| May 07, 2009

Back to HomeFeature Article - May 7, 2009 Closure of prison farms incites a national day of actionby Julie Druker

Supporters and representatives of various local farm groups opposed to prison farm closures demonstrate at Parliament Hill in Ottawa on April 30 National Day of Action. l to r: Dave Perry, Karon Hodgson, Andrea Cumpson and Peter Dowling.

A group of local farmers organized a Day of Action on April 30 to demonstrate their opposition to the recent decision by CORCAN, the job training arm of Correction Services Canada (CSC), to close six prison farms across the country.

Two of the farms are located in the Kingston area: the Pittsburgh Institution on Hwy. 15 and its abattoir Wallace Beef, and the Frontenac Institution on Bath Road.

Peter Dowling, a Howe Island farmer who is an Ontario Councillor with the National Farmer’s Union and director of the NFU’s local 316 said that the day of action came about because the government has refused to respond to opponents of the closures.

“We’ve tried for over a month now to get a response from the Minister of Public Safety, Peter Van Loan, and we’re not getting any response,” he said.

Three separate events took place on April 30th.. Guerilla Gardeners visited the Frontenac Institution on Bath Road in Kingston and planted seeds there. A road side local beef barbeque was set up at the Pittsburgh Institution on HWY 15, and a convoy of concerned farmers from various farm groups and organizations (with two live cows in tow) travelled to Parliament Hill in Ottawa for a press conference, a meeting with concerned MPs and a public demonstration.

Andrea Cumpson, president of the NFU’s local 316, made the trip to Ottawa.

She said “I’m hoping that MPs will have an open mind and think about this whole issue in a bigger way and that this closure is a huge mistake. I fail to understand why the government is not listening to the people. People are starting to understand food security issues and the importance of local food and infrastructure. I haven‘t talked to one person yet who has not said about the closures ‘Isn‘t that a shame!’”

Jeff Peters, of the Frontenac Cattleman’s Assoc and NFU’s local 316 parked his cow trailer and its two live inhabitants in front of the Hill. He was forbidden by the OPP to bring his two cows onto the hill since he lacked the proper permit, but the trailer still attracted the attention of MPs, the press, the OPP and passersby.

Liberal MP Wayne Easter and NDP MP Malcom Allen showed their support by entering the trailer with the cows..

In a subsequent press conference, Dowling and Dave Perry of the Frontenac Cattleman’s Association highlighted their opposition to the farm closures, citing the benefits to inmates working on the farms, to the prisons themselves, local farmers and businesses. Many of their arguments directly opposed earlier statements, made on April 28 in the House of Commons by Peter Van Loan, the Minister of Public Safety regarding the reasons for the closures.

Minister Van Loan argued in the House of Commons that the prisons are not profitable, do not offer employable skills to inmates, who, due to lack of employment prisoners are more likely to re-offend once released into the community. Minister Van Loan also wondered how prisoners, so lacking in personal funds upon their release back into society, would be in a position to start up their own farms.

Dave Perry, who works in the prison farm program in addition to raising cattle on his own farm, pointed out the benefits of the farm programs to the prison inmates: “They (the inmates) gain a lot of experience and you can see quite a change in them by working with animals and on the land. They learn how to operate heavy equipment and weld and learn how to grow vegetables and flowers. The farm land at Frontenac Institution is second to none and it is very productive. We really want to see it stay in agriculture production.”

“It’s evident to us that the decision makers such as Public Safety Canada do not have an idea of what they are throwing away with this decision,” said Peter Dowling. “We think it’s a wrong-headed decision and we’re looking for a reversal of that decision in our visit here today. I know that the minister has changed his mind on a number of other issues recently and this one seems just as important.”

Lynn Brunette, of the media relations office with Correctional Services of Canada, fielded questions on the steps of the Parliament Building after the press conference.

Asked about the future plans for the land occupied by the prisons when the closure takes place, Brunette responded, “We’re looking at all sorts of options, nothing specific at this time, no decision has been made. I can’t give you a time line either as to when exactly a decision would be made.”

When asked what types of more viable prison programs CORCAN is currently considering, Brunette answered, “Nothing specific at this time because we are at the stage where we are really assessing all of the options.”

NDP MP for Welland, Malcolm Allen, Liberal MP for Malpeque and party critic for agriculture Wayne Easter met the group of demonstrators outside parliament after the 12:30 press conference.

Easter, a past president of the NFU and former Solicitor General of Canada, supported the demonstrators' arguments against the closures.

“I think the cuts that Mr. Van Loan is making to the prison farms are absolutely wrong,” he said. “There are several aspects to this. First of all, from a community point of view, the abattoir on that farm services 150 local farmers and 300 businesses with local beef. There’s no other business that can pick this up.

“From the inmates’ point of view, there is nothing more rehabilitative to an inmate than working with livestock and field crops. This is an operation that gives these inmates a life, teaches them new skills including administrative skills and should not be cut.”

NDP MP Allen claimed that the inmates who work on these farms are six times less likely to re-offend. He explained, “If we weigh that cost against the cost of maintaining that farm, just for the rehabilitative benefits, it’s cheap. And when you also see that the community as a whole is benefiting, that’s another positive aspect.”

For more details on the issue go to www.nfuontario.ca

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