by Jim Bertram
In recent editions of the Times, the 15 month old discussion of the proposed prison to be located in Kemptville has continued without pause. I myself first wrote a commentary on this subject in August, 2020, four days after the peremptory provincial announcement of the future construction of a prison in Kemptville. Shortly thereafter, I began the organisation of a group called Jail Opposition Group (JOG) with the following mandate: “To raise questions publicly concerning the proposed jail, questions which would relate to consequences of this jail’s construction which would be potentially harmful for North Grenville residents. And to oppose such harmful effects.” Of course, the definition of these harmful effects depends on one’s available information and personal values. Hence, not all points of view have been uniform.
Given the very loose format of JOG’s organisation around the aforementioned general mandate, specific opinions espoused by members of the JOG group have varied, but they have generally concerned the following ideas at core:
- JOG categorically rejects the province’s imposition of the jail project on Kemptville without preliminary consultation with the residents of Kemptville AND their representatives. Our Council has stated publicly that they were not aware of this project before it was announced. We believe our community’s residents’ democratic rights should be respected. And they have NOT been. Continuing misrepresentations on the official level only deepen the insult to our local people.
- JOG is categorically opposed to the imposition of ANY costs of the project on the taxpayers of North Grenville, in whole or in part. Given the history of provincial downloading, this is a real danger. And here are a few downloads to watch for among others:
- Infrastructure changes and additions necessitated by the prison construction will impact the wastewater and drinking water infrastructures. The province should pay for these items on a permanent basis. Make sure they do!
- Additional policing costs necessitated by the prison should be paid for on a permanent basis by the province. Good luck there. If one thinks that’s trivial, have a look at the municipal budget. When I was on Council, those costs amounted to roughly 15% of the total budget. Those costs will go much higher with the prison requirements.
- Potential negative results in the area of economic growth. Jails won’t grow our local economy. My articles in 2020 on this subject included dozens of American and Canadian academic studies which pointed to disappointing results in small towns which experienced the arrival of new prisons. Note that the studies considered small towns to have an urban footprint of around 20,000 persons. Kemptville’s urban footprint was 4,000 in 2016. (Census 2016)
- Opposition to the misrepresentation and suppression of information from official provincial sources, repeated extensively in the past by municipal politicians.
- Opposition to attempts by the province and persons unknown to suppress public discussion of the jail issue. The first incident occurred in early November, 2020, which resulted in my being barred from Facebook following a complaint by a source because my posted newspaper articles ostensibly did not meet community standards. The second incident occurred a few weeks ago, when the provincial government attempted to enlist the help of Elections Ontario to hinder the activities of JOG and its sister opposition group, CAPP. These actions speak eloquently to the character and values of the authors of those acts, as well as to the validity of their claims.
JOG members continue to draw attention frankly and directly to issues affecting the interests and rights of the residents of Kemptville, and how these will be affected by the imposition of the new jail. Some choose to see our direct action as disturbingly divisive. That is only true if our community cannot tolerate honest questions. I have been told I am rude for my actions in throwing light onto some very important issues for NG residents. But complaining in six years when the results are here won’t do the trick. Now is the time to express yourselves. Our municipal representatives have at long last begun to tentatively add some of JOG’s issues to their public message. Better late than never I guess, but not much leadership there. As has been the case from the beginning, leadership has been shown by residents themselves standing up for their community. So – please join us. Have your say. Buy a sign. Write a comment on Facebook, as I no longer can. Because, if you believe the province will take care of you without your paying attention on this issue, good luck. Above all, be active in your own interest, if not in the interest of others.