When the idea of a provincial prison being built on the old Hiram Walker site adjacent to Lake Country was once again floated in the media just over a year ago, it was met with vocal opposition from local politicians and constituents alike.
The idea had multiple problems, according to Lake Country leaders.
Last week’s announcement that the Osoyoos Indian Band had been selected as the location for the new provincial prison was paired with a promise of more than 100 jobs attached to the facility.
Both Lake Country Mayor James Baker and Okanagan Indian Band Chief Byron Louis maintain their opposition to the Hiram Walker site as a prison for different reasons.
The issue of a new prison in the Okanagan is the wrong idea at its core and a completely misguided approach to working with people in the justice system, according to Baker. “I still think we don’t really need an Okanagan sentencing unit. We need a remand center and it should be in the Central Okanagan. It should be in the City of Kelowna, right downtown by the courthouses.
“That would save a whole lot of money all around,” Baker maintained. “They wouldn’t have to spend so much money to build it; they wouldn’t have to spend so much money annually to operate it. It would meet what the pressing need is, which is a remand unit in the Central Okanagan, not a sentencing unit to warehouse more prisoners.”
Chief Louis is hopeful the Osoyoos Indian Band will realize the economic sustainability implied by locating the prison on Osoyoos Indian Band land.
The chief maintains the Hiram Walker site was completely unsuitable for that type of use, with limited financial benefit to its immediate neighbours.
“Both District of Lake Country and OKIB posed objections to the proposed site,” Baker said, “not only due to the fact we were not consulted, but the social and economic problems this would create to our current and future use of residential and a commercial development.
“In view of the boundary maps, the Hiram Walker site is located in the central area of DOLC and OKIB, but still situated on the outer area of the City of Kelowna boundaries thus impacts would be limited to this (Lake Country) municipality.”
Budget time brings up the lack of a robust industrial tax base in the District of Lake Country every year. It’s been stated the Hiram Walker site would not have changed the fiscal bottom line for either the Wood Lake Reserve or the district.
Regardless of the possible loss of local economic impact, Baker said there is a better use of the funds. “I think both the provincial and federal governments are wrong in spending millions of dollars building prisons when there are better ways of spending that money, particularly on prevention, education, and even building some more senior health care so old people don’t have to be separated when one gets a little infirm, as has been the case recently in the news.”