Open letter to Kingston MP Mark Gerretsen

Mark Gerretsen
MP for Kingston and the Islands
841 Princess St, Kingston, ON K7L 1G9

April 11, 2018

Dear Mr. Gerretsen,

Thank you for taking the time to respond to the many letters you received in support of an evolved prison farm model, and in opposition to animal agriculture as a rehabilitative program.

We would like to offer clarification on certain key points. You express understanding that there is “frustration from both sides, those who desire a Prison Farm model with animals at the core as well as those who advocate for a plant based model.” Throughout our campaign we have advocated for sanctuary as a model of non-exploitative and non-violent prisoner-animal therapy. Describing the scenario as you have erases our voices and perpetuates the ideology that animal agriculture is the only option to have “animals at the core” of the program.

In our meeting with you last year, we laid out the issues: dairy is harmful to the environment; dairy is harmful to prisoners (manipulating sexuality, removing newborns to harvest mothers’ milk, sending animals to slaughter, and becoming desensitized to animal grief and suffering); and it is harmful to the animals whose alleged purpose is the rehabilitation of prisoners. How can you justify the claim that such a model places “animals at the core” of rehabilitation?

Sanctuary is the only model that would effectively and ethically put animals at the core.

It is also unfair to suggest any equivalency to the “frustration from both sides.” Proponents of prison dairy got what they wanted – a prison dairy program. The frustration they feel over it being goats and not cows has no comparison to the frustration we feel over the government’s total disregard for the mountain of evidence we have put forward against animal agriculture as rehabilitation. And while Minister Goodale is expressing his sympathies to advocates of prison cow dairy, meeting and speaking with them and offering reassurances that he will continue to consider their case and “pave the way for more expansions” into cow dairy, he has refused our requests to meet with him for a year and a half.

We are distressed and angered at the blatantly undemocratic process by which the government has co-opted the prison farm program to support a deal with foreign economic interests, passing it off as a feel-good public relations move. If I may say so, Mr. Gerretsen, the restoration of the prison farm program may not have been the result of your sustained efforts, or the result of a community working together for a common objective, as you suggest. It now seems entirely possible that the government saw a business deal, shook hands on it, so to speak, and launched a public consultation process to maintain the appearance of a “democratic system.”

You “recognize the expertise of those in charge of the decision… namely Correctional Services Canada, the advisory board on prison farms, and the Public Safety Department.” We feel that the prison goat dairy decision calls into question the expertise behind it. We also know that the decision-making authority rests in the hands of Minister Goodale, who refuses to speak with us or give the issues due consideration. What relevance is expertise when the door is shut against any argument that does not support a desired outcome?

We have statements from academics, lawyers, prisoner advocates, prisoners, criminologists, and experts in rehabilitation, violence and abuse, expressing in unequivocal terms the inappropriateness of animal agriculture as rehabilitation.

Mr. Gerretsen, if inmate rehabilitation is truly the core objective for the prison farm program and for your office, then we plead with you to once again consider the evidence we have put forward, and also to consider the injustice that is being perpetrated by this government. They are ignoring the evidence, ignoring the public, and threatening to implement a program that will put prisoners and therapy animals in harm’s way. All for a short-sighted deal with China.

We are outraged. If you lift the thin veil on this, you will see why.

We will continue to campaign for a prison farm model that affirms the dignity and rights of all persons and animals involved. We and the hundreds of Kingston constituents that we represent plead with you to bring our voices to the table, with conviction and accuracy. Please do not misrepresent the “sides” as “animals at the core versus no animals” – the true comparison is “exploitation of animals versus uncompromised care of animals” at the core of the rehabilitation program.

You were right when you said this is a difficult conversation to have. Yet it is necessary.

We would appreciate the opportunity to meet with you again, to update you on our efforts and progress, and to further educate your office about the many serious issues that remain unacknowledged and unaddressed by our government.

Respectfully,

Calvin Neufeld
Evolve Our Prison Farms           
On behalf of a widespread community of prison farm advocates

c.c.    Hon. Ralph Goodale, Minister of Public Safety
          Ms. Anne Kelly, Interim Commissioner of Correctional Service of Canada
          Dr. Ivan Zinger, Correctional Investigator of Canada