Open letter expresses concern over skewed prison panel

May 17, 2017

The Honourable Ralph Goodale
House of Commons
Ottawa, Ontario Canada K1A 0A6

Dear Mr. Goodale,

We are writing to express concern over the process and composition of the panel appointed to advise the government on re-opening Kingston’s prison farms. Five of the eight panel members are livestock farmers, making it clear that only animal agriculture is under consideration.

Alternative proposals to establish innovative and ecologically sustainable plant-based farms have been presented to your government on numerous occasions. These voices have been excluded from the panel. We are formally requesting that the composition of the panel be reviewed in favour of a more transparent and balanced process and we call for the inclusion of voices representing forward-thinking plant-based agriculture.

As we have documented in previous submissions, there is strong evidence that a plant-based prison farm would be better for prisoners, animals, the local community and the environment. Yet it appears that the panel has been set up in such a way as to preclude consideration of this option. This is puzzling given the challenges identified by your government’s own consultants in their “Report on the Town Hall Meeting on the feasibility of re-establishing penitentiary farms at the Joyceville and Collins Bay Institutions” dated August 16, 2016, which stated that reinstating a dairy farm: 

“may be unrealistic given preliminary estimates of its expense,” and “the operating costs of maintaining the penitentiary farm program as they were, while they were operational, were found to be prohibitive for CORCAN. The capital costs associated with re-establishing the farms as they were could make it even less feasible.”

Given the demonstrable benefits of a plant-based prison farm, and the acknowledged infeasibility of reinstating dairy farms, we urge you to carefully consider the skewed composition of the committee, and to appoint additional voices to the panel. They could include farmers from Kingston’s vibrant organic plant-based farming community, experts in the rehabilitative potential of human-animal relationships (including sanctuary), and ecologists specializing in sustainable farming practices.

A citizen advisory panel appointed by the federal government must aspire to a high level of balanced representation and commitment to evidence-based policy recommendations. Given that several members of the panel have already made clear that their single-minded goal is reinstatement of animal agriculture, the panel as it stands fails the test.

We call on you to ensure more balanced representation and less biased consideration of the options. The restoration of the farms is eagerly anticipated by the public. In our haste, let us not overlook opportunities and advantages that may lie in previously unexplored possibilities for the future of our prison farms.

Yours sincerely,

Sue Donaldson, Calvin Neufeld, & Franceen Neufeld
for the Evolve coalition

c.c.    Mark Gerretsen, MP, Kingston and the Islands
         Hon. Matthew DubĂ©, NDP critic for Public Safety
         Hon. Elizabeth May, Green critic for Public Safety
         Hon. Erin O’Toole, Conservative critic for Public Safety
         Don Davies, MP, Vancouver Kingsway
         Media Contacts