Ever since the announcement was made that Kemptville is to be the site of the new Greater Ottawa Correctional Facility, there has been an unsettling lack of solid information about the facility and how it might affect North Grenville in general, and Kemptville in particular.
The one sure thing we know is that the Ontario Government has decided the new prison will be located here, and any consultations with residents in future will not change that decision.
There has been a great deal of speculation, gossip, and inaccurate information that has been spreading through the community because of this lack of information from the office of the Solicitor General and from local MPP, Steve Clark.
Mayor Peckford has been in touch with both sources on a very regular basis since the announcement, seeking clarification on a number of issues. The Mayor has been trying to counter the rumours wherever she can, and there have been some important facts uncovered as a result. The Ontario Government says it had looked at approximately 100 potential sites for the prison before settling on Kemptville, and one of the more interesting aspects of the matter is that, according to Mayor Peckford, Steve Clark and the Solicitor General’s staff seemed surprised by the opposition they encountered in North Grenville. They were, she says, obviously pleased with their research and, when Minister Clark first called her late on a Monday evening to tell her of the upcoming announcement in Brockville on Thursday, he sounded as though he was bringing some good news. The last thing the Mayor was expecting was a prison.
She agrees that the entire affair has not been handled well by the province: a lack of information, followed by a slow rationing out of further details, has only fired opposition and scepticism in the general public. What seemed at first to be presented as a medium security facility, is now understood to be a facility that will accommodate offenders of all security levels, including some on remand. Both male and female inmates prisoners will be housed in Kemptville, most, if not all, coming from parts of Eastern Ontario, as part of a greater effort by the province to improve correctional services in this part of the province.
Mayor Peckford has also been in conversation with the John Howard Society, and their representative assures her that this facility is not a danger to the community. Her research into other towns with prisons shows that the municipal leaders there have welcomed the facilities as a positive asset to their communities.
The Stakeholders Session on October 30 included representatives from groups opposing the facility, as well as representatives from all four boards on the Kemptville Campus, faith communities, KDH, and representatives from the local BIA. Not all of them came out of the session reassured by what they heard, and Nancy and her council colleagues are very aware that this community is divided on the issue. But, she says, they were elected to represent everybody, not just one side, and that is what they are trying to do.
However, opponents of the prison feel that Council is not doing enough to confront the province. That is not what mayor and council feel is the right approach at this time. The facts are that the province intends going ahead with the facility, regardless. What council is doing is to ensure that this will not come at ANY financial cost to taxpayers or the municipality. The province has agreed to obtain, and pay for, whatever building and related permits the municipality would normally expect, and the province will pay for all services supplied by the municipality, in the same way as KDH and similar institutions pay now.
It may seem that the only input the community will have when it comes to public consultations later this month are cosmetic, such as the precise siting of the prison on the 182-acre site. But other aspects are also being looked at by mayor and council. For example, what is to be done with the rest of the acreage not needed by the prison? What role will local trades and builders have in the construction? What opportunities will local caterers and suppliers have? Given that the province has just announced the hiring of 35 new correctional officers, the first of more than 500 they plan to hire and train, to be posted near their home regions, what are the employment prospects for local residents?
Mayor and council believe they are doing all they can, given the continuing gaps in information from the province. Mayor Peckford is adamant that North Grenville will have its say, and residents will be protected, financially and socially, from the arrival of the prison. But it is clear that the province have handled this roll-out badly, and mayor and council were unprepared for it, as was the entire community. It is incumbent on Steve Clark and the Solicitor General to be more forthcoming with facts and assurances. Whichever way it goes, there will be those who oppose and those who support this project. And, as with the controversy over building the Municipal Centre some years ago, they will probably both turn out to be right.