B.C. government back off plans to locate new jail in Burnaby
VICTORIA -- The provincial government is backing away from plans to build a new jail facility in Burnaby, B.C.
Solicitor General John van Dongen says the government will now ask Metro Vancouver's 22 mayors and councils to propose another site for a facility somewhere in the Lower Mainland.
Van Dongen says local politicians will have until September 1, 2009, to make a decision and the government will soon release a consultant's report that identifies 58 potential jail sites for the area.
He admits the protests of Burnaby's mayor and his wife, who is running as a New Democratic Party candidate in the upcoming provincial election, were partly behind the government's decision to seek a new jail site.
Three Burnaby area Liberal MLAs attended van Dongen's hastily called press conference March 24.
The facility is designed to hold prisoners who have been remanded in custody while awaiting trial.
On February 23, 2009, hundreds packed an NDP-sponsored meeting to argue the 700 bed facility is too close to three area schools.
Speakers also attacked the government for what they say is a lack of consultation about the maximum-security remand centre.
"This is irresponsible what they're doing," one resident said.
"It's the democratic process that's on the line here. Why in hell didn't Victoria let us know?" said another.
Victoria has been planning on opening a pre-trial centre at the former Willingdon Youth Detention Centre since the summer, but residents who turned out to Monday's meeting say they're still waiting for the government to ask them what they think.
"It's a residential area," one resident told CTV News. "You can't have a prison in a residential area - there's schools, kids, it's a bad move."
"It seems like a fairly nice piece of property to be putting a jail in it, it seems like we could find better use for it," said one man.
The NDP hosted the forum, but insisted it wasn't a political ploy leading up to the upcoming provincial election.
"You can't make people come out to a meeting like this just at your political will -- they're coming out because they're upset and they're angry and they're concerned about this prison being placed in their neighbourhood," said NDP candidate Kathy Corrigan.
Among the crowd of frustrated residents was Burnaby-Willingdon Liberal MLA John Nuraney, who was shouted down several times as he tried in vain to explain his party's stance.
"We as a society in Vancouver in the past weeks have witnessed some horrible crimes....let me finish, let me finish.....we have been told by the law enforcement people that we need to create facilities," he told the excited crowd.
But it's not just Burnaby's residents who are against the pre-trial centre -- due to open in 2012. The city's mayor, board of trade, and school board are all against the idea of housing criminals across the street from BCIT and close to several other schools.
"In the beginning I was not in favour because I myself had the same concerns as the people here, but I had the opportunity to go through the process and learn that it is a very secure facility," said Nuraney.
Several residents confronted Nuraney in the hall after he spoke.
"Tell them there is now way that that is an appropriate place for the prison -- period!" one said.
Some residents say they would consider other Burnaby locations for the jail, as long as the new site is well removed from schools and businesses.
With files from the Canadian Press