Vigils for ethical prison farms to be held outside Collins Bay Institution

Six dairy cattle arrived at Collins Bay Institution on Tuesday, Jun. 4, 2019. Photos courtesy of MP Mark Gerretsen.

 

The introduction of beef and dairy cows at the new Joyceville and Collins Bay prison farms has drawn the concern of Evolve Our Prison Farms, a campaign for “plant-based prison farms in Canada enhanced by farmed animal sanctuary.”

The group will begin holding weekly vigils in front of Collins Bay Institution every Tuesday from 5 to 6 p.m. The vigils for ethical prison farms will begin Tuesday, June 11, 2019 and will continue to be held “until prison farms do no harm.”

Not to be confused with Save Our Prison Farms, a national campaign that began in Kingston working to reinstate Canada’s prison farms, Evolve Our Prison Farms stated in a press release that the group “questions the government’s decision to introduce beef, dairy, and a goat factory farm to produce raw milk for Chinese infant formula exports.”

Unlike the former prison farms, shuttered by the Harper government nearly a decade ago, the new farms will no longer be centered on producing food for prisoners due to CSC’s Food Service Modernization. Seeking external markets, CSC opted for industrial goat dairy as the core operation of the new program. Up to 2,000 goats will be farmed in a contained facility at Joyceville, reportedly to supply China’s top infant formula producer Feihe International.

Mark Gerretsen, Member of Parliament for Kingston and the Islands, said that the Feihe plant was creating employment opportunities and contributing to the community, and “in order for Feihe to be successful, we’re going to have to have a lot of goat milk, goat farmers start popping up in the southeastern Ontario area.”

The new prison farm model provided an “opportunity for the correctional institution to play a role” in Feihe’s operations, according to Gerretsen, who assured that no one would be “exploiting goats or exploiting prison labour to support that.”

“Corrections Canada will get the same rate that any goat farmer in the area is going to get [for the milk],” said Gerresten. “Feihe needs approximately 140,000 or 150,000 goats to make their plant operate, so less than 1 per cent of the goat milk would be coming from Corrections Canada.”

In addition to cows and goats, the prison farms will be growing produce and vegetables. According to Gerretsen, CSC has a partnership with Loving Spoonful, a Kingston-based nonprofit who will ”distribute to people who need produce, but can’t afford it through a food bank operation.”

MP Gerretsen said that, although the food produced by prisoners won’t be going back into the system, food production was never the main goal of the prison farms program.

“The prisoners that have went through the program will tell you that it’s not about learning how to be a farmer, it’s about all those other skills: about being responsible for something, having a timeline of when they have to get up in the morning, when they have to finish at the end of the day, what they were responsible to accomplish during the day, the independence, the teamwork,” said Gerretsen. “I think it’s a great rehabilitative exercise.”

Evolve our Prison Farms co-founder Calvin Neufeld criticized the new programs, stating that they were “the wrong model for a federally funded program intended to promote rehabilitation and teach empathy.”

According to Neufeld, prison farms should “adopt an innovative approach to penal agriculture and a no-kill approach to animal therapy,” in light of “the climate emergency, Canada’s new Food Guide, and evolving social attitudes towards prison labour and animal welfare.”

Evolve Our Prison Farms stated that they have submitted three petitions with over 14,000 signatures calling upon the government “to establish prison farms that prioritize ecological sensitivity and climate change solutions, and to prevent use of animals in rehabilitation programs except under sanctuary or animal therapy models.”

The group said that one petition was sponsored by Green Party leader Elizabeth May and another was sponsored by MP Gerretsen.

“If you’re a member of my riding and you ask me to present a petition, I will do that, providing it meets the criteria of the house of commons. I’ll do that for any issue regardless of how I personally feel about it,” said Gerretsen, noting that Evolve Our Prison Farms had been consulted on a number of different occasions regarding the new prison farms. “It does not by any means mean I endorse the petition.”

Gerretsen said that he agreed to present the petition to the house of commons on their behalf, but told the group, “I believe in the model the Save Our Prison Farms group has been pushing towards, I believe in the stories that I’ve heard from inmates about their successful rehabilitation.”

“You’re going to have a very hard time convincing me that it has to be done a different way because this is not what I fought for in the election, and it’s not what I’ve been fighting for with the government,” Gerretsen said.

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