North Grenville residents will be able to learn more about the prospective Greater Ottawa Correctional Complex (renamed the Eastern Ontario Correction Complex) to be built on government-owned property in Kemptville.
The Ministry of the Solicitor General is hosting its first community engagement sessions on the topic on Thursday Nov. 26, said Leeds-Grenville-Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes MPP Steve Clark.
"I'm pleased that the government is holding this initial community-wide session so early on in the process following the announcement in August," Clark said in a press release.
"At the time of the announcement, I committed to ensuring there would be a robust engagement with the residents of North Grenville throughout the process and that it would start this fall."
In late August this year, Premier Doug Ford, with Solicitor General Sylvia Jones and MPP Clark, announced they were making a multi-million-dollar investment to improve the correctional system across the province.
Besides the Kemptville complex, the province is proposing to replace the Brockville Jail with a new facility and expand the St. Lawrence Correctional and Treatment Centre in Brockville with the overall goal of increasing correctional capacity by 375 beds.
"Together, these projects represent the investment of hundreds of millions of dollars into our communities to support the creation of new jobs and provide a boost to our local economy," said Clark.
But residents of North Grenville have had a lot of questions and have expressed both concerns and support for the prospective jail.
According to North Grenville Mayor Nancy Peckford, some of the questions she's heard from residents include where, exactly, on the 182-acre property the complex is going to be located, what direct or indirect employment opportunities it might bring, and the impact a project such as this might have on the local hospital.
"It's going to be really important for the province to be really transparent, but I think it will be essentially the same information they gave at the stakeholder meeting, though I think they've regrouped a bit because we gave them more pushback than they were expecting,” said Colleen Lynus, a North Grenville resident and spokesperson for the Coalition Against the Proposed Prison.
As Lynus points out, this isn't the first information session the solicitor general's office has held in the community.
"We have had an information session with key stakeholders, including the four school boards, the BIA, one faith leader, a representative of the hospital, myself and one council member and two community members from the community that are not supportive of the project," said Peckford.
That session lasted three hours and while it didn't answer all the questions raised, it was a good beginning, said Lynus.
"It was helpful in terms of answering a lot of questions that had been unclear following the announcement," added Lynus.
One of the questions was regarding the level of security at the facility and they did acknowledge that the complex would include all levels of security and would be built as a maximum security facility.
They also admitted that it would be built fairly close to the road, and would be very visible to people driving into Kemptville on County Road 44, and that also means razing all the existing buildings on that property, according to Lynus.
Meanwhile, the mayor says there are other ongoing consultations occurring, for example with Indigenous groups, and there will, Peckford, believes be more community information sessions in the coming months.
"Once there is more information on the specifics of the site, it is my understanding that there will be more opportunities to speak about the details," said Peckford.
The community engagement session will take place on Thursdayfrom 5 to 8 p.m., and will be held virtually via Zoom.
There with be a question and answer component to the event.
Anyone wishing to register for the information sessions can do so at: www.eventbrite.com/e/community-engagement-session-eastern-ontario-correctional-complex-tickets-128537949467.
There is no cost to registering for the session.
Heddy Sorour, Local Journalism Initiative, Brockville Recorder and Times