Fredericton councillors heckled as they approve rezoning to allow for new jail

About 75 people filled the viewing gallery at Fredericton city hall's council chambers to watch the third and final vote on rezoning motion that would allow the construction of a jail. (Aidan Cox/CBC - image credit)
About 75 people filled the viewing gallery at Fredericton city hall's council chambers to watch the third and final vote on rezoning motion that would allow the construction of a jail. (Aidan Cox/CBC - image credit)
Aidan Cox/CBC
Aidan Cox/CBC

Fredericton councillors approved a zoning amendment Monday night to allow the construction of a controversial provincial jail in the city's industrial park, during an emotionally charged meeting that rang with applause and jeers from spectators.

The 7-4 vote was met by heckling from some of the roughly 75 spectators in the council chamber's third-floor viewing gallery, with someone dropping shredded pieces of paper onto city staff members one floor below.

Council's vote followed about half an hour of discussion on the third and final reading of a bylaw to amend the zoning of a 25-hectare plot of land in the Vanier Industrial Park to allow the New Brunswick government to construct a correctional centre on it.

The provincial government announced its plans in 2021 to build a new jail in the Fredericton area. The government claims it needs to relieve overcapacity at its four existing jails. CBC News reported this week the government recently started counting people serving their sentences in the community as part of the prison population.

Councillors Greg Ericson, Eric Megarity, Jocelyn Pike, Henri Mallet, Jason Lejeune, Steven Hicks and Bruce Grandy voted in favour of the motion, while Margo Sheppard, Cassandra LeBlanc, Ruth Breen and Kevin Darrah voted against it.

"I tried to stay neutral through the whole thing," said Kevin Darrah, whose ward includes the site of the proposed jail, speaking to reporters after the meeting.

"I'm elected as a member of government, so I do have to be as [impartial] as I can be, and I did that and I try to stay emotionally disconnected from the process, although tonight was a different story."

Aidan Cox/CBC
Aidan Cox/CBC

Darrah, who grew up in Lincoln Heights, became emotional as he spoke during the meeting about how a jail would change the city, and especially the nearby neighbourhood.

"This isn't about approving a heated parking lot next to a park for a roundhouse," Darrah said prior to the vote.

"This is about a prison next to one of the best neighbourhoods in the city of Fredericton." Some in the audience applauded the remark.

Facility will 'bring good jobs,' councillor says

Last November, councillors voted 6-4 in favour of the sale, valued at $1,075,000, but the transaction still hinged on councillors voting in favour of rezoning.

At the first and second reading on Jan. 9, members of the public had their chance to weigh in, with about 100 people packing the spectators' gallery at city hall.

Most councillors who spoke Monday night said the decision was a difficult one to make, considering the amount of public pushback.

Speaking just before the vote, Pike said she heard from many residents who said they'd feel unsafe with a jail a few kilometres from their homes.

However, Pike said the jail would be a secure state-of-the-art facility that brings jobs to the city, and will ensure that area residents who become incarcerated are close to their family, as they'll no longer be jailed at the Saint John Regional Correctional Centre.

"This facility will bring good jobs into our city," she said.

"The spinoffs for our local economy will be positive and we'll ensure incarcerated individuals are provided with the absolute best environment for rehabilitation and to ensure a positive outcome."

Pike's comments were followed by a verbal outburst from someone in the gallery, prompting a stern warning from Mayor Kate Rogers.

"Everyone who's in the gallery, we are very happy that you are here to engage in this process but please be respectful of everyone who speaks," Rogers said.

"We don't all agree. You see us sitting around here — we don't all agree but we are respectful of each other and I ask the same of you."

Fight not over, homeowner says

Spectators left the council chambers immediately after the vote was cast.

Lindsay Richardson, who watched the meeting from the viewing gallery, said he was disappointed with the outcome.

Aidan Cox/CBC
Aidan Cox/CBC

"We're gonna take it to the next level," Richardson said. "A court injunction, whatever it takes, we ain't going away."

Richardson, who lives in Lincoln Heights, said he doesn't think it's fair for property owners to have a jail built within a few kilometres of their homes.

"The property owners in the area are gonna pay the brunt. We're gonna be the ones that are gonna take the take the hit," he said.