About 40 people braved the cold and windy rain Monday evening in front of Penticton City Hall to protest efforts to potentially bring a new medium security provincial correctional centre to the city.
Attendees held signs and chanted slogans urging council not to pursue the prison — most of council, at least.
There to support the protesters, Coun. Garry Litke told the crowd he will bring a notice of motion to council proposing that the city hold a referendum asking residents whether they are in favour of a correctional facility within the city boundaries.
“I understand that there is a cost attached to holding a referendum but this is too important not to,” Litke said after the rally. “We had referendums on Munson Mountain, the casino and the South Okanagan Events Centre. We can’t do something like this without a referendum.”
Litke noted that the Village of Lumby — another potential location for the centre which the provincial government has said will be built somewhere in the Okanagan — held a referendum on Saturday to include their community in the decision-making process.
The overall preliminary results of that vote show those who oppose the facility outnumbered those in favour by about 200 votes, with voters in Lumby proper supporting it 494 votes to 381 but those in the adjacent Area D of the North Okanagan Regional District voting 727 to 374 against it.
Litke said a recent tour of similar correctional facilities in the Lower Mainland had a completely different effect on him than it reportedly had on his colleagues Coun. Mike Pearce and city CAO Annette Antoniak in that it solidified his position against building the prison in Penticton.
“I am worried about the scale of the building,” said Litke. “The factor that it will be so conspicuous and not camouflaged at all, the way the one is in Port Coquitlam amongst other buildings.”
Litke said he is also worried that inmates who are released will want to continue to live in Penticton.
“The proponents are saying they won’t want to stick around here once they get out because that is what happens in Surrey. But if you are released from the Surrey correctional facility you are going to leave because why would you hang around Surrey? But when you are released from a Penticton facility you are going to look around and say, ‘Oh, it is pretty nice here, maybe I will stay,’” he said.
“The elephant in the room is the remand population. Fifty per cent of the people that will be in the facility will have a wide range of offences. It won’t simply be the 79-day drunk driver who is doing his time. It will be everything. And if you are in remand and you are facing a murder charge, you are going to be looking to get out of there.”
A prison, Litke concluded, does not fit the city’s long-term vision. Penticton resident and rally participant Tom Bijvoet agrees.
While not involved in organizing Monday’s protest, Bijvoet is one of a group of residents who have started a petition against building the facility in Penticton. According to Bijvoet, so far the group has collected about 2,500 signatures and has received lots of interest in their website: www.nopentictonprison.com.
“We have the website and we have the petition in three downtown stores, but other than that it has been mostly word-of-mouth,” Bijvoet said. “We haven’t done any door-knocking. We haven’t gone out and physically approached people with it. We simply sat in the mall one day fairly passively and waited for people passing by to come up to us unsolicited.
“So we are really pleased with the spontaneous reactions we’re getting.”