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Conservatives table new crime data

Minister of Justice Rob Nicholson responds to a question during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Thursday June 6, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick.

OTTAWA – Justice Minister Rob Nicholson has agreed to table new crime data in Parliament following a Global News story this week.

Nicholson said Thursday night in the House of Commons he would present an amended version of a report relating to his government’s not criminally responsible legislation.

But he denied misleading Parliament.

“The incorrect statements were not known to be incorrect; and they were certainly not made with any intention whatsoever to mislead the House,” Nicholson said.

He was responding to a question of privilege from Liberal Ted Hsu, who alleged data offered by Nicholson and Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver in support of Bill C-54 was not accurate and violated his privileges as an MP.

“The government knew but kept members in the dark – and by its own admission made an effort to conceal,” Hsu said Wednesday.

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The minister’s office received an amended version of the report in March, but did not present it in Parliament. Some Conservative MPs were recently citing statistics from the old report, which the researchers believed to be significantly wrong.

Nicholson said Oliver, one of the government MPs who cited the old statistics last month, was provided with supporting documentation “that in error” included statistics from the November 2012 version of the report.

“To suggest that by referring to this data was a deliberate attempt to mislead the House is preposterous,” Nicholson said.

“This was nothing more, quite frankly, than an honest mistake, not of his own doing, and I hope this addresses entirely the matter pertaining to the honourable minister. “

He said in drafting the bill, the government relied on a variety of information.

“I believe profoundly that the measures contained in our legislation are balanced, reasonable and carefully drafted. We want to ensure that those who are mentally ill and who pose a serious danger to the public and to themselves get the treatment that they need,” said Nicholson.

The government commissioned the report from four researchers who had been working on a large study about NCR accused in British Columbia, Ontario, and Quebec.

The academics presented the report to the justice department in November 2012, and that version was labelled “final.”

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But in March, the researchers say they discovered significant “coding error” that altered the statistics, lowering past findings of NCR among accused.

For example, the original report said 38.1 per cent of sex offenders found not criminally responsible and accused of a sex offence had at least one prior NCR finding; that number was changed in the March report to 9.5 per cent.

Nicholson’s office has since called the data unreliable and suggested it misinformed the debate.

The researchers say they made an honest mistake.

“To attack the data and the research on the basis that it is unreliable is, frankly, insulting,” said Calgary-based psychologist Patrick Baillie.

The amended report was presented to the justice department on March 18. But the government still presented the old version on March 27. Although it alerted Parliament to “a significantly amended” version, it did not offer the amended report to Parliament.

Nicholson pointed out that the amended version was available online on the researchers’ website, the National Trajectory Project at www.ntp-ptn.org, but a login is required to access all the information.

“I would also point out that nothing, at any time between March and today, June 13, 2013, has stopped any member of the House to ask the government a follow-up order paper question or just ask us to table the amended version.”

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NDP House leader Nathan Cullen also weighed in on the debate Thursday, suggesting the Conservatives have misled the House to suit their political agenda.

“The Conservatives purposefully used the old and incorrect numbers because they made a better case for their version of the legislation. They used the numbers that pleased them instead of using the facts that were true,” he said.

Hsu’s office said he would be addressing the issue again in the House on Monday.