The country's justice ministers began a three-day meeting in Charlottetown Tuesday with the federal government's new crime bill and their concerns about associated costs at the top of the agenda.
Ottawa's Safe Streets and Communities bill, also known as Bill C-10, would result in several changes, including mandatory minimum sentences for certain crimes, the elimination of double credit for time served, and changes to young offender laws.
P.E.I.'s Justice Minister Janice Sherry is worried about how much the bill would cost Island taxpayers.
"Certainly it has an impact on legal aid, it has an impact on the Crown, it has an impact on the courts, and of course it has an impact on our citizens," she said.
Sherry also worries about how fast the changes would come.
The bill passed its final vote in the House of Commons last month and is now in the hands of the Senate.
"The proclamation date will have an impact. You know, we need to have some lead time. You know, how much time are we going to have to look at what our needs are going to be when C-10 does come into effect?"
Corrections officials are currently assessing the financial impact on each of the Atlantic provinces, said Sherry.
She hopes to have the report by the end of the month, she said.
Will seek aid from Ottawa
Meanwhile, Sherry and some of the other provincial ministers will be asking for Ottawa to help cover the extra costs when federal Justice Minister Rob Nicholson joins the meeting on Wednesday.
Recent amendments already in effect have contributed to a 30 per cent year-over-year increase in bed days at P.E.I. correctional facilities, justice officials have said.
Ontario says the latest crime bill could cost its taxpayers more than $1 billion in increased police and correctional service costs.
"We hope that the feds will be open to negotiate with the province for extra costs," said Correctional Services Minister Madeleine Meilleur.
Quebec also wants some help, said Justice Minister Jean-Marc Fournier.
"You know, the federal government is responsible for the criminal code. But provinces are responsible for the administration of that code. So we should collaborate," he said.
"And I think that when an initiative is taken by one government, he should give money to support his initiative."
But not all provinces are as concerned about the costs.
"Our position is it costs what it costs," said Alberta Justice Minister Verlyn Olson. "And we're not making these kinds of important decisions based only on costs. It's a question of public security."