Statements & Speeches

Speech on Bill C-31, An Act to Amend The Old Age Security Act

November 25, 2010

Honourable senators, I am pleased to stand today to speak to legislation that is about justice to so many Canadians. That legislation is the Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners Bill.

Canadians across the country were outraged when they learned that inmates 65 years or over are eligible to receive not only the Old Age Security pension but also the Guaranteed Income Supplement for low-income seniors.

Let me remind honourable senators that the Old Age Security pension provides relatively modest entitlements in recognition of the valuable contributions that seniors have made in building our country and communities; and that under the OAS program, the Guaranteed Income Supplement and the allowances were established to provide low-income seniors and near-seniors with an additional level of income. These benefits are designed to help seniors maintain a minimum standard of living in retirement and to help them meet their basic needs. That is why it is a shock to Canadians to learn that prisoners are also entitled to these benefits.

The purpose of OAS benefits is to help seniors meet their basic needs. This purpose is why the entitlement for prisoners is particularly galling to seniors.

Honourable senators, we can all understand why seniors are upset. Inmates already have their basic needs paid for by public funds. This is why the Government of Canada is amending the Old Age Security Act, so that prisoners will no longer receive Old Age Security benefits while they are incarcerated.

Let me explain briefly exactly what this bill will do. Once passed, Bill C-31 will terminate Old Age Security benefits for prisoners sentenced to more than two years in a federal penitentiary. The federal government will then work with provinces and territories to sign information-sharing agreements to proceed with the termination of these benefits for incarcerated criminals serving 90 days or more in a provincial or territorial institution.

The Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development has written all the provinces and territories to gauge their support. I hope they all agree to move forward with us on this important bill.

Honourable senators, this bill will affect approximately 400 federal inmates and about 600 provincial and territorial inmates per year. In total, implementing this bill will result in a saving to Canadian taxpayers of $2 million annually once the change is made federally. The savings will increase another $8 million to $10 million per year if every province and territory signs on.

I point out that this bill will put the OAS Act in line with other federal and provincial, as well as international, practices. For example, the Working Income Tax Benefit and the Employment Insurance program cease payments of benefits when an individual is incarcerated.

In addition, most of the provinces and territories — British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and the Northwest Territories — do not make social assistance available to inmates, while the United Kingdom, Australia and the United States, among others, all suspend the payment of pensions to prisoners.

It is important to note that this legislation is fair to the spouses of incarcerated individuals. We are ensuring that they are not unduly affected. Spouses will continue to be eligible for the Old Age Security pension, Guaranteed Income Supplement and the allowance. Their entitlements will be reassessed based on the fact that they live alone.

This bill is about treating taxpayers fairly, and this bill is about treating our seniors, who have contributed so much to this country, fairly. It is no wonder that the majority of Canadians find the current situation unacceptable. Taxpayers, who are already paying to support these inmates, also have to pay them OAS.

Canadians feel strongly that federal prisoners should not be entitled to OAS benefits while they are incarcerated and supported by taxpayers’ money.

Honourable senators, I will share some of the views expressed by Canadians in regard to this issue.

Sharon Rosenfeldt is the President of Victims of Violence, and she is also the mother of one of Clifford Olson’s victims. Her life was forever altered by his heinous crimes. When this bill was introduced, this is what she had to say:

It’s great to see that this government is putting victims and taxpayers first ahead of criminals. The suspension of OAS benefit payments to inmates does just that.”

I commend Prime Minister Harper and Minister Diane Finley for taking leadership on this important issue and ending entitlements for convicted criminals.

Ray King is the father of another victim of Clifford Olson. When he learned the government introduced this bill, he stated:

It’s the best news I’ve heard in a long time. I’m quite pleased the government has actually done something.

David Toner, President of Families Against Crime & Trauma, also praised this bill:

We are thrilled that the Prime Minister and the minister have taken leadership and are putting victims ahead of the entitlements of prisoners. I commend the Harper Government for introducing this legislation.

It is not only the families of victims that support this bill. Law enforcement has also been supportive. We have heard from police officers across the country, who believe this bill is the fair and right thing to do.

For example, Vancouver Police Chief Jim Chu applauded the bill and had this to say:

It would be my hope that the innocent victims will no longer feel further victimized by watching their attackers receive old age pensions during their forced retirement from their careers of crime. I’m sure this evolutionary change in legislation will be greeted warmly by the many victims of these criminals.

Taxpayers across the country made their voices heard by signing a Canadian Taxpayers Federation petition in support of this bill. In fact, almost 50,000 Canadians signed the petition. When the bill was introduced, the taxpayers federation said:

When the government does something right, they deserve credit.

As you can see, victims and other major organizations strongly support this piece of legislation.

Honourable senators, prisoners have no need for income support from the Old Age Security pension or the Guaranteed Income Supplement. Taxpayers already pay for prisoners’ basic needs — for their food, shelter, clothing and many other things. The government is amending the Old Age Security Act to ensure public funds are used responsibly and that taxpayers are receiving good value for their hard-earned money.

The government took quick action to put an end to incarcerated criminals receiving taxpayer-funded benefits meant to help Canadian seniors who have contributed so much to our country.

Bill C-31, the proposed Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners Act, puts an end to hard-working Canadian taxpayers paying twice for prisoners. This bill is about the responsible use of public funds and the fair treatment of Canadian taxpayers. We are taking action to put an end to entitlements for prisoners, and to ensure that those Canadians who have spent their lives working hard and playing by the rules receive the benefits they deserve.

This bill is fair and right. It is what Canadians want us to do.

Honourable senators, I urge all of you to support this bill and to pass it quickly.