A letter from Warren (Smokey) Thomas and Dan Sidsworth
April 15, 2011
We are writing to let you know what is happening with the campaign to stop the closures of the Owen Sound Jail, the Walkerton Jail, the Sarnia Jail and the partial closure of the Toronto West Detention Centre.
As many of you are aware, in the March 29 provincial budget, the McGuinty government announced that these closures would take place. The Ministry’s schedule for these closures is to shut down Owen Sound and Walkerton this year, complete the partial closure of Toronto West in 2012, and close Sarnia in 2013. Inmates from Owen Sound and Walkerton will be transported to Central North Correctional Centre in Penetanguishene, inmates from Toronto West moved to the new Toronto South Detention, and inmates from Sarnia moved to the new facility being built in Windsor. This was done without consultation with the affected communities or the staff that deliver these services in the jails.
None of these closures make any fiscal or logical sense. For instance, Owen Sound and Walkerton both operate close to their budgets. These facilities serve a vital role in their communities, providing well-paying jobs to boost the local economy. Inmates housed in these facilities receive local support and services from their home community and family members.
There is also a major issue with transportation. Round trips to take inmates from Penetanguishene to courts in Owen Sound and Walkerton will take four and six hours respectively. Sarnia to Windsor and back will easily take six hours. In the winter, these trips will be on roads that are some of the worst in Ontario for snow, ice and closures.
On the Saturday of Convention 2011, a resolution was passed for the union to begin a campaign to save these jails from closures. Local members are already working in their communities bringing the issue to elected officials and the media. The mayors of Owen Sound and Brockton (which incorporates Walkerton) are now on record and have passed resolutions against the closures. Owen Sound council is also demanding that the jail stay open until a new facility is built in the region.
Your Corrections MERC team and OPSEU Head Office are working together to fully develop this campaign. The campaign will involve the communities surrounding these jails, members from the affected facilities and other important resources. Next week, meetings will be held with the Minister and the Conservative and NDP Corrections Critics to expose the problems with these closures. In the coming days and weeks, resources will be in place to fight the government’s decision and bring a strong message to the public on the value of these services in their communities.
Please watch the OPSEU website for news as it becomes available. Together, we will make sure the government knows that this will be an election issue in these communities, while at the same time fighting for our members and the services they provide.
Warren (Smokey) Thomas
Ontario Public Service Employees Union
OPSEU Corrections MERC