The best view comes after the hardest climb

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submitted by Kirk Albert & Victor Lachance

924 days.

It’s been 924 days since Doug Ford and MPP Steve Clark announced the Eastern Region Strategy in Brockville Ontario, that planned, among other things, to bring a 235 bed prison to the town of Kemptville at an estimated cost of $200M to $499M.  

A facility to be built to maximum security standards and placed on Class 2 agricultural land adjacent to the former Guelph University Campus and planned community hub for Kemptville. 

What is most perplexing about the 924 day period that has elapsed is the amount of sustained secrecy from the Ontario Government about fundamental pieces of the prison proposal. 

First, the cancellation of the planned Ottawa Correctional Complex (OCC) that was destined to be a 725 bed replacement for the Ottawa Carleton Detention Center (OCDC) on a property that had been located in Ottawa. The planning and costs for that facility include more than 3 years of investment by the Province only for it to be quietly shelved for reasons yet to be made public.

Another area of sustained secrecy is about how the shelving of the OCC by the Provincial Government lead to the selection of 178 acres of agricultural land in Kemptville, despite the Municipality and a local consortium having expressed interest in acquiring the same land and farming buildings that exist on the property and, despite the location not meeting site selection criteria created by the Province.

The secrecy continued with the Province soliciting questions from the public but not responding, speaking about joining residents on a ‘transformational journey’ but providing no dialogue, promising transparency but delivering opacity, and in spite of all these contradictions, still denying access to documentation and records that were requested in more than 14 Freedom of Information requests submitted by concerned local residents.

These requests weren’t obscure or irrelevant, they were critical aspects about required steps of the proposed prison project, things like environmental site assessment data and other due diligence activities that are commonly made public in other Infrastructure Ontario led provincial projects.  

Then came secrecy about why the Ministry of the Solicitor General (Solgen) did not formally acquire the land until March 2022, 19 months after Ford’s announcement and even after the Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs had been asked in December 2021 and again in February 2022 by concerned residents to place the transfer of the land on hold to allow for meaningful dialogue on the future of the land and to align with the Ministry’s mandate to preserve increasingly scarce agricultural land. The Minister only responded to the queries after the land transfer from the Agricultural Research Institute of Ontario (ARIO) to Solgen had been completed.

The secrecy and head scratching unbelievably doesn’t end here, but in an article with word count limits, you’ll have to wait for the Netflix feature or contact JOG or CAPP for more details.

What’s important to know is that the Kemptville prison opposition efforts have not diminished or waivered. In fact they have increased:

  • The Ministry of the Solicitor General and Infrastructure Ontario have modified their timelines for the proposed prison a third time officially,  pushing expected completion dates out 2 years.  
  • On August 16, 2022, Victor Lachance and Kirk Albert filed an application for Judicial Review (JR)  on the grounds that the Province had violated specific obligations in the Planning Act; 
  • On November 25, 2022, with the hope of avoiding having to defend its actions, SolGen filed a Motion to Dismiss (MTD) the JR application on the grounds that it was submitted too late and, if successful , would cause substantial prejudice or hardship to the Province. 
  • On December 16, 2022, a total of 5 affidavits were submitted to fight the Province’s red herring MTD. 
  • For the past two months the legal wrangling has continued, and on March 6, 2023, legal counsel for Kirk and Victor formally served  legal arguments to the Court to deny the Province’s attempt to avoid public accountability and permit the JR to proceed.  
  • On March 21, 2023, a hearing will take place where lawyers for both sides will present their cases before the presiding judge. The public and media can attend in person at the Ottawa Courthouse. Contact JOG or CAPP for more details.

It’s been a busy time and it is noteworthy that the Municipality has offered no advice, assistance or resources in this process.

Should we be successful and the Court rules that the Judicial Review should proceed, it becomes a matter of law.  Did the Province or did the Province not violate its statutory obligations based on the Planning Act? An Act adopted by the Legislative Assembly, establishing three specific obligations that explicitly bind ministers of the Crown with regard to 1) decisions being consistent with a Cabinet approved Provincial Policy Statement, 2) taking into account the established planning policies of the municipality, and 3) consultation obligations before authorizing undertakings affecting a municipality.

The Judicial Review undertaking that we have launched is known as an equitable recourse of last resort, and we can say with assuredness that JOG, CAPP and many North Grenville residents exhausted all avenues in order to avoid this costly step; however, empty promises and closed doors from the Province left us with no other choice in this matter. 

It is said that the best view comes after the hardest climb, and it is with patience and anticipation that we hope the legal recourse chosen will yield a result that supports that claim for all the residents that worked so diligently to stand up for justice. 

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