North Grenville residents in opposition to the proposed Eastern Ontario Correctional Complex (EOCC) protested at the Kemptville Campus on September 14. The protest took place in advance of one of the Town Hall sessions organized to support the development of a Strategic Plan to guide the growth of North Grenville over the next decade. For protestors, it’s clear that a prison is not something that they want to see reflected in that plan.
Colleen Lynas of the Coalition Against the Proposed Prison (CAPP) explained, “we felt it was particularly important to remind the people of North Grenville, as well as Council and municipal staff, that you can’t develop a Strategic Plan for this community without recognizing the elephant in the room, which is this planned prison.” To Kirk Albert of the Jail Opposition Group (JOG), the protest demonstrated that “there’s a lot of opposition in this town”, and that this should be taken into account in any conversation about “strategy for the next five to ten years.”
Colleen went on to explain how “the imposition of the prison will have a very negative effect on many of the great ideas that will be generated today and have been generated to date. You can’t pretend that plans like campus development, downtown revitalization, and tourism will not be negatively impacted. I think we’ve done a pretty good job showing that in the last year. We have worked hard to change the narrative, with facts from experts, to really show the community that a lot of the early talking points about how positive this prison was going to be simply don’t hold water.”
The impact of this work is clear. Colleen has “seen a big shift in the messaging from the Mayor and other Council members. They’ve changed their narrative to say that there’s nothing they can do. But our message will continue to be that if the Municipality decided to take a different position, and look to the backing of this community, they would have it. We could have a very different outcome.”
Kirk remains dismayed that over a year has passed since EOCC was announced, and though the public was promised transparency and honesty, he says “we’ve received none of it.” The efforts of JOG and CAPP, he says, are “not to create confusion or cause harm. It’s really to put at the forefront that this isn’t right. We’re a small community, we will remain a small community, and it’s being forced upon us.” Jim Bertram, who was attending the protest, said that, from an economic perspective, he has “made the argument early on that this is far too small a town to even think of this.”
There is precedent for this concern. In 2019, the Ministry of the Solicitor General ceased funding for increased policing costs at provincial institutions. The Town of Penetanguishene, home of the Central North Correctional Centre, had been promised the financial burden of the correctional facility would not fall on local taxpayers: and yet they could be facing as much as a $400,000 increase in yearly taxes as a result of the Province’s cuts. Kirk suspects that “it’s going to be the same here.”
Kirk also pointed out that, recently, an Ontario court found the Province to be breaking laws on mandated public consultation in the Environmental Bill of Rights. Our own MPP, Steve Clark, was among those under fire for failing to consult with the public until after using a Ministerial Zoning Order. Kirk says it seems that “not consulting with the public, the voters, the people that put them in place, is rampant.” Kirk isn’t the only one feeling this way. The sign carried by one protester read: “No Prison. No Dictators. Shame on MPP Steve Clark.”
For protestors, it is crucial that the proposed EOCC stay at the forefront in discussions about the future of North Grenville. Kirk expressed the sentiments of many: “The people here today, including myself and my family, want to live here in the future. We don’t want to be impacted by this infrastructure. It’s not a good fit for us, and it never will be.”