| May 28, 2009

Back to HomeFeature Article - May 28, 2009 Reprieve for abattoirby Julie Druker

The announcement not to close the Wallace Beef abattoir located at the Pittsburgh Institution near Kingston came at the third meeting held between representatives of various farm organizations and members of CORCAN and Correction Services Canada (CSC) staff on May 13 in Kingston. The announcement was made at the May 13 meeting by Ross Toller, the Deputy Commissioner of Corrections in Ontario.

Minister of Public Safety Peter Van Loan later confirmed in an interview in the Whig Standard a few days later that “We (Ottawa) shouldn’t do anything that would result in its closure.”

The announcement came as a relief and a victory to the many parties involved who opposed its closure.

For 14 years Bruce Wallace has owned and managed the abattoir, which operates as a co-venture between himself and CORCAN. He appeared relieved when I spoke to him on the phone last week. “I’m obviously very happy that it is being left the way that it has been… When I broke the news to the staff and the inmates, everyone was relieved.”

The abattoir serves many local farmers in the community, employs six full-time staff and trains 10 inmates from the Pittsburgh Institution.

Arguments against its closure included its benefit to 150 local farmers, 300 local businesses including the prisons, and the training skills it provides to the inmates there. Opposition to the closure was brought to light by various members of local farm groups and was supported by a National Day of Action on April 30 that included a trip to Parliament Hill.

Peter Dowling, a Howe Island farmer and an Ontario councillor with the National Farmer’s Union and director of the NFU’s local 316, has been instrumental in bringing to light the issue of the prison farm closures. He recently posted a news release on the NFU’s website citing the CSC’s decision not to close Wallace Beef as “very beneficial to the local food system and a positive step along the way.”

He explained in a phone interview on May 22, “The CSC staff we talked to at the meetings recognized the importance of the abattoir to the local community and the local food system and in terms of what they needed to satisfy public safety and inmate training. But it (the decision) is not the final answer.” He elaborated, “At that third meeting when the announcement was made not to close the abattoir, the decision to close the farms was still standing.”

The fight opposing the closure of six prison farms across the country, two of which are located in Kingston, does not appear to be over and Dowling explained that a local coalition group has recently formed made up of representatives from the Frontenac Cattleman’s Association, the NFU, Urban Agriculture and the Sisters of Providence Justice and Peace Office in Kingston.

According to Dowling, “We’re still working to build awareness and support in reorienting the drive toward local food with all of the other movements and associations concerned with local food and sustainability.”

Members of the coalition group will be meeting in early June in Ottawa with Minister Van Loan. Dowling hopes to “make the minister aware of the extent of support for the maintenance, enhancement and reorientation of the prison farm programs and to present strong arguments in support of them.”

He is hoping that the meeting will result in maintaining the prison farm programs across the country. “We’ve done as much as we can talking to the CSC staff and now it’s time to talk to the policy makers.“

In the meantime, he’s hoping to hear from individuals and local groups who support their aims to keep the prison farms running.

For further information, visit the NFU website at www.nfuontario.ca/316 or contact Peter Dowling at 613-546-0869.

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