A joyful welcome sign greets visitors as they drive into the small rural town of Kemptville, with a population of less than 4,000, located an hour south of Ottawa.
Next to the sign is a plot of vacant farmland, which the local authorities and residents had long dreamed, would be a suitable location to build a community centre, or, if plans come together, to rebuild an agricultural college. for who ever was there.
Those hopes were dashed when the province decided, with little consultation and caveat, that the 182-acre farm would be an ideal location to build a new maximum-security 235-bed prison – without any social services, shelters, courts or the public. in transit city.
“There has been no consultation – it’s an imposition, and there’s a feeling that no facts will prompt them to change their mind,” said Kemptville resident Colleen Linas, head of the Coalition Against Proposed Prisons (CAPP).
“When the project was announced (last summer), people were shocked that it came out of nowhere,” she said, notifying the city’s mayor 48 hours before Premier Doug Ford and local MPP Steve Clarke Was – Municipal Minister also. Cases and Housing – announced the project last August.
The facility is part of the province’s plan to build, renovate and expand several correctional facilities in eastern Ontario to eventually replace the Ottawa-Carlton Detention Center.
Critics of the plan say that the announcement was in the spirit of the Minister’s Regional Order, or MZO, special orders that accelerate development while bypassing local planning rules. Clark has issued dozens of MZOs, making irreversible zoning decisions that will change the face of communities across the province. All the while, he says he hasn’t fully answered questions over the development controversy in his own backyard – and the long-term impact it will have on Kemptville.
Residents say they have yet to answer why a city would be the best place for a maximum security prison with none of the basic services needed to accommodate a prisoner population.
“We have nothing here to support the prisoners, many of them will come from Ottawa,” said Kirk Albert, a local resident of the prison opposition group. “And we’ve put pressure on the province on all these issues but the shroud of silence from the office of solicitor general from Steve Clarke’s office is really strange.”
Solicitor General’s spokesman Stephen Warner said the project is part of a modernization strategy for corrective services in Eastern Ontario.
Warner said several sites were considered, but “none of those sites met the project’s requirements, such as municipal servicing, size, site configuration and protection of natural heritage.”
But Albert said that according to a document obtained through an Access to Information request, ministry staff found that the Kemptville location also did not meet many of the ministry’s requirements, such as compatibility with adjacent uses (there is a daycare across the street). ), distance from existing Ottawa facility and environmentally sensitive land.
The 145-page document, which gave Albert only 10 pages, says the ministry has been looking for a site for the proposed Ottawa Improvement Complex (now called the Eastern Ontario Correctional Complex) since 2017 and 38 properties. was spotted, and was shortlisted by four others, before landing on Kemptville.
“It proved in just 10 pages that the plan is really wrong, incredibly costly, lacking the important benefits touted as bringing jobs to the city,” Albert said.
In his capacity as the local MPP for the Leeds-Grenville-Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes Rides, Clark said in a statement that the “fear of the unknown” and “fear of change” were understandable and suppressed these fears. by some small but outspoken special interest groups from outside the region.”
North Grenville Mayor Nancy Peckford did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
But in a statement released on the city’s website in June, Peckford said he was committed to maintaining talks with the province, given the long timeline for the prison, expected to open in 2027.
“As we have said from the beginning, the news of the improvement facility on the old Kemptville College land was a complete surprise,” Peckford said. “However, the reality is that the province has full ownership of 180 acres of farmland, and has the correct zoning (institutional) for their proposed use. They don’t need our permission to proceed.”
The province, in its efforts to sell the project to the community, has promised that it will pay for any infrastructure needed for the prison, including servicing the land for water and sewer, and any related road upgrades. It will make a “best effort” to give the city additional land that may not be needed for the facility.
They will allow the city to host an international tillage match on the land in September next year – an event that brings in 80,000 people annually.
The province said it could not disclose cost estimates until the facility is tendered, but experts estimate the prison would cost between $250 million and $500 million.
Albert said the province also didn’t justify why spending hundreds of millions on a new prison is a better option than investing money in preventive programs, or investing in a complete fix of the bail and remand system.
“Why not take some of the half a billion dollars and spend that money on some of the root causes like homelessness, drug addiction, education,” he said.
He said during the pandemic alone, 2,300 prisoners were released from Ontario prisons across the province to help stop the spread of COVID-19 – proving that the province was able to reduce prisons’ capacity when needed. is enabled.
Solicitor General K Warner said his ministry has a “legal responsibility to uphold the orders of the courts and ensure the safety of those in its custody.”
Linas said that despite the province’s claim that the project is a complete deal, opposition to it is only increasing, and will likely become an issue at next year’s provincial election. The group has held monthly protests and plans to hold another one outside Clark’s constituency office next month.
“It is a very small community, which for many years was defined by that agricultural college and its rural heritage,” she said. “But if it is built, this prison will become a defining factor of this community.”
“People will either fight the project … or they will move on.”