This has been a good first week for me as the Editor. I was so pleased to see all the respectful citizens who participated as delegates to last week’s Council meeting voice their concerns regarding the building of a prison in Kemptville. I was proud to think this community has so many thoughtful and caring people. Their arguments were not based in NIMBYISM (not in my backyard). Their points were speaking to higher philosophical and societal questions about justice, about how we treat each other, about the struggles we all face to achieve or maintain a decent quality of life, about the shortage of affordable housing, about the precariousness created by low wages, about the loss of culture and heritage, and about the marginalization of people generally. Their concern was for the people who are most often put at risk by society’s failings, and their message was, that prisons are not the answer whenever our social safety systems have failed.
These people were informed, polite and spoke to some very important issues about how society operates. They expressed concerns about social justice and punitive systems that do little to rehabilitate offenders. I have heard in passing, some hard and heavy comments about people who break the law. I have heard stuff like, “prison shouldn’t be a Club Med, with tv and three free meals a day,” and “these people deserve what they get for breaking the law.” I have heard the same hard comments about people who are forced to use the food bank, such as,”well they should just get a job instead of looking for a free handout.” Yes, there are people out there without compassion, information or understanding.
But the citizens who came out last week had thought much deeper about our social justice system, and recognized that racial profiling, systemic racism and systemic failures contribute to the numbers of people in our penal institutions. They told us that, many times, people who are incarcerated are waiting to be remanded, and that the wheels of justice turn too slow. They talked about a congested judiciary, where people are not getting a speedy trial. They spoke to the need for serious judicial reform.
They asked Mayor and Council to hear their will as citizens, to not have this prison built in the heart of the community. Mayor and Council listened diligently.
The point of a democracy was well made, when one resident asked how another tier of government could force its will on a municipality without that municipality’s consultation or consent. One resident asked Mayor and Council to stand with the people of the community who are opposed to constructing a prison.
The discussion was polite and respectful, and it was reflective of a community who was describing the type of society, and community that Kemptville needs to be, in order for Kemptville to be resilient and sustainable. This was at the heart of what was said. Unfortunately, the corporate structure of Ontario sets a division of powers between the Province and the Municipality, allowing the provincial government to exercise its authority without community consent.
As an aside, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, calls for the principle of free, prior, and informed consent (FPIC), whenever, a government’s actions will infringe on the rights of Indigenous people. The right has transferred into a court ordered responsibility of the government to honour its duty of consultation. Perhaps, Canadians should have their right to FPIC enshrined in the Charter of Human Rights and Freedom.
At the end of the day, we are all more and more aware of our failing social systems, our strained health care systems, our perilous economy, our lack of affordable housing, the strain on our charities, and food banks, and our desire for greater local food security. As this pandemic has created a crack big enough to let the light through, to shine on everything that needs our attention. I for one, am hopeful because we have some awfully smart, compassionate, and active people amongst us.
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in
– Leonard Cohen