‘It came out of nowhere’: The residents of the small town of Kemptville don’t want a prison. Doug Ford’s government says they’ll get one anyway

Visitors are greeted by a cheerful welcome sign as they drive to the small rural town of Kemptville, with a population of just under 4,000, located an hour south of Ottawa.

Adjacent to the sign is an empty plot of farmland that local officials and residents had long dreamed of would be an appropriate place to build a community center, or if plans came together, to rebuild an agricultural college that was once He was there.

Those hopes were dashed when the province decided, with little consultation and warning, that the 182 acres of farmland would be an ideal location to build a new 235-bed maximum security prison in a city without social services, shelters, courts, or public transport. .

“There have been no consultations, it is an imposition and the feeling that nothing will change their minds,” said Colleen Lynas, a Kemptville resident and director of the Coalition Against the Proposed Prison (CAPP).

“When the project was announced (last summer), people were shocked that it came out of nowhere,” he said, adding that the city’s mayor was only informed 48 hours before Prime Minister Doug Ford and the local MP. Steve Clark, also a municipal minister. affairs 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-Carleton Detention Center.

Critics of the plan say the announcement had the feel of a minister’s zoning order, or MZO, the special orders that speed up development, overriding local planning rules. Clark has issued dozens of MZOs, making irrevocable zoning decisions that will change the face of communities across the province. Meanwhile, they say he hasn’t fully answered questions about the development dispute that is building up in his own backyard, and the long-term impact it will have on Kemptville.

Residents say they have yet to get answers on why a city without any of the basic services needed to house an inmate population would be the best place for a maximum security prison.

“We have nothing here to support the prisoners, many of whom will be coming from Ottawa,” said Kirk Albert, a local resident of the Prison Opposition Group. “And we’ve lobbied the province on all of these issues, but the shroud of silence from the attorney general’s office, from Steve Clark’s office is really strange.”

Stephen Warner, a spokesman for the Attorney General, said the project is part of a strategy to modernize correctional services in eastern Ontario.

Warner said multiple sites were considered, but “none of those sites met the project’s requirements, such as municipal services, size, site configuration and conservation 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 a number of ministry requirements, such as compatibility with adjacent uses (there is a nursery across the street), the distance from the existing Ottawa facility, and the environmentally sensitive land.

The 145-page document, of which Albert only received 10 pages, says the ministry has been searching for a site for the proposed Ottawa Correctional Complex (now called Eastern Ontario Correctional Complex) since 2017 and had screened 38 properties and shortlisted others. four, before landing at Kemptville.

“It showed in just 10 pages that the plan is really badly conceived, is incredibly expensive, and lacks the key benefits they touted about bringing jobs to the city,” Albert said.

As the local MPP to ride in Leeds-Grenville-Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes, Clark said in a statement that “it was understandable that there was some ‘fear of the unknown’ and ‘fear of change’ and these fears were stoked. by some small but vocal special interest groups from outside the region. ”

North Grenville Mayor Nancy Peckford did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

But in a statement posted on the city’s website in June, Peckford said she was committed to maintaining dialogue with the province, given the long deadlines for the prison, which is expected to open in 2027.

“As we’ve said all along, the news of a correctional facility on the grounds of the old Kemptville College was a complete surprise,” Peckford said. “However, the reality is that the province has full ownership of the 180 acre parcel of farm-side land and has the correct (institutional) zoning for its proposed use. They do not require our permission to continue. “

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 land service for water and sewerage, and any related road improvements. It will also “do everything possible” to give the city excess land that may not be necessary for the installation.

They will also allow the city to host the International Plowing Party in September next year on land, an event that draws up to 80,000 people a year.

The province said it cannot disclose cost estimates until a tender for the facility is awarded, but experts estimate that the prison will cost between $ 250 million and $ 500 million.

Albert said the province has also failed to justify why spending hundreds of millions on a new prison is a better option than investing money in preventive programs or investing in fixing the bail and pretrial detention system entirely.

“Why not take part of the 500 million dollars and spend some of that money on some of the root causes like homelessness, drug addiction, education?” He said.

He added that during the pandemic alone, 2,300 inmates across the province were released from Ontario jails to help slow the spread of COVID-19, showing that the province can reduce prison capacity when necessary.

Warner, the attorney general, said his ministry “has a legal responsibility to enforce court orders and ensure the safety of those in its custody.”

Lynas said that despite the province’s claim that the project is a done deal, opposition to it is only growing and will likely become a problem in next year’s provincial elections. The group has held monthly protests and has another planned outside the Clark constituency office next month.

“This is a very small community, which for many years was defined by that agricultural university and its rural heritage,” he said. “But if it is built, this prison will become a defining factor in this community.”

“People will fight the project … or move.”

Noor Javed is a Toronto-based Star reporter covering city news with an interest in municipal 905 politics. Follow her on Twitter: @njaved


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