by Colleen Lynas and Kirk Albert
There was important new information arising from the meeting organized by Mayor Peckford with staff from the Ministry of the Solicitor General and Municipalities Minister, Steve Clark, regarding the proposed prison to be built in North Grenville. More than a dozen community stakeholders participated in the on-line meeting. We were the two residents invited because of our objections to the plan to build in Kemptville. It is now clearer to us that the choice to build here is ill-conceived and a recipe for failure for both Kemptville and the inmates it is meant to serve.
The Stakeholders’ meeting was held on October 30, and was a well-organized event with multiple senior staff members from the Solicitor General’s Office presenting. The two of us were treated respectfully and afforded the opportunity to fully express our opinions and ask questions.
What we learned:
The stated intent is that the new Kemptville facility will house all Ottawa and area provincial prisoners sentenced to two years less a day, as well as an undefined number of inmates on remand (awaiting a trial or sentencing hearing). The bulk of remanded individuals will remain at the Ottawa Carleton Detention Centre (OCDC). Once the Kemptville facility is fully operational, the OCDC will see some sections renovated, while others will be shuttered.
The proposed location on the “farm side property” is in the open area currently housing the A.M. Barr Arena and other buildings, and is bounded by College Road, Highway 44, and the Rail Trail. Landscaping is planned, but there was no reference to plantings that would be large enough to shield the prison from view. It will house minimum, medium, and maximum-security men and women inmates, and will be built to maximum security standards. There is no guarantee the prison footprint will not be expanded in the future.
If the facility is built, Kemptville would be the smallest (by population) Ontario town with a provincial prison in its midst, and, to the best of our knowledge, the only one without a public transit system. Transit infrastructure is critical for families visiting inmates and for inmates released from custody. We do have a Probation and Parole Office in town, but the other community supports services required by inmates and their families, such as homeless shelters and Elizabeth Fry and John Howard Society offices, are not here. There were vague promises of working with the community to address these infrastructure and service gaps, but nothing concrete.
Concerns regarding the required upgrades to our already taxed water and sewer systems were discussed. The stated goal is to ensure the municipality will not incur additional costs; but, again, there was no clear commitment as to how that would be achieved. Solicitor General staff spoke of “opportunities” for the community, such as public sports fields, greenhouses, and gymnasiums, that could be built on other sections of the provincially owned land.
The touted employment opportunities and significant economic spin-offs were simply not in evidence. The project will use a public private partnership (P3) model, overseen by Infrastructure Ontario. Expertise in P3s is found in large corporations with the financing and scope to handle the various stages of a project and the resources to complete complex Request for Qualifications and Request for Proposal processes. We believe local contractors will be disadvantaged in this regard, and will also be challenged to be competitive against large established counterparts. The Solicitor General’s representatives were clear that existing OCDC employees will be staffing the Kemptville prison. Opportunities for local developers were described as a “potential positive real estate impact”.
Possible ‘buy local’ impacts, such as coffee and restaurant purchases, were noted. It is reasonable to assume that the chain stores and fast-food restaurants in the Colonnade Mall may see some benefit.
There are many questions still to be answered. Over 100 properties were considered before landing on the Kemptville site. Our residents deserve to know the details of the other sites, as well as a full accounting of other available surplus lands. The impacts on our local hospital are unknown, although possible significant pressures, especially on its Emergency Department, were discussed.
Minister Clark stated that there is no intention to issue a Minister’s Zoning Order (MZO). As MZOs bypass democratic decision-making at the municipal level, we trust this means that there will be an opportunity for public input. An environmental assessment is planned, but details are unknown. For those of you feeling guilty about “not in my backyard” accusations, there is no need. The plan itself is flawed. We need to do what we can as a community to stop it.