By Jenn Schleich
A large group of protestors spent Friday (April 29) afternoon fighting back against the forthcoming closures of the Owen Sound and Walkerton jails, while protesting outside Huron-Bruce MPP Carol Mitchell’s office in Kincardine.
“We are here todaybecause of the huge impact these closures will have on the local people and economy,” said Paul Johnstone, President of Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) Chapter 235.
The Walkerton Jail has 45 employees and the Owen Sound Jail has 50 employees who will be transferred to other Ontario locations if the closure is finalized.
Approximately a dozen people, including NDP candidate Grant Robertson, gathered on the front lawn of Mitchell’s office before staking their signs in her garden and marching down Queen St. in protest.
“I’m here today as a citizen,” said Robertson, “We will all be paying more money if this goes through and I’m here to support the workers.”
Gerry Hope, President of OPSEU Chapter 225 met with Carol Mitchell on Friday morning in Clinton where they discussed concerns over the jail closures.
“It was somewhat frustrating, she was only willing to listen to some of what we had to say and what she told us was ministry officials have told her, this is the way it is,” said Hope. “She was very non-committal, and gave me the sense this is a done deal and unless enough pressure comes to bare, it won’t be reversed,” he added.
According to Hope the next step will be to get the community involved and start speaking directly to the ministries.
“We will win this,” he insisted.
The protesters had some inside information Carol Mitchell would be there at 1 p.m., said Johnstone. However, a representative from Mitchell’s office said it is typically closed on Fridays in Kincardine.
“I met with Carol in Clinton this morning and it was obvious to me her plans to be here today were a ruse,” said Hope.
If the jails closes employees will be transferred to other facilities, including the Central North Correctional Centre in Penetangushine.
“There are current and upcoming vacancies at other nearby jails, such as Stratford, but transferring to these positions would be based on seniority,” said Hope.
According to Hope, if transferring to another location isn’t an option for an employee the Province isn’t offering any compensation aside from the severance package as per their current collective agreement.
“There is currently a hiring freeze until the current vacancies are filled by employees who will be affected by these closures,” Hope added.
The original decision to close the jails came down from the Minister of Finance in the 2011 Ontario budget.
“This has got to be the first time a finance minister has closed an institution, some people are wondering if it was Jim Bradley’s decision,” said Hope.
Ontario correctional institutions received no consultation or warning before the budget announcement about the closures.
“Bradley has no response on that either,” he added.