Fighting a proposed provincial jail in eastern Ontario
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Colleen Lynas and Victor Lachance are residents of Kemptville, Ontario. They are also members of the Coalition Against the Proposed Prison (CAPP) Kemptville. Scott Neigh interviews them about their town, about the Ontario government’s unilateral decision to build a jail there, and about what residents are doing in response.
Kemptville is a town of 4000 people about 50km south of Ottawa in the Municipality of North Grenville. In late August 2020, Ontario Premier Doug Ford, Solicitor General Sylvia Jones, and Steve Clark, the MPP for the region encompassing Kemptville, held a media conference at which they announced that the province plans to build a new 235-bed jail in the town. Ford indicated that the new jail in Kemptville, along with other expansions of provincial incarceration infrastructure announced at the same time, were aimed at reducing overcrowding and creating jobs.
When they heard this announcement, Lynas, Lachance, and many other residents of the town were shocked. There had been no public consultation whatsoever, and even the municipal government had been given only two or three days’ advance notice.
Certainly that lack of consultation is one reason that they and other residents have begun to work in opposition to the proposed jail, but it is far from the only reason. There is concern that existing infrastructure and services in the town are not equipped to handle an institution of that size. Though the province has suggested there will be significant economic benefits for the town, opponents say that evidence from other small communities shows that the benefits resulting from hosting a jail or prison are minimal to nonexistent. And Lynas said that even if there were demonstrable financial benefits, “there’s something really unsavoury about linking prosperity with incarceration.”
Though certainly some of the opposition for some residents is related to just not wanting that kind of facility in their town – which is fair enough – Lachance says that it is “not a case of ‘not in my backyard.’ Really, the issue is that prisons shouldn’t be in anyone’s backyard, period.”
He argues, for one thing, that expanding the provincial jail system is unnecessary to deal with overcrowding. Most people in provincial jails are there on remand while awaiting trial or sentencing, and even the province admits the remand system needs to be fixed. Plus, the temporary measures enacted in the last year to reduce jail populations for pandemic-related reasons have shown how easy it would be to just not lock so many people up.
As well, at least some residents have taken up some of the broader opposition to incarceration that has become so much more publically visible in the last year or so. This analysis argues that incarceration does not address the root causes of problems, does not make people safer, and disproportionately targets Black, Indigenous, racialized, and poor communities. Instead of spending hundreds of millions of dollar on building and operating this new jail, that money should be spent on meeting people’s needs, addressing root causes, and creating a just recovery from the pandemic.
Among Kemptville residents, two different groups are opposing the jail. Along with CAPP, there is also the Jail Opposition Group (JOG). JOG is more membership-based, a bit more narrowly focused in terms of issues, and (according to today’s guests) a bit more politically conservative. CAPP has taken more of a big-tent approach and works to be a platform for all sorts of opposition to the jail. They are a smaller group, but one that brings together a range of what they describe as “stakeholders”, including JOG, and the two groups work closely together.
CAPP’s work to oppose the jail has included countering what they describe as the inadequate and misleading information coming from the government. They have also built a website, engaged in media and social media work, produced a flyer, hosted public events, participated in protests, and lobbied politicians.
Along with facing the Ford government’s insistence on proceeding with the jail, the groups in opposition to it are also having to deal with their municipal council. After some initial enthusiasm for the project, the council has been less clear about its position, and has mostly tried to avoid talking about the issue, but their actions suggest support for the jail.
Opposing a measure to which a majority government is committed is never easy. But the group is encouraged by how often public outcry has forced Doug Ford’s Conservatives to back away from misguided initiatives, and they hope to add to that list. Along with their hard work in Kemptville itself, they have been building relationships with prisoner justice organizers in Ottawa. And they are hopeful that people concerned about policing and incarceration from all parts of the province will speak up in solidarity.
Lynas said, “If some people are listening and they feel strongly that we need to see reform in corrections and in the judicial system, this is a great opportunity to take a stand on this. This is not expanding an existing prison. This is not replacing. This is building a new facility that will allow for the expansion of incarceration. So I’m hoping that the message will resonate for a lot of people who feel it’s time that we make some real fundamental changes to the way we deal with inequity and disenfranchised people within our province.”
Talking Radical Radio brings you grassroots voices from across Canada, giving you the chance to hear many different people that are facing many different struggles talk about what they do, why they do it, and how they do it, in the belief that such listening is a crucial step in strengthening all of our efforts to change the world. To learn more about the show check out our website here. You can also follow us on Facebook or Twitter, or contact firstname.lastname@example.org to join our weekly email update list.
Talking Radical Radio is brought to you by Scott Neigh, a writer, media producer, and activist based in Hamilton Ontario, and the author of two books examining Canadian history through the stories of activists.
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Theme music: “It Is the Hour (Get Up)” by Snowflake, via CCMixter