Treasury Board President Stockwell Day says the government will go ahead with its plan to spend billions for new prisons, suggesting statistics that show crime is declining in Canada are not accurate.
During a news conference on Tuesday in Ottawa, Day said the government has received indications that more and more people are not reporting crimes committed against them.
"It shows we can’t take a Liberal view to crime which is, some would suggest, that it is barely happening at all," Day said. "Still, there are too many situations of criminal activity that are alarming to our citizens, and we intend to deal with that."
When questioned by perplexed reporters, Day did not elaborate on what information source he was basing his claims, but said he would provide figures to them later.
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Speaking shortly after Day, Liberal MP Mark Holland said his comments show Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government "doesn't have any respect for facts."
"You don't make up statistics to try to scare people and use crime as a wedge issue," Holland told reporters in Ottawa.
In a statement to CBC News on Tuesday afternoon, Justice Minister Rob Nicholson's office cited Statistics Canada's report of its last general social survey conducted in 2004, which found an estimated 34 per cent of Canadians who are victims of crime still aren't reporting the crime to police.
The statement said Day was "correct in his assertion that many crimes go unreported in Canada" and "[t]he amount of unreported victimization can be substantial."
According to the Statistics Canada survey, conducted every five years, an estimated 88 per cent of sexual assaults go unreported, as well as an estimated 69 per cent of household thefts, the minister's office said.
The information gathered from the 2009 survey on unreported crimes has yet to be released.
Fiscal restraint, census changes staying
In the meantime, the federal government will not ease off on plans for fiscal restraint in other departments, despite indications Canada could eliminate its deficit a year earlier than predicted, Day said.
Last week, the Conference Board of Canada said the federal government should be able to eliminate the annual budget deficit by 2015. The business think-tank said in a report it depends on the government sticking to its promises to constrain spending.
Day said that while the global economic recovery is still "somewhat fragile," the government will continue with its freezes on spending, as well as departmental reviews to look for savings.
"We will be sticking to our fiscal plan," Day said.
In its February budget, the federal government projected a budgetary shortfall of $54 billion in 2010 but said annual deficits should be eliminated through spending cuts by 2016.
The treasury board president also was adamant that the Conservative government will stick with its controversial plan to scrap the mandatory long-form census.
The government has faced a month of turmoil ever since it announced in late June it would end the mandatory survey and replace it with a voluntary form. Opposition parties, statisticians' groups, provinces, municipalities and social agencies have condemned the move, saying it would lower the quality of data gathered by Statistics Canada and used by a wide array of policy makers.
The government has maintained Canadians should not be coerced through threat of jail time or fines to fill out information they don't want to disclose.
When questioned by reporters over the opposition parties' suggestions to amend the Statistics Act to remove the threat of jail time for those who refuse to fill out long-form census, Day said the government is "open to discussion" on any move to stop "criminalizing Canadians" who don't want to answer "intrusive" questions.
Day maintained the mandatory long-form survey will be abandoned in the spring 2011 census, but said the short-form census will remain compulsory because the government requires "some basic data."
He also questioned the value of information gathered by the census, suggesting data older than a year is "untenable in today's information age."
Day also acknowledged he has only heard directly from three people on the census issue in his constituency.