By Amanda Wilson

Opponents of the controversial prison that the Ford government plans for Kemptville are joining forces to hold a benefit concert in nearby Ottawa. Headlined by Mohawk singer-songwriter and rising star Logan Staats, the concert will take place on Friday, November 3.

The southern Ontario Greenbelt isn’t the only place where Doug Ford and disgraced former Housing Minister Steve Clark have been trying to destroy farmland in favour of development. Just a short drive down the 416 from Ottawa, you’ll find the lush farmlands and heritage farm buildings of the former Kemptville Agricultural College. Closed in 2015, a portion of the site was sold to the Municipality of North Grenville for community use — but a large portion remains in the hands of the provincial government. It is here, in the context of a climate crisis and rising food insecurity, that Ford wants to build the prison.

Following the shock announcement of the government’s plans back in August 2020 — with no warning to the town or its mayor and council — community residents were quick to organize in opposition, forming the Coalition Against the Proposed Prison (CAPP). As Colleen Lynas, one of the founders of CAPP, notes, many Kemptville residents were upset that the proposed prison was dumped on the town with no consultation, while others were concerned about losing valuable farmlands. They have come together to wage a fierce fight against the Ford prison.

Opponents of the new Kemptville prison – and Spider-man –hold signs saying "Save farm land" and "No Prison" in front of signs for the 2022 Plowing Match
Members of the Coalition Against the Proposed Prison at last year’s Kemptville plowing match. (Photo by Larry Belzac)

The group has engaged in numerous actions over the past three years, including rallies, community forums, and letter-writing campaigns. They also filed a series of Freedom of Information requests to gain more information about the project, as details were scarce. The province has fought them on nearly every one, either releasing only partial documents or outright refusing to comply.

Lisette Major, one of the CAPP members, argues “It’s distressing that our government takes such a cavalier approach to meeting its obligations under access to information legislation, especially given its earlier promises to be super-transparent with our community.”

The information that the group has been able to obtain shows that the Kemptville site does not meet the Ministry of the Solicitor General’s own criteria for selection. Reviewing the documents also raised concerns about the environmental impact of the prison’s construction on Barnes Creek, which flows through the property.

CAPP argues that building the proposed prison in Kemptville makes no sense. Since most individuals that would be incarcerated at Kemptville will be from Ottawa, they will have difficulty maintaining relationships with their families, accessing the critical social and cultural supports available in Ottawa, and returning safely to their home communities upon release from prison.

“We’d be much further ahead if we invested upstream in preventing violence and building communities not cages.”

CAPP also questions whether a new prison needs to be built at all. The proposed prison will dramatically increase the number of prison beds in the Ottawa region. While the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre frequently has issues with overcrowding, building a new prison isn’t the only solution.

As University of Ottawa criminologist Justin Piché argues, “building prisons is an incredibly costly and ineffective approach to improving community safety. We’d be much further ahead if we invested upstream in preventing violence, building communities not cages through investments in housing, mental health and health care services, and providing diversion and re-entry supports for criminalized people.”

CAPP’s analysis suggests it will cost up to $499 million dollars over the life of the 30-year public-private partnership to design, build, finance and maintain the Kemptville prison.

After two years of campaigning, CAPP decided to switch gears. Two CAPP members took the government to court in a David and Goliath legal battle that started in August 2022. They are arguing the Ford plan violates the government’s own Provincial Policy Statement on land use planning and the Planning Act, which requires consultation with the municipal government and pledges to protect agricultural lands.

Following an attempt by the province to dismiss the request for a judicial review, Justice Robert Smith ruled in May 2023 that the review can continue. In his written ruling, Smith also agreed with many of CAPP’s assertions.

While the legal case continues, the group’s legal bills are piling up, which is difficult for a small citizens’ group to afford. Victor Lachance, one of the co-applicants on the judicial review, reflected “We’re committed to seeing this legal fight through, and we’re optimistic about the outcome, but it definitely isn’t cheap. The province would like nothing more than to see us give up if we run out of money.”

They have teamed-up with Mohawk singer-songwriter Logan Staats and local country artist Trevor Alguire for a fundraiser concert on November 3 at the Carleton Dominion-Chalmers Centre in downtown Ottawa. Staats, winner of CTV’s The Launch and this year’s SOCAN Foundation TD Indigenous songwriter award, blends his guitar, harmonica, and vocals for a haunting and melodic journey. The event will be MC’d by award-winning former CBC Ottawa news anchor Adrian Harewood. The musicians and campaign will have merch for sale, and there will be a cash bar.

Tickets are between $25-50 and can be purchased in advance at

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