Protesters rally at Manitoba Legislative Building against planned closure of Dauphin jail
'They need to overturn a very bad decision,' union president Michelle Gawronsky says
Dozens of placard-carrying protestors marched Wednesday morning in front of the Manitoba Legislative Building to denounce the planned closure of the Dauphin Correctional Centre.
They gathered in the frigid weather at three entrances — off Broadway, Assiniboine Avenue and Osborne Street — from 7:45 a.m. until 9:30 a.m.
"We are holding an information picket this morning to get the message out to this government that they need to overturn a very bad decision," said Michelle Gawronsky, president of the Manitoba Government and General Employees' Union (MGEU), which organized the protest.
"We know that the MLAs are coming through, and we want to be able to touch base with each and every one of them. They need to answer to Manitobans on why this decision was made.
"Our members and the community people from Dauphin are here to ask them."
The decision to close the jail, announced last month by Manitoba Justice Minister Cliff Cullen, has received backlash in the community 250 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg, where the jail is a major employer.
Cullen said it will close at the end of May because the 103-year-old facility no longer meets modern correctional needs.
The previous NDP-led provincial government announced plans to build a new jail and healing centre to replace the current jail. Land was donated by the City of Dauphin and surrounding rural municipality and a request for proposals was issued in 2014.
But after the Progressive Conservatives were elected in 2016, the plan was reviewed and in December 2019, Cullen said the new jail was no longer needed. The following month he announced the current jail would close.
Hundreds of people marched in the streets of Dauphin on Feb. 5 to rail against the decision, two days after more than 500 people packed three rooms at Dauphin's recreational services facility as part of a town hall meeting to learn more about the planned closure.
WATCH | MGEU is not giving up over planned closure of the Dauphin Correctional Centre:
Gawronsky said she has been contacted by family members of Dauphin jail inmates. They are concerned that no information has been provided about where those inmates will be moved, she said.
"They're saying to us … 'What's going to happen to them? How are we going to get there to be able to go and visit them?'" she said.
"We have no idea what's going on. No one has talked the families, no one has talked to the inmates and no one has talked to the staff or the community of Dauphin.
"This government is extremely silent."
While there are about 80 employees whose jobs are at risk within the justice system in Dauphin, the ripples spread much farther, Gawronsky said.
"There's families up there as well. There's spouses and partners and they have a decision to make — are they going to have to try and move?" she said.
"The stores that are there, the school that is there, the churches, everyone is concerned and they are very, very worried about what's going to happen to their community.
"This is a huge hit. Eighty jobs in the Dauphin area is like 8,000 jobs in the city of Winnipeg."
With files from Ian Froese