(OWEN SOUND) – The petition campaign to keep jails open in Owen Sound and Walkerton has hit 12,000 names, organizers of the campaign announced today.
"The community support has vastly exceeded our expectations," said Paul Johnstone, president of OPSEU Local 224, representing correctional officers in Owen Sound. "We"re extremely grateful for the outpouring of support we have received from the people of Grey, Bruce and Huron counties and points beyond."
The petition campaign started in mid-April after the provincial government announced in the March 29 budget that it intended to shut down correctional facilities in the two communities and, instead, transfer inmates to Penetanguishene. The petitions are being tabled daily in the provincial Legislature by Conservative MPP Bill Murdoch (Grey-Bruce-Owen Sound), New Democrat Peter Kormos (Welland-Thorold) and Conservative Bob Bailey (Sarnia-Lambton).
The petition calls on Premier Dalton McGuinty and the Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services Jim Bradley, to stop the closures pending a full public review of the decision and to begin consultations with local stakeholder groups which will be adversely affected by the shut down.
Opponents of the closures include frontline correctional officers, inmate and aboriginal advocates, health and safety experts, the police, parole and probation officers and local business leaders.
Also scheduled for closure is the provincial jail in Sarnia in 2013, and the transfer of the 200-inmate wing ofToronto West Detention Centre to a new facility in the city.
Gerry Hope, president of Local 225 which represents correctional officers in Walkerton, said he expects to see many more names added to the petition in the weeks ahead.
"We are taking the campaign to other towns and cities across Ontario that host correctional facilities to make them aware that what"s happening in Owen Sound and Walkerton could quickly happen to their communities, especially in facilities that are older, and under utilized and which have higher per diem costs," said Hope.
The petition campaign coincides with the launch of a radio advertising campaign in Bruce, Grey and Huron counties starting Tuesday May 24. The radio campaign will urge listeners to contact Huron-Bruce MPP Carol Mitchell and call on her, as a member of the provincial cabinet and the senior Liberal MPP for the region, to stop the jail closures pending a public review process.
OPSEU has also purchased newspaper advertisements in several weekly and daily newspapers in the region.
OPSEU Local 224
OPSEU Local 225