Kemptville residents protest against proposed new jail

Protesters gathered south of Ottawa over the weekend to register their disapproval of a proposed new jail the province plans to build on government-owned land in the town just outside Ottawa. 

Jail Opposition Group was formed after Doug Ford's announcement in August

Protesters gathered in Kemptville on Nov. 7, 2020 to protest a proposed new correctional facility the Ontario government wants to build in their town. (Submitted by Marty Pemberton)

Protesters gathered in Kemptville over the weekend to register their disapproval of a proposed new jail the province plans to build on government-owned land in the town. 

Residents were upset by Premier Doug Ford's announcement at the end of August, which came as a surprise even to their own North Grenville, Ont., municipal council south of Ottawa.

The Ministry of the Solicitor General has said it will hold public consultations on the jail proposal. But Jim Bertram, who founded the Jail Opposition Group and organized Saturday's protest, said he thinks it's in bad faith to do that after the project's already been green-lit.

"Consultation is only consultation if that consultation stands a chance of affecting what's going to come down the pipe," he said. "We had no opportunity to do that."

Bertram said Saturday's protest was a way of letting people in Kemptville know they still have a voice.

"I'm hoping to cause the politicians on council and at the province [to] take heed, that they will say, well, you know, we didn't really do this the right way, folks."

More than NIMBY-ism

Kirk Albert attended the weekend protest, describing the opposition to the jail as more than just NIMBY-ism.

"We have an aging ... sewage and drinking water system. We do not have social supports like the John Howard Society or Elizabeth Fry. We don't have a public transportation system that would be essential for both inmates and their families to come and visit. And the list goes on," he said.

Kemptville's hospital is small, Albert added, and its emergency room would be unable to handle the added stress a jail could bring. 

The jail will likely have about 235 beds and won't be operational until at least 2027, North Grenville Mayor Nancy Peckford said on the weekend.

In an email on Monday, a ministry spokesperson said it's too early in the process to determine a completion date for the project.

Peckford said her council supports an open dialogue with the province and sees its role as ensuring the ministry is accessible and available to members of the community.

"The ministry did convene a meeting of stakeholders at our request. It included all Kemptville campus boards of education, as well as the local BIA, the hospital, a representative from the faith community and two individuals who ... represent networks where there has been a lot of dissent," she said. 

North Grenville Mayor Nancy Peckford said she sees her role as ensuring the Ministry of the Solicitor General is available and accessible to residents during the jail consultation process. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

Albert, who was part of that three-hour meeting, said he felt he was given time to voice his concerns — but he's still skeptical about how much they were taken into account. 

"They certainly listened to us, but they also had many examples of how they, quote unquote, partnered with other urban centres and [still] put correctional facilities in place," he said. 

In an email, the ministry said the project will bring jobs and economic prosperity to the town of about 4,000 just outside Ottawa.

"Ontario recognizes the need for public safety and the importance of stimulating local economies, creating jobs and supporting positive, long-term economic development," a spokesperson wrote.

"The ministry welcomes input into this project. Engagement sessions are underway and further sessions are being planned for the near future."

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