Doyle and Piché: Kemptville Prison Plots Another Attack on Democracy | Rare Techy


Whether it’s schools, housing, highways, or prisons, undemocratic behavior has become a staple of Ford’s administration.

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Three weeks ago, many Ontarians were outraged by the Ford government’s decision to use the notwithstanding clause to circumvent collective bargaining rights under the Charter and unilaterally impose a contract on 55,000 lower-wage educators in Ontario.

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Last week, many Ontarians were angered by the Ford government’s plan to give the mayors of Toronto and Ottawa the power to pass bylaws that advance provincial priorities such as indiscriminate housing development with the support of only one-third of city councillors. These latest dictatorial and autocratic attacks are reminiscent of many other undemocratic moves by the Ford government, including the decision to build a new 235-bed prison in Kemptville, south of Ottawa.

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In August 2020, Premier Doug Ford announced the proposed prison without consulting Kemptville residents, the mayor or council. The shocking move sparked outrage from residents who feared the prison would transform the area and eat up farmland. As prison scientists, we fear its construction — which Infrastructure Ontario says will cost up to $500 million over a 30-year public-private partnership — will be a colossal waste of taxpayer money that will repeat the mistakes of the past.

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Indeed, millions that could be used to build communities through investment in education, health care, housing or other measures that enhance our collective safety are instead poured into Kemptville Prison and other costly human drilling sites across Ontario.

In the weeks following the Kemptville prison announcement, residents persuaded municipal officials, including Mayor Nancy Peckford, not to oppose the proposal. The residents of Kemptville decided to fight back. Protests ensued, making headlines across the province, and later hundreds of “NO PRISONS” signs went up around the city.

Attempts by the Solicitor General’s Ministry to quell concerns with so-called public engagement sessions backfired as officials failed to convincingly answer questions such as how and why the site was selected; why Eastern Ontario needed more prisons when the province’s prison population dropped by more than 30 per cent just weeks after the COVID-19 pandemic was declared; and how this institution would differ from the others that the ministry recognized as failures. The last disastrous session further exasperated the inhabitants. Ottawa NDP MPP Joel Harden called it a “gong show” at Queen’s Park.

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Echoing the recent collapse of the education sector, disputes over abuse of power also arose last fall when local MPP and Local Government Minister Steve Clark tried to use Ford’s new campaign finance laws to silence two Kemptville citizen groups opposed to the prison. To Clark’s shame, Elections Ontario rejected his appeal.

Undemocratic behavior continues as the province refuses to hand over many documents residents have requested through freedom of information requests, including the project’s environmental assessment. Several applications are currently in mediation or resolution.

Ford’s government is now on trial after residents Victor Lachance and Kirk Albert filed a lawsuit alleging the government’s actions breached planning law by, among other things, ignoring the municipality’s official plan. In a David and Goliath situation, they’re raising money through GoFundMe to fight the province’s vast legal resources.

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The undemocratic behavior surrounding the proposed prison and the disregard for the environment and farmland echo several other Ford government initiatives. For example, the proposed Highway 413 and Bradford Bypass have similar concerns of autocratic behavior, significant local opposition, questioning of claimed benefits, serious environmental and farmland destruction concerns, etc. A central theme, as with the school situation, is the willingness of the Ford government to push through its policies by any means necessary.

The people of Ontario must stand together against the harmful moves being forced upon us by a provincial government that seems intent on crushing democracy to fulfill its agenda, just as we did to force repeal of the laws that put a contract on educators. We must collectively push back again for the government to build communities, not cages.

Professors Aaron Doyle (Sociology, Carleton University) and Justin Piché (Criminology, University of Ottawa) are members of the Criminalization and Punishment Training Project and the proposed Anti-Prison Coalition.

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