North Grenville Council held a special meeting last week to allow concerned citizens the opportunity to share their thoughts on the proposed prison.
The building of the Eastern Ontario Correctional Complex (originally known as the Greater Ottawa Correctional Complex) was announced by the Ontario government on August 27, 2020. The new facility is part of a $500 million investment to modernize correctional facilities in Eastern Ontario.
Since the announcement, many North Grenville residents have voiced their concern about the impact the prison might have on the community. This led to the creation of two advocacy groups, the Jail Opposition Group (JOG) and the Coalition Against the Proposed Prison (CAPP). Both groups have been extremely vocal over the past few months, trying to get answers from MPP Steve Clark and the Ministry of the Solicitor General about the complex. They have been encouraging council to stand with them in opposing the establishment of the jail in Kemptville.
Mayor Nancy Peckford said at the meeting last Tuesday evening that council’s response to the proposed prison has been carefully weighed. They recognize the significant concern in the community about the new 235-bed facility and see their job as ensuring that these concerns are heard, and that decisions made about the prison do not disrupt plans for tourism, economic development, the Kemptville Campus or undermine the quality of life of residents. “We are at the table and we expect the Ontario government to deliver,” she said.
All members of council as well as representatives from MPP Clark’s office and the Ministry of the Solicitor General were present at the virtual meeting to hear nine presentations from individuals and community groups, all against the proposed prison.
While many of the presentations were from concerned North Grenville residents and groups like JOG and CAPP, there were also a couple people with in-depth knowledge of the correctional system in Ontario who spoke. This included Bryonie Baxter, the former Executive Director of the Elizabeth Fry Society, as well as Dr. Aaron Doyle and Dr. Justin Piché from the department of criminology at Carleton University. All spoke about the serious problems in Ontario’s criminal justice system and how building another jail is not the answer. The Solicitor General’s office has stated that this facility will be state of the art and focus on the rehabilitation of inmates, however Aaron says this is unlikely. “More and more policy makers are seeing that prison does not rehabilitate people and instead damages them,” he said. “Prisons are full of poor, homeless, very often racialized or Indigenous people who are ground down and dehumanized by deprivation, poor healthcare and food, filth, boredom, degradation and violence in these institutions. Prisons are the opposite of therapeutic.”
The Ministry has also claimed that the new prison will bring jobs and business to the local economy, however according to the experts at the meeting this is unlikely. Most of the jobs will be given to people who are already employed by the Ministry and food for these institutions is centrally sourced in Milton, Ontario. “There is no local economic benefit,” Aaron said. “Building this prison is a major public policy mistake and permitting it in Kemptville is a major mistake for the town.”
Justin said that instead of investing the $30.4 million a year he estimates it will cost to run the facility, this money could be put towards more social services in the community. “With the funds earmarked to cover the operational costs alone, the province could start addressing the housing crisis, one that sees almost a quarter of people in provincial jails cycling from jail to homelessness, and then from homelessness to jail,” he said. “We need homes, not cages in this province.”
Other presentations addressed the possible uses for the land earmarked for the prison, that would benefit the local community and the province as a whole. Lorraine Rekmans spoke about the importance of recognizing that the land being considered is Algonquin territory and that this has not been acknowledged by the provincial government. She said she was astounded to hear Premier Doug Ford’s remarks stating that there was no third-party interest in the property, especially since the province is in the process of negotiating a land settlement agreement with the Algonquins of Ontario. Lorraine believes it would be a gesture of goodwill to include this large parcel of land in the agreement. “If you would consider that Indigenous people are targeted and racialized and incarcerated, wouldn’t you rather want to welcome them to the area, to a settlement land, than to a correctional institution?” she asked.
Two representatives from a new local advocacy group called Save the Land Kemptville also talked about alternate uses for the land. Should the prison be built, it would sacrifice hundreds of acres of farmland which could be used to address food insecurity in the community. Speaker Alison Toms reminded council of the International Ploughing Match that is coming to the site in 2022 which will bring over 40,000 people to the community. “With a little imagination and some vision, we could use all of the farm side land and buildings in a way that enhances our community’s heritage, history and traditions of agriculture, and draw people to North Grenville,” she said.
It was clear from the presentations from both JOG and CAPP that they are not happy with the Ministry, provincial government or council when it comes to how they have been handling the release of information to the public about the prison since the announcement in August. Miréad Frizell of JOG said their efforts to engage with the province have fallen on deaf ears. “There is a huge lack of transparency since the announcement in August all the way to the public engagement sessions,” she said. “It has been months and so far there are no answers from the solicitor general’s meeting or the November 26 stakeholders meeting.”
Victor Lachance of CAPP had the last word of the formal presentations, holding council to task on their lack of action when it comes to taking a stance on the proposed prison. “I find it disheartening, maybe a little embarrassing, actually, to watch our progressive municipal council simply wave the white flag and surrender to the heavy handedness of the provincial government,” Victor said.
“In this respect you are not representing the interests of the residents of North Grenville and Kemptville, you’re representing the interests of the Ford government.”
Mayor Peckford assured the presenters and all the people watching online that MPP Clark’s office and the Ministry would be taking all the information in the presentations into consideration as the process to establish the Eastern Ontario Correctional Complex in Kemptville progresses. Mayor Peckford also welcomed anyone with further thoughts to send them to; firstname.lastname@example.org. All written comments will be forwarded to the Ministry.