he said. "This bill will keep dangerous offenders off our streets and make our communities safer."

But NDP Leader Adrian Dix, speaking after a Rotary Club lunch in Chilliwack, said the BC Liberals had not taken into account in the recent budget the costs of implementing the federal crime legislation.

"There's no question the cost will be in the hundreds of millions of dollars," he said.

"What's problematic here is the vast increase in mandatory minimum sentences under two years, which will lead frankly to huge costs in our justice system," he said.

The federal government is responsible for inmates jailed for over two years.

Dix said the federal government "needs to step up and pay" for the increased provincial costs.

"We need to ensure especially that violence is dealt with in our society ... but it's not good enough to just pass a law and talk tough on crime," he said.

Mandatory minimum sentences for possession of small amounts of marijuana, he added, "are going to clog our justice system" which is already seeing backlogs that result in judicial stays of charges against convicted criminals.

B.C. Attorney-General Shirley Bond said in an email to The Progress that the provincial government supports the federal government's commitment to tackling crime and improving public safety.

But she said B.C. has "led the discussions on the need for the federal government to consult with us on proclamation dates."

"B.C. has also expressed its concerns about potential costs, and we have agreed to work constructively with the federal government to ensure that implementation occurs over a sufficient amount of time," she said.

"With respect to costs and overall impacts to the system, this is complex and challenging to calculate," she continued. "The factors that need to be considered, and are subject to fluctuation, include crime rates at any given time, the availability of police, daily inmate counts, and client counts, for instance."

But she said B.C. is "probably better positioned than most provinces to accommodate" the new legislation because the province is in the midst of a $185-million capital expansion — "the largest in BC Corrections' history."

"Over the next two years, it will add 340 cells across the province to hold more than 600 offenders," she said.

The Quebec provincial government has vowed it will do everything in it can to limit implementation of the new legislation because of the anticipated costs.

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