Crime bill will hurt Nunavut, territorial minister says

Nunavut's justice minister warns of the potential impacts the federal government's tough-on-crime bill might have in the territory.

Daniel Shewchuk says Nunavut's justice system is already overburdened

Nunavut's justice minister warns of the potential impacts the federal government’s tough-on-crime bill might have in the territory.

Daniel Shewchuk appeared in Ottawa Thursday morning before a Senate committee examining the bill. He gave the committee a clear message — that the bill will have "severe" consequences for Nunavut at facilities like the Baffin Correctional Centre.

Shewchuk told the senators that conditions in the territory are bad enough to make him concerned about the safety of the staff and the prisoners.

The facility was built to house 48 inmates. Today, close to 100 men are behind its bars. Shewchuk warned that Bill C-10 would only make the problems worse.

"I can't express enough to you how much of a concern this is to us," he said.

Nunavut Justice Minister Daniel Shewchuk told a Senate committee Thursday that the Conservative tough-on-crime bill will have 'severe' consequences for the territory, which already has an overburdened justice system. (CBC)

The court system in Nunavut is already backed up. Shewchuk said money the territory gets from Ottawa to pay for its justice system would be stretched even further.

He also said mandatory minimum sentences would limit judges’ options.

"In Nunavut, we need our court system and our judges to have the flexibility to sentence involving the community and societal values of Inuit," he said.

Conservative members of the Senate committee fired back.

"So looking at this from the victims' point of view, I have to say I have a hard time understanding your concern," said Senator Linda Frum.

"I think you have to admit that obviously what is occurring at the moment is not being successful," said Senator Bob Runciman.

Shewchuk did have one other request. He asked that when it's passed, the implementation of the bill be delayed in Nunavut to give the territory more time to prepare for the impacts he believes it will have.

Other provinces also concerned about bill's cost

Justice ministers in other parts of Canada have also expressed concern over the proposed legislation, which is called the Safe Streets and Communities bill.

P.E.I. Justice Minister Janice Sherry said the bill would burden the province’s taxpayers. Ontario’s Correctional Services Minister Madeleine Meilleur said the bill would cost Ontario taxpayers $1 billion.

Newfoundland's minister has said the bill would overwhelm the province's maxed-out court system and send a large influx of prisoners to its jails.

Quebec Justice Minister Jean-Marc Fournier said he wants Ottawa to cover the cost of implementing the bill.

Other provinces, including British Columbia, Alberta and New Brunswick support the proposed changes.