Human Resources Minister Diane Finley, denouncing the federal payments to prisoners as “offensive and outrageous,” said the bill would repeal benefits for 400 federal prisoners serving sentences of two years or more.
“We can take action now to ensure that this grossly inappropriate practice is discontinued,” Ms. Finley told a news conference.
The government is also negotiating with the provinces to cut off benefits for inmates in provincial jails, which house offenders serving less than two years.
“Once we get all the provinces and territories signed up, we’re talking about 1,000 people at any given point in time,” said Ms. Finley.
She estimated savings of about $2-million annually by ending benefits for federal prisoners, and up to $10-million once provincial prisoners are included.
Finley said she does not expect resistance from the provinces, since most of them already withhold provincial benefits from jailed seniors.
The bill comes less than three months after it came to public light that Olson, 70, is receiving $1,100 monthly in payments under the Old-Age Security and Guaranteed Income Supplement.
Olson’s monthly cheques are put in a trust account while he continues to serve 11 consecutive life sentences in a Quebec federal penitentiary for the murder of 11 children in British Columbia in the early 1980s.
The Canadian Taxpayers Federation, which has lobbied for the last few months to end benefits for seniors, delivered a 46,000-signature petition to the government in April.
Craig Jones, executive director of the John Howard Society, a prisoner-rights group, has accused the Harper Conservatives of developing legislation in haste to divert attention from other problems plaguing the government.
Mr. Jones warned against quickly crafting new laws, based on the most extreme examples of offenders.
Ms. Finley said Tuesday the government did not realize, before it came to light in a March news report, that prisoners were among the four million Canadian seniors receiving income supplements.
The Old-Age Supplement is funded through general tax revenues and is designed to help seniors meet their immediate, basic needs in retirement.
Since an inmate’s food and shelter, are already covered by public funds, there is no reason for Canadian taxpayers to also fund income support, said Ms. Finley.
Prisoners, upon release, would be eligible to apply for benefits.
Also, low-income spouses of incarcerated seniors will continue to be eligible for income supplements.
Sharon Rosenfeldt, whose son was among Olson’s victims, said in a government news release Tuesday that “it’s great to see that this government is putting victims and taxpayers first, ahead of criminals.”
Feds cut pension payments to cons
OTTAWA - The Conservative government is moving to cut federal payments to elderly criminals behind bars.
Calling it "offensive and outrageous" that mass murderers like Clifford Olson are collecting taxpayer-funded benefits while doing time in penitentiaries, Human Resources Minister Diane Finley tabled a bill Tuesday to terminate Old Age Security and Guaranteed Income Supplements of about $1,200 a month.
"Canadians who work hard, who contribute to the system, who play by the rules, deserve government benefits such as Old Age Security," she said.
"It's wrong and obviously unfair that prisoners who break the rules receive the same entitlements."
It's also "deeply insulting" to the victims and their families, she said.
Finley estimated the legislation - called Ending Entitlements for Prisoners - will affect some 400 federal prisoners and save the government about $2 million a year initially. If the provinces and territories sign on to exclude payments to inmates serving 90 days or more in provincial jail, savings could reach about $10 million annually by barring about 1,000 offenders.
Spouse or common-law partners of incarcerated offenders will still be eligible to receive the payments.
"We're not punishing them for the deeds of their spouse," Finley said.
The government began crafting legislative changes after a QMI Agency report revealed Olson was receiving about $1,200 a month in payments while incarcerated for killing 11 children.
Craig Jones, executive director of the John Howard Society, accused the government of crafting "drive-by legislation" based on "hair-on-fire" reactions to notorious names and sensational headlines.
"This is no way for a mature democracy to conduct its public affairs. We are one of the most successful democracies in the world, and I think we should be more deliberative and less reactive, emotional and opportunistic," he said.
Liberal MP and public safety critic Mark Holland accused the Conservatives of exploiting public emotion to pass hasty legislation on the "back of a napkin."
"This government has a tendency to try to play games with crime and I think this might be another example," he said. "We want to take a look at what exactly the government is going to propose, who it's going to impact. Clearly we don't want to make it a situation where somebody who's in jail and committed a minor offense is suddenly losing their pension."
NDP Leader Jack Layton said that while he understands the upset over criminals like Olson collecting pensions, his party wants to study the bill carefully to make sure it is constitutional.