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BC justice minister declines to release estimate of crime bill costs

British Columbia government officials have been working for months to figure out how much the federal omnibus crime bill will cost the province, but Justice Minister Shirley Bond is keeping the results of that work secret.

"Cost analysis will be a necessarily imprecise affair, with ranges of likely costs only," warned a Nov. 14, 2011 government analysis that was released this week as part of a 223-page response to a freedom of information request posted on the government's website.

"The criminal justice system is a human system and predicting human behaviour, on the part of accused, defence counsel, Crown counsel and judges Is fraught with challenges," it said. "Nonetheless further best efforts analysis of the cost implications is underway and will be available in the near future."

Three weeks later, on Dec. 2, 2011, a staff person in Deputy Attorney General David Loukidelis' office sent an email to officials in the ministries of the Attorney General and Solicitor General that included attachments labelled "Bill C-10 Costs" and "C10 Costing Document".

While the documents released by the government show extensive work went into estimating costs associated with the federal bill, the actual figures were censored prior to its release.

"This isn't a matter of not wanting to share information," said Justice Minister Shirley Bond today, declining to release the figures ministry staff have estimated.

The government doesn't yet have a cost estimate, she said. "We've been very clear that I'm not going to put numbers into the public realm that I don't have a lot of confidence in in terms of all the factors we have to look at," she said. "One of the major factors is the bill hasn't even been brought into force yet."

The federal government introduced Bill C-10 on Sept. 20, 2011 and passed it on March 12, 2012. The bill included minimum sentences for a variety of crimes that are expected to add costs for provincial justice systems.

Bond said B.C. has been expanding capacity in the corrections system and supports many of the federal government's changes.

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Find him on Twitter or reach him here.

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