The Coalition Against the Proposed Prison provides a collective platform for the range of voices expressing concern and/or opposition to the proposed plan to build the “Eastern Ontario Correctional Complex” in Kemptville, Ontario.
Consider the following:
Lack of Transparency and Meaningful Consultation
On August 27, 2020, the Government of Ontario announced plans to build the “Greater Ottawa Correction Complex" later renamed the "Eastern Ontario Correctional Complex” in Kemptville, Ontario. This announcement was made without any prior notice or consultation with the Municipality of North Grenville and the residents it serves.
Since that time, the provincial government has asserted its right to “sole discretion” in determining the location of new provincial corrections facilities, despite the opposition of residents. Publicly available information has been slow to emerge, resulting in confusing and at times contradictory communications
Building on a Unique Parcel of Farmland
The land targeted for the new prison was formerly part of the Kemptville Agricultural School established in 1917. The University of Guelph took over the campus in 1997, but in 2014 announced its plan to close the school the next year. In 2018, the Municipality of North Grenville acquired approximately 650 acres of the more than 800 total acres and created the Kemptville Campus Education and Community Centre.
The farm portion of the campus, including its existing buildings, remained under provincial ownership. The Municipality’s interest in acquiring the remaining lands and reintegrating them into the campus was well known by local MPP, and Minister of Housing and Urban Affairs, Steve Clark.
Already identified opportunities for innovative and visionary uses for the property, in keeping with its natural features and historical significance, will be lost forever should this proposed prison plan proceed. Find two examples below.
The Loss of North Grenville’s Vision for the Future
Under the tagline, “Green and Growing”, North Grenville’s municipal government has been highlighting its focus on sustainable and positive economic development, while actively promoting North Grenville’s blend of rural and small-town charm, its quality of life, and natural heritage. Exciting initiatives include the development of a tourism strategy, plans to create a vibrant and thriving gathering place in historical downtown Kemptville, and robust strategies to enhance active transportation opportunities for bikers and walkers.
Listen to local resident, Kirk Albert, discuss a positive vision for Kemptville and North Grenville and the detrimental effects the proposed correctional facility will have on realizing that vision, including the economic development opportunities lost, and the community aspirations unrealized, should the provincial government proceed with this ill-conceived plan.
Concerns about Negative Environmental Impacts
Given the provincial government's recent track record on environmental issues, there is a risk that improper assessments will be completed and inadequate mitigation strategies adopted thus failing to properly offset the long-term environmental effects of such a large infrastructure project. In December of 2020, the government passed legislation that reduces the power of Conservation Authorities (CAs) across Ontario. The legislation included the requirement that, in the case of a Minister's Zoning Order (MZO) being issued, the governing CA must issue a permit approving the development, even if it has not been demonstrated that downstream flooding won't occur. The MZO also bypasses the need for local approval of a project, including public consultation. This government has issued over 35 MZOs in 2020 alone, while a total of 70 were issued in the previous 30 years. Even if the government does not issue an MZO, the legislation passed in December introduced other means for the government to bypass the development criteria established by our local CA and have the Minister of Natural Resources issue a permit in place of the CA. All of these legislative changes increase the risk for downstream flooding and other negative environmental impacts.
Failure to Demonstrate Economic Benefits
The provincial government has touted significant economic benefits as the primary selling feature of the proposed correctional facility. The Ministry of the Solicitor General has failed to put forward any evidence to support this assertion and the public has not been informed of any economic analyses that have been undertaken. The government's own stakeholder and community engagement sessions failed to provide any evidence of substantive economic benefits. One thing we do know from the stakeholder session is that the government anticipates that most of the positions will be filled by existing OCDC staff. The government's messaging also contradicts the independent academic research into the economic impacts of correctional facilities in small communities.
Residents have expressed concerns regarding the potential negative impacts on already stressed local water and sewage treatment systems, as well as local roads, should this facility be constructed. It is also apparent that the transit and social services infrastructure required to support prisoners upon their release and their visiting family members does not exist in Kemptville.
A Broken Bail and Remand System
At any given time, about 65-70% of the 8,000 prisoners in Ontario institutions are on remand, meaning they are in pretrial and awaiting their day in court. The Ontario Government has stated for years that many of those prisoners could be released on bail without harm. The government has promised and tried repeatedly to reduce Ontario's remand prisoner population. During the COVID pandemic, to limit the spread of disease, the Ontario government cut its jail population by 31%, largely through shrinking the number of people imprisoned on remand, and this has had no harmful effect on communities.
Rather than building a new jail at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars, and over the objections of Kemptville residents, all we need to do is hold the government to its promise to keep the remand population down.
Expanding Jail Capacity in Eastern Ontario
Building more jails means building more capacity to incarcerate people. The public already knows that the correctional system is broken. We continue to incarcerate Indigenous and Black men and women at a rate significantly disproportionate to their population numbers. We jail non-violent offenders, and people living with mental health and/or drug use issues. Sadly, the very populations who are disproportionately incarcerated across this province - racialized and lower-income communities - are the same people who will continue to suffer the most serious consequences of the current pandemic – likely for years to come.
The provincial government has the opportunity now to make better choices about how to spend public funds at this critical juncture, including rethinking how best to modernize and improve our correctional and judicial systems without adding more costly jail cells to the mix.
Kemptville’s Future Forever Tied to a Failed Correctional System
Provincial and national corrections related headlines speak to the tragedies within prisons on a regular basis, including prisoner suicides, violence, and inhumane conditions. Jobs in the corrections system are generally considered stressful and unhealthy. Given the available land, there is no guarantee the proposed facility will not be expanded later.