Aug 03 2010
OTTAWA—Opposition critics are scratching their heads over Stockwell Day's claim that Canada needs more prisons in part because many crimes go unreported.
Day, president of the Treasury Board, was asked Tuesday why the Conservative government intends to spend billions of dollars on expanding prisons at a time of falling crime.
“People simply aren't reporting the same way they used to,” he responded. “I'm saying one statistic of many that concerns us is the amount of crimes that go unreported. Those numbers are alarming and it shows that we can't take a liberal view to crime.”
Day added that the government's tough on crime agenda, including longer jail sentences, may result in “an up-tick in incarceration.”
The minister didn't provide evidence of an increase in unreported crimes, or a description of what types of crime go unreported, but said his office would follow up.
A spokesperson for the justice minister said Day was referring to the General Social Survey conducted by Statistics Canada that asks individuals if they have been victims of crimes and if they reported the incidents to police.
Results of the 2009 survey conducted every five years will not be published until September, but the 2004 report does show a slight decrease, from 37 per cent to 34 per cent, of reported crimes.
Statistics Canada's latest compilation of crime reported to police, issued last month, shows overall crime dropped by seven per cent in 2007, continuing a downward trend since the rate peaked in 1991. The report found a decline in homicides, attempted murders, sexual assaults and robberies.
Still, Day said the government will push ahead with its tough-on-crime agenda, including building new prisons. He added the government supports more mandatory sentences to take discretion away from judges, increased jail times and eliminating “discount sentencing.”
Liberal MP Mark Holland accused the government of trying to justify a bad policy with non-existent statistics. If anything, he said, reporting of sexual crime — which is historically under-reported — has increased over the years as the stigma has lessened.
But even if the minister is correct, Holland wondered how that would result in the need for more prison spaces.
“You need prisons to lock up people who are not being charged? Unless you are suggesting throwing away habeas corpus and rounding up everybody who looks suspicious, it makes no sense.”
New Democrat MP Don Davies said the government is again choosing ideology over the facts.
“Crime rates have been dropping steadily and consistently across categories for decades,” he said. “So faced with those statistics, they turn to unreported crimes. Why in 2010 would you be less likely to report a crime than in 1980 or 1990?”
In March, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews also referred to victimization surveys to make the case that crime has not declined in Canada. Toews told a parliamentary committee that surveys compiled by Statistics Canada in 1999 and 2004 showed “a huge increase in crime in this country ... I believe it's somewhere between 15 per cent and 19 per cent.”
An agency analyst said the No. 1 reason given by individuals for not calling the police about a crime is that they believe it was not serious enough. Only two per cent said they feared retribution, and one per cent said they felt the police may be biased.