Kemptville prison opponents want more talks

·5 min read

(Story originally posted on Nov. 18; updated Nov. 19 with correction.)

A second community engagement session about the Eastern Ontario Correctional Complex in Kemptville appeared to do little to assuage local fears.

More than 200 people on Wednesday evening logged into the solicitor general's virtual community engagement session for the proposed 235-bed prison set to be built on Kemptville Campus lands.

It was a discussion many people wanted, but not in the way they wanted it. Members of the local prison opposition groups, who held a rally on the proposed prison site on the Saturday, were disappointed that, despite the easing of COVID-19 restrictions, this year's consultation was again held online.

The previous session was held a year ago and was also a virtual consultation due to pandemic restrictions.

"This is continuing our journey in terms of engagement and transparency," said Ali Veshkini, associate deputy minister at the Ministry of the Solicitor General.

Prior to the virtual session, Coalition Against the Proposed Prison (CAPP) and the Jail Opposition Group (JOG) members invited Ontario Solicitor General Sylvia Jones and local MPP Steve Clark to Kemptville to meet and speak with the residents about the proposed prison. Clark responded to the letter shortly afterwards, advising the groups that he was required to be at Queen's Park and could not attended an in-person meeting.

Colleen Lynas, of CAPP, took the question and answer period at the end of the session as an opportunity to call out the MPP to meet with the local opposition groups.

"If what the groups want is to have a meeting with me in Kemptville, then let's just have the meeting and let the solicitor general continue with this session tonight," said Clark.

Clark added: "I am committed to have those conversations and as I said at the start of the process, I want to make sure that those community concerns are addressed."

During the meeting many questions were directed to the MPP but were answered by others with the solicitor general's office.

According to the ministry's presentations, the purpose of the engagement session was to summarize what was heard during the previous engagement session, provide an overview of the current vision for the new Eastern Ontario Correctional Complex (EOCC) and review the timeline of the project.

The proposed correctional complex will house inmates at different levels of security and will be built to maximum security standards. The facility will house both men and women who have been sentenced or who are remanded.

Among the more than 200 people who attended the virtual engagement were North Grenville municipal council members and Mayor Nancy Peckford, MPP Clark, members of the CAPP and JOG and other residents from the Kemptville area.

Like in the engagement session last year, many residents shared various concerns, including about paving the land known to for its agriculture, and the effects the proposed prison will have on the economy and municipal and social services in the area.

The prison is expected to be completed in 2027 and will include an "L"-shaped buffer zone that could be used for potential future agriculture; there is also a southern portion of land that the ministry will discuss transferring to North Grenville, which could also be used for agriculture.

"There's a large majority of people in North Grenville that are opposed to this prison project and the others are only in favour of it because of the economic benefits that it is supposed to bring to the community," said North Grenville resident Christopher Wilson, adding that he's read some studies that show there is little to no economic benefit for small prison towns.

Veshkini said the economic factor of the new correctional complex was not the driving force behind the project; rather, it was creating a new facility to help rehabilitate inmates.

"Upon creation, it is expected that the facility will have north of 300 total staff," said Angelo Gismondi, senior vice president of the Ontario Infrastructure and Lands Corporation, adding that the facility could have upwards of 150 staff, volunteers and professionals working in the building.

According to the solicitor general, the province will cover all costs to design, build and operate the EOCC and will continue to work with the municipality to provide funding to support the servicing requirements for the facility.

Essential services will provide acute on-site care to reduce the impact, or reliance on the surrounding community, stated the presentation. The facility will have infirmary beds, a dental suite, exam room, pharmacy and other services.

However, in some cases, like surgery or a life-threating event, the inmates will be transported to the local hospital by correctional officers.

Daryl Pitfield, assistant deputy minister for institutional services at the Ministry of the Solicitor General, said the solicitor general will be holding focused engagement with organizations like the John Howard Society and other local organizations to identify opportunities for social services support.

(An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that prison opponents said they did not get a response to an invitation to Steve Clark to discuss their concerns. We regret the error.)

(Jessica Munro is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Brockville Recorder and Times. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.)

Jessica Munro, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brockville Recorder and Times

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