Many North Grenville residents remain opposed to having a prison in their backyards.
The 235-bed prison planned to be built just off of Highway 416 on Kemptville Campus land is said to bring more jobs and economic benefits to the municipality, but it has also brought protests and raised concerns from many of the municipality's residents.
About 50 North Grenville residents marched in front of MPP Steve Clark's constituency office in Brockville Friday afternoon to voice their opposition to the planned prison.
The Leeds-Grenville-Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes MPP announced last summer that the Eastern Ontario Correctional Complex will be built on the provincially-owed former campus land.
"We wanted to show him (Clark) that we are committed as a community and the facts support that it's a poor decision for our town," said Kirk Albert of Jail Opposition Group (JOG).
"Hopefully today he realizes we're very serious (about) this, we're very passionate about our town and we want to have a say in its future," he added.
A crowd of residents raised their signs that read "No Prison" and "No Jail" and similar slogans as they rallied in front of the MPP's office.
Chants from the group could be heard, saying: "No prison! No prison!"
Clark was in Kingston for an announcement at St. Lawrence College during the protest.
"I'm proud to support the Office of the Solicitor General and the municipality of North Grenville as we work together to ensure the proposed Kemptville correctional facility delivers the best outcomes for the community and supports the local economy," Clark said in a prepared statement.
Clark explained that the proximity to the 416 highway, and other key attributes make the old Kemptville College lands a practical location for the prison.
However, member of Jog and the Coalition Against the Proposed Prison (CAPP) are still concerned about the environmental impact the new facility will have, the future of the historic campus lands and the municipality, as well as the potential negative impacts on infrastructure the facility may bring, and they are concerned about what they consider the lack of transparency from the Ontario government.
Albert said a Freedom of Information request was filed regarding the prison and they received 10 pages out of a possible 145.
He explained that the request was filed because very little information about the project was being shared.
"Why did we have to file a Freedom of Information request in the first place? They promised us transparency," he said.
There were close to 130 possible locations for the prison before officials chose the Kemptville land, but only 38 properties were assessed, according to Albert, who discussed the findings of the information request during his speech before the protest.
"Today was really about establishing some demands," said Albert.
The demands to the provincial government included wanting the government immediately to impose a moratorium on construction of the proposed Kemptville prison.
They also include demands to hold consultations with Indigenous peoples and all other residents on how best to develop the lands, as well as to hold public and stakeholder consultations on whether building a new prison in Eastern Ontario is the best way to promote public safety and use public funds.
In addition, if the decision from the consultations is to build a new prison, they want the province to start over with the site selection process and release all documents from the Ministry of the Solicitor General about the Kemptville Campus site selection, explained a prepared statement by CAPP.
According to a statement by Clark, the Ministry of the Solicitor General is hosting another public engagement on the facility during the week of Nov. 17.
In the statement he explained that he met with the ministry last week and "indicated how important it is for the community to have an opportunity to continue the dialogue with them."
The Ministry of the Solicitor General will be sharing additional details of the upcoming public engagement in the coming days.
A participant in the protest named Vanessa, who wished to have her last name remain private, said: "I urge you to say no to prison expansion and yes to equity and support. We need to build communities and support, not cages."
Clark said he has worked closely with North Grenville to ensure the municipality will be able to use any surplus land and retain existing buildings on the site the facility will not need.
"It allows the municipality to use this land for locally-driven opportunities, like agriculture, equine, and horticulture initiatives that are what make Kemptville such a thriving, prosperous community," said Clark in a prepared statement.
"It's important for Steve Clark to know that there's a growing opposition to the prison," said Christopher Wilson, a resident of North Grenville.
(Jessica Munro is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Brockville Recorder and Times. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.)
Jessica Munro, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brockville Recorder and Times