by Brandon Mayer, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
A rally protesting the proposed Kemptville prison was attended by dozens of vocal supporters at the Kemptville Campus on November 13. The rally was organized by the Coalition Against the Proposed Prison, also known as CAPP Kemptville, in advance of the province’s planned engagement session on November 17. Colleen Lynas acted as the host of the event, which featured a lineup of local speakers who each provided a different piece of the antiprison puzzle. Speaker Chris Wilson spoke to the crowd first, arguing that prisons do not make communities safer. He pointed out that vulnerable, marginalized groups need help, including mental health resources, rather than incarceration. Chris strongly questioned the need to spend large sums of money building a prison when “we could just spend way less to prevent people from being criminalized in the first place.” He also criticized Leeds Grenville MPP Steve Clark for his role in the prison project.
A chant of “Hey hey, ho ho, that darn prison’s got to go” was eagerly belted out by most of the attending crowd, and was the first of many group displays of unhappiness regarding the proposed prison project. Throughout the rally, members of the crowd routinely shouted messages such as “they’re cowards!” referring to provincial government officials, and “shame!” referring to the lack of consultation regarding the prison project. Former Police Services Board Chair Don Sherrit brought a different issue to the fore of the discussion. He pointed out that the additional policing costs that naturally arise in prison towns would be passed along to North Grenville property owners in the form of higher property taxes. He revealed that the prison would only be on the hook for about $17,000 in property taxes, which is very small compared to the potential for hundreds of thousands of dollars in bills from the Ontario Provincial Police for additional policing.
Sarah Bowie spoke next, providing her financial wisdom. Using hypothetical numbers, she argued that a figure which would increase the average North Grenville tax bill by $67 yearly would only impact Ottawa taxpayers by about $1 yearly. This is because Ottawa has a far greater number of taxpayers to share the burden of the costs of a prison. Sarah also spoke about her experience living in a prison town, and argued that a prison would worsen other problems such as affordable housing in North Grenville.
Other arguments were put forward in opposition to the prison. One is that a prison in Kemptville would be inaccessible to anyone looking to visit an inmate, unless they drive and can afford the price of gasoline. Another is that there was insufficient consultation by the provincial government with members of the North Grenville community regarding the proposed prison. Yet another is that too much information has been withheld or covered up regarding the plans for the prison, raising questions about what was supposed to be a transparent project.
The rally concluded with a mention of the November 17 engagement session, and a warning that provincial officials may attempt to give socalled “non-answers” to questions from the public. The rally group showed strong support for the idea of each member of the public repeating the question of the person who spoke before them if the answer provided is deemed to be inadequate or a “nonanswer”.
The rally ended with supportive applause from the attendees after approximately 45 minutes.