Penticton residents and property owners will decide whether the municipality continues to pursue the building of a provincial correctional facility within the city.
City council voted unanimously 5-0 Tuesday evening to hold a binding referendum on the matter on June 18 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the South Okanagan Events Centre.
According to the city, the question will read: “Do you approve of a provincial correctional centre being constructed and operated within Penticton city limits?”
The city will budget $50,000 for the process, which will include mail-in voting; two advance polls; curb-side voting so people with mobility issues can vote from their vehicles; and voting opportunities for the elderly and shut-ins at the hospitals and seniors locations.
The decision to hold the referendum was made a day after an anti-prison rally in front of City Hall drew roughly 40 protesters, including Coun. Garry Litke, the only member of council not to have voted to advance two potential Penticton sites for the correctional centre — one on Campbell Mountain and the other near the Cantex gravel pit — as part of a regional submission to bring the facility to the South Okanagan.
Litke had intended to propose a notice of motion to initiate a referendum on the matter, however, Mayor Dan Ashton did so first.
“The opportunity of a correctional facility being located in the South Okanagan Similkameen was presented last December, and it has garnered a lot of attention since then and so it should,” said Ashton, after thanking the protesters who showed up at Tuesday’s meeting for expressing their opinions.
“This council proceeded to investigate this opportunity, and in doing so held two public information meetings; distributed the facts around the issue of a facility being in the community as presented to council; attended three communities that have these correctional facilities located within their boundaries; and met with three superintendents of the RCMP that are employed by those municipalities.”
Ashton said council will continue to present the facts, positive or negative, surrounding the potential correctional centre as the city continues its investigation.
“That does not mean we have made a decision,” Ashton said. “It is council’s job to listen to the citizens of Penticton. And as citizens your decision and direction to council should be made based on facts, not on rumours and misinformation that is being circulated within the community.
“This is an incredibly important decision that needs to be made not only by council but by the community … I trust that having this binding referendum will alleviate any concerns by the citizens that council would be making any decision of this magnitude without first having the consent of the community.”
Anti-prison advocate Tom Bijvoet called the binding referendum a positive development.
Bijvoet, who was at Monday’s rally and Tuesday’s meeting, is one of a group of residents who collected about 2,500 signatures on a petition opposing the building of the prison in Penticton or the surrounding region.
“Our petition wasn’t calling for a referendum. It was calling on them to reverse their decision,” said Bijvoet. “But a lot of citizens have been asking for a referendum in letters to the editor and in letters to council so I think it is very positive that they are listening to that call.”
Bijvoet said he will continue to try to persuade people to oppose the prison, including with the website: www.nopentictonprison.com.
“Of course we are going to continue to try and put out the facts as best as we can, but we don’t have resources or deep pockets so we will have to just continue the way we have been doing it: using word-of-mouth, talking to people and convincing people on a one-by-one basis.
“From what I have been hearing I think there is a very good chance that we will win this referendum.”
The late referendum date could have an impact on the city’s submission, as the Ministry of the Solicitor General would give the city no assurances that the June 18 referendum date wouldn’t hurt Penticton’s chances.