Residents in North Grenville appear to be opposed to a new prison complex slated to be built in Kemptville, but only time will tell if it’s enough to sway the provincial government.
A virtual public hearing regarding the proposed Eastern Ontario Correctional Complex was held Tuesday, March 24.
While the prison would be built on 182 acres of provincially-owned land, meaning the ultimate decision lies with the Government of Ontario, the project has rallied opposition from residents and prompted citizen activist groups, Coalition Against Proposed Prison (CAPP) and Jail Opposition Group (JOG), to speak out.
Mayor of North Grenville Nancy Peckford says, since the facility was first announced she has made it her job to insist that residents have a voice at the table regarding this development, but at the beginning of Tuesday evening’s meeting, admitted the decision would ultimately be up to the province.
Those in opposition believe the new prison complex will result in a loss of North Grenville’s vision for the future.
Believing in the community’s tagline “Green and Growing,” CAPP says its vision for North Grenville, to be a blend of rural and small-town charm, is at risk if a unique part of the municipality’s landscape becomes occupied by a prison.
Spokesperson for CAPP Colleen Lynas says if the two opposition groups had not asked for an opportunity to be heard at council, the public hearing might not have happened.
“It is time for Minister [of Municipal Affairs and Housing Steve] Clark and his colleagues to heed the voices of the community because they are only going to get louder.”
Residents and opposition groups agree that it is not only a detraction from their vision for the future but say local municipalities do not have the resources to accommodate a maximum-security jail.
With a strained public health system, lack of public transportation and deficient resources for people facing homelessness, residents noted that, should an inmate be released or require medical attention, North Grenville would not be able to accommodate them appropriately.
An ongoing theme of the Tuesday’s meeting was the desire to see provincial money directed toward affordable housing initiatives, substance abuse treatments or pandemic relief instead of a new prison complex.
Many residents presented the belief that mass incarceration, disproportionately of Black and Indigenous people, was not an initiative they wanted their community to be a part of.
During her presentation, Lynas called the concern of community safety a red herring. She noted how recent news stories offered a grim assessment of the state of prisons in Ontario, with numerous human rights complaints.
“During a stakeholder meeting I commented that perhaps the ministry should get its house in order before imposing another troubled correctional facility in our town,” says Lynas.
“We know the plan was in the works prior to the onset of the pandemic. It would be prudent of the government to recognize the current fiscal pressures provide an opportunity to rethink priorities and cancel this planned build. I say to Premier Ford: get your house in order.”
Should the province move forward with the project, the prison complex is expected to be completed in 2027.