Access to Information request reveals lack of transparency about prison plan

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by Colleen Lynas, Coalition Against the Proposed Prison and,
Kirk Albert, Jail Opposition Group

Regarding the selection of Kemptville as the site for the proposed “Greater Ottawa Correctional Complex”, the results of a November 2020 Access to Information Request fail to reflect the transparency the Ministry of the Solicitor General (SolGen) committed to in its public communications. Received earlier this month, the release package comprises only 10 pages of visible content from a total of 145 pages of documents related to the request, with the remainder withheld.

Even the small amount of information that was released by the provincial government reveals concerning information and critical facts that SolGen failed to provide to the community. Some readers may recall SolGen statements that indicated there were more than 100 properties considered for selection as the prison site. However, the released documents reference the assessment of only 38 properties, with six, and then later only four shortlisted. Notably, properties removed included those with a “lack of municipal servicing, no access to transit, or significant natural heritage constraints.” Yet the documentation notes, that the Kemptville site itself, fails to meet, or “only partially” meets, criteria that excluded other properties including: preferred distance of less than 40 kms from the Ottawa Carleton Detention Centre (OCDC); municipal servicing; and “natural heritage constraints and hazards with respect to the watercourse on the east perimeter and the woodlot on the southwest corner.”

Access to transit is identified among the selection criteria in several documents. In one, the lack of transit in Kemptville is identified, yet a perplexing and contradictory statement is found elsewhere, “there is access to public transit from Kemptville to Ottawa with the municipality looking to expand this service for the local community”. The same document reads, “IO [Infrastructure Ontario], along with the ministry, will need to work with the municipality to investigate and determine the feasibility of the extension of services/transit and the ability to rezone/re-designate as required”.

Speculation about Kemptville eventually replacing the OCDC is supported in the released documents. Consider the following, “although this exceeds the ministry’s criteria of a preferred distance … the ministry analyzed current staffing home locations and the data provided demonstrates the majority of current OCDC staff live within the 40 km boundary to the proposed Kemptville property”. The same document states, “the parcel, at 178 acres, meets the ministry’s size constraints with potential future expansion if necessary.” At the October 2020 stakeholder meeting, which we both attended, SolGen staff did not acknowledge that expansion potential was a consideration, despite being directly asked about it.

The answer as to why Kemptville was short-listed and ultimately chosen may or may not lie in the scores of redacted pages. Why has Sol Gen withheld so much information from the community? Why did MPP Clark fail to advise and consult his constituents when the documents reveal that SolGen sought a hold on the property on September 26, 2019? What discussions were held with the municipality on the subject of transit and other matters? It is rather disappointing to be confronted with this blatant lack of transparency, but nonetheless the answers to these and other questions need to be pursued.

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