Officials from the B.C. Solicitor General’s office were in the Okanagan this week evaluating proposed locations throughout the Valley for a new medium-security correctional facility.
The provincial government plans to build a 360-cell correctional centre somewhere in the region which will house individuals awaiting trial or serving sentences of less than two years.
According to reports, Solicitor General Shirley Bond has received submissions for at least eight competing sites as potential locations for the prison, including two from Penticton: one on Campbell Mountain and the other near the Cantex gravel pit. Proposals have also been submitted by the Penticton and Osoyoos Indian Bands, Summerland and Lumby.
“My team is currently already evaluating the proposals,” Bond said last week. “That evaluation will continue and I am hopeful to have a recommendation provided to me before the middle of June.”
Bond said the evaluation team analyzing the competing sites will take a number of things into consideration before making a recommendation to her, including: the site location and size; its proximity to courthouses, RCMP lock-ups and other institutions; the availability of utilities; zoning; environmental conditions; and community support.
Mounting opposition to the prospect of having the facility constructed in Penticton prompted council to schedule a referendum on the matter for June 18, likely after Bond will have made a decision. Opponents of a Penticton jail plan to deliver a 3,458-name petition to City Hall on Tuesday.
An April 30 referendum in Lumby and its adjacent North Okanagan Regional District Area D brought mixed results, with village residents voting 56 per cent in support and two-thirds of the ballots cast in the outlying area opposed. Lumby council went ahead with plans to submit a site.
But last Friday about 40 protesters from Lumby held an anti-prison rally in front of the Penticton Trade and Convention Centre where the BC Liberal Party was holding its 2011 convention.
“We can’t understand why council wants to proceed when the majority of voters don’t want a prison built in Lumby,” said protest co-organizer Huguette Allen. “We are here today to remind Solicitor General Shirley Bond and the government of B.C. that the people of Lumby and area do not want a prison here.”
However, Bond responded Saturday that it is up to Lumby’s council to consider the protesters’ message.
“We believe in consultation but ultimately the decision to apply rests with the municipal council,” said Bond. “One of the criteria, of course, in the evaluation process is community support. But we believe that it is the municipal councils who decide if their application is valid, and if they bring it forward we are going to have a look at it.”
Meanwhile, Penticton Mayor Dan Ashton said the Lumby protest is an indicator that division on the matter exists in all communities.
“What it shows to me is that no matter where the correctional facility is being contemplated, there are those that agree and those that disagree with it,” Ashton said.
“I think it is difficult. This is a very polarizing issue. But I am just hoping that the people of Penticton garner the truth and the facts before they vote and not the hyperbole and misinformation so that they make an informed decision when we have our referendum.”
With files from Wolf Depner