Unions, farmers, opposition politicians and a donkey gathered in a closed-off section of Laurier Street between Bank and O’Connor streets yesterday to protest the planned closing of Canada’s prison farms.
Six Canadian penitentiaries operate farms which are worked by inmates and provide food for the institutions. Supporters say the farm work teaches the inmates a variety of agricultural skills, as well as more generally applicable ones, like welding, hand and power tool use, and heavy equipment operation. The farms at Frontenac and Pittsburgh Institutions near Kingston, they say, contribute $900,000 annually to the local economy.
Corrections Canada, which says the program costs about $4 million a year, announced in February it would close the farms.
Liberal agriculture critic Wayne Easter took issue with the government’s accounting, and told the rally that when he recently toured the farm at Frontenac Institution, he noticed a sign at the entrance reading, “Paying Our Way through Agriculture.”
“I know when I was solicitor general that it was paying its way and I believe it still is,” Easter said. “However when you listen to Van Loan, the minister of public security, either that sign was a lie then and is a lie now, or he is telling us a lie. It’s one or the other, and I believe it to be the latter.”
The rally featured a barbecue offering hamburgers and juice produced by the prison farms.
National Farmers Union member Jeff Peters brought a donkey named Stormy, who wore a sign reading “P.C. Prison Farm Consultant.”
Ottawa Centre MP Paul Dewar, noting Stormy’s presence, told the rally, “Sometimes the law is an ass, and sometimes you get bad advice, and I daresay at this point, we need to give this government a kick in the ass when they come up with ideas like this.”