Closure of prison farms angers farmers

Alex Butler

Farmers are preparing to rally on Parliament Hill this Tuesday to convince the government to reverse their decision to close down Canada’s prison farms.

The decision was made last February to shut down Canada’s six prison farms, two of which are located near Kingston, Ont.

“It’s a totally unjustifiable decision and we can’t find anyone who agrees with it,” said Jeff Peters, a farmer with the National Farmers Union, who assists with prison farms.

Members of the National Farmers Union are set to head to Parliament Hill to raise awareness about what they said is the unnecessary closing of the prison farms. As part of their protest, farmers plan to bring farm animals with them to the Hill. The farmers will then go to a meeting of the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security to express their opinions.

The government’s decision was based on the fact that few inmates were obtaining work in agriculture after release, which the government said made the skills they acquired unnecessary. However, many people argue that the skills are transferable to other labour trades, like construction.

“They insulted the farming community by saying working on a farm doesn’t give people meaningful skills in today’s world,” said Peters.

Peters explained that to work on the farm, inmates need to be punctual, hardworking and able to work on a team. He said these skills that are valuable in many situations.

Michael Jackson, a law professor at the University of British Columbia and a prisoners’ rights activist, said the farms are important if the government wants to find meaningful employment for prisoners.

“It’s providing a service,” he said. “The skills they learn are a lesson in life.”

Jackson said the program is effective and environmentally friendly, as the food produced is used at the prisons.

Peters also said that the farm work helps with rehabilitation, as it gives inmates work and prepares them to reintegrate into society.

Farmland To Be Used For Expansion

The farmland that will no longer be used is the site of proposed prison expansions.

Peters said he is worried about the proposed expansions.  “We wanted to know what the farm land is for and super prisons are going to be built on the farm land. It’s the whole idea of turning prisons into a big business for private profit.”

The budget for prison construction was doubled by the Conservative government, who have introduced more legislation, including mandatory minimum sentences for different charges. This has resulted in an influx of inmates.

Currently, the prison farms are being dismantled. Peters explained the 300 cows at the Kingston farms are going to be sold this June, but, it’s something he said won’t happen without a fight.

“We’re not going to let that happen very easily,” he said. “Once that happens, it’s the last nail in the coffin.”

Protest Scheduled for Tuesday

Another attempt to reverse the decision will come Tuesday at the rally on Parliament Hill, followed by discussion with the public safety committee and the Correction Service of Canada. Peters said it is just another of many attempts by the National Farmers Union to change the government’s mind.

“We will not give up. We are farmers. We’re only farmers because we’re stubborn,” said Peters. “We will work long and hard to defeat the government on the issue.”



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