Group blockades to save prison farms

Farmers and activists set up a blockade outside the Correctional Service Canada office in Kingston, Ont., in a bid to keep Canada's prison farms open.

A group of protesters has vowed to block any livestock from leaving a prison farm slated to be shut down by the federal government.

The statement came after some 200 demonstrators descended on the regional headquarters of Corrections Canada in Kingston, Ont., on Friday morning.

Caroline Yull, left, and Carol Tapp wave to honking cars outside the Correctional Service Canada regional headquarters in Kingston, Ont., on Friday. ((Lars Hagberg/Canadian Press))
The event was billed as a practice run for a planned stakeout of the nearby Frontenac Institution, a minimum-security jail where about 8,000 chickens and 300 cows are slated to be auctioned off.

Save Our Prison Farms organizer Andrew McCann says they will not allow removal of the cows or chickens from Frontenac.

"We have several hundred people ready to be called at any time of day or night to come out and blockade the animals," McCann said.

Canada's prison farms:

  • Pittsburgh Institution, Kingston, Ont.
  • Frontenac Institution, Kingston, Ont.
  • Westmorland Institution, Dorchester, N.B.
  • Rockwood Institution, Stony Mountain, Man.
  • Riverbend Institution, near Prince Albert, Sask.
  • Bowden Institution, Innisfail, Alta.

It was the latest action against the slated closure of the farms, a campaign that has drawn the support of author Margaret Atwood and musician Sarah Harmer.

The Correctional Service of Canada said in February 2009 it would wind down Canada's six farms over a two-year period. The government has estimated that the farms, which were started in the 1880s, cost roughly $4 million a year.

Farms in Atlantic Canada and the Prairies were auctioned off in June. The two remaining farms are in Kingston.

Dianne Dowling, a member of the Save Our Prison Farms campaign and president of National Farmers Union Local 316, said protesters hope to draw attention to their campaign to save the prison farms, which employed about 300 inmates.

"We think that this is actually a program that they should be proud of," Dowling told CBC News.

Officials have said inmates need to develop skills that are more relevant to the current job market, but Dowling said her group believes the program provides inmates with valuable skills.

"It teaches the inmates a change in attitude, co-operation, punctuality, caring about something, teamwork and so on," she said.

The group has also argued that the farms help preserve farmland and provide valuable rehabilitation to inmates, while supporting the local economy.

Farm closures move forward

A federal court recently rejected a request for an injunction that would have blocked some closures.

The case was launched by an inmate at the Frontenac Institution, which houses a farm that produces milk, meat and eggs.

The Frontenac Institution's dairy herd could be up for auction as early as Aug. 3, local media reported. A CSC spokeswoman said Friday that officials "have not made a decision yet for Kingston."

In addition to concerns about the relevance of the skills training provided by the farms, security has been cited as an issue at the Bowden Institution, about 100 kilometres north of Calgary.

At least six inmates have escaped from the minimum-security farm annex of the federal prison since September 2008.

With files from CBC News