Letter: KP Tours do not tell all

Kingston Penitentiary, or Kingston Pen, as it stands today in April of 2021. Photo by Cody Stafford-Arenburg.

Editorial note: The following is a submitted letter to the editor. The views and opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of The Kingstonist.

I write after the recent anniversary of 50 years since the KP Riot.

I noticed shortly thereafter there was a lot of chatter in reference to the tours that go on at KP. Over the years, they have generated much-needed money for the United Way that, in itself, is a great fundraiser and I am sure benefits many.

This author has not an issue with that, but what I do take issue with is what story is being told to those who take these tours. Do they explain the deaths that occurred at KP for many years? Are the living conditions that many lived in for years at KP explained? Even for those questions, I would say: NO.

KP, before the tours, was not freshly painted, windows all repaired, with heat working all year round – no, it was a rough place for many reasons to do time.

There is a new book out by Catherine Fogarty, Murder on the Inside, the true story of the 1971 riot. I would suggest anyone who really wants to know what happened in KP, and what it was like to do time there, take some time and read that book.

This author again has no issues with the tours and what they are trying to do – I trust that’s raise money for charities. I just hope that all who go there do not believe the stories they all told, by those who really do not know what it was like to live there.

Over the past few weeks many groups have weighed in in print, on TV and radio about the 1971 riot, what it was about and what changes have come since this riot. I suggest not many. Yes, inmates now have a Correctional Investigator, but he has NO powers to change anything, just investigates issues and concerns and makes recommendations to the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC). The other main change that has happened is inmates now have Inmate Committees in all Federal Pens. They are a representative of the population that is a go-between, between staff and the population. Both of these have had good results over the years.

One of the staircases leading to the main floor inside Kingston Penitentiary. Photo by Jessica Foley.

Although, there have been many issues and concerns that have never been addressed. Over the years, there have been other riots in many institutions across Canada, just not as bad and out of control as KP was in 1971.This includes the ‘Uprising,’ as it was called, at KPW (Kingston Prison for Women, or P4W) across the street in 1994, which, after all the dust settled, resulted in yet another report being issued, which read, and I quote “they are living in inhumane Conditions” written by Justice Arbour.

Finally, I am well aware some members of society believe that those inside doing time should not be “having a good time.” I suggest there is a huge difference between having a good time, and living in a pen that is “inhumane.” This does not just refer to how the building looks, or how it was maintained over the years. It’s also how one is treated, what’s offered for those inside as means of work and programs, and some form of rehabilitation before one’s release date is upon them.

Let’s continue these tours, and all the good they do, but let’s also tell the complete stories of what really went on inside the walls of KP and KPW for many years, before and after that riot of 1971.

Kevin Belanger
Former Inmate Committee Chairman at Joyceville Med Unit JAU & Joyceville Min Unit JIMSU

One thought on “Letter: KP Tours do not tell all

  • I served on a jury for investigation of prisoners death from aids. We debated thoughtfully and submitted recommendations, as we were committed to do. To my knowledge our recommendations were tabled. We heard disturbing testimony and I really hoped that changes would be implemented. Disappointing!

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