The City of Fredericton, N.B., has voted in favour of a zoning bylaw that will allow the province to build a sixth correctional facility in the Vanier Industrial Park.
It was a packed crowd of concerned residents, many standing due to a lack of seating. They waited eagerly to hear the council’s decision, and voiced their swift disapproval as it was made. People booed and shouted at the council on several occasions, including after the vote was taken. One person even threw torn paper down into the chamber.
“I thought the neighbours were going to be pissed and they are,” said Kevin Darrah, Ward 7 councillor for the City of Fredericton.
He voted against the rezoning and represents the riding the jail is being built in.
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“There are only two or three other people who’ve lived there longer than I have … I’ve never left the community, I love the community, I love the neighbourhood,” he said. “For me, living there, raising my kids there, it’s just different.”
He said he would have voted against it no matter what location was chosen. More than 20 sites were considered within the limits of Fredericton.
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The vote was 7-4 in favour, which was required in order to pass the motion since council is acting against the recommendation of the planning advisory committee.
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Councillors who voted against were Kevin Darrah, Ruth Breen, Margo Sheppard and Cassandra LeBlanc. Those in favour were Eric Megarity, Bruce Grandy, Jocelyn Pike, Jason LeJuene, Henri Mallet, Steven Hicks and Greg Ericson.
In the end, Darrah said the municipal council was left shouldering the burden of the province not properly consulting the public. He said there are often several rounds of public consultation for any changes like building new highways, schools or hospitals.
“In this one here, there was none. They just simply used the city council meeting and I think the government of New Brunswick could have done a better job,” he said.
On Jan. 9, deputy minister for justice and public safety Mike Comeau said in a presentation the province felt the council process was sufficient, but many councilors were quick to point out in their remarks on Jan. 23 that the zoning process is not the right avenue to debate the social issues surrounding the jail.
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“I do wish that we could have dialed back the clock to an earlier time and talked with the Department of Justice and Public Safety about how to run a consultation on this,” said Greg Ericson, the city’s deputy mayor. “This is not an existential question about the jail.”
In December 2021, the province announced it would spend $32 million on the facility. It will include five units, each containing 20 beds, plus nine segregation and admissions cells. The design will be based on the Dalhousie Regional Correctional Centre.
The province made presentations showing crime was increasing based on statistics like the Crime Severity Index available online, pointed to a level of overcrowding, and suggested there is a need for offenders from the city to be closer to support systems in Fredericton.
Coun. Cassandra LeBlanc was given a standing ovation for her remarks, which kicked off the round-table by council.
“This decision doesn’t live in a silo,” she said, speaking to council. “We can continue to be part of the problem or take a stand and start on a path to be part of the solution.”
“The decision is really yours.
Mayor Kate Rogers wouldn’t say how she might have voted if it had resulted in a tie, but tried to assure the crowd the city would do its due diligence during construction and after.
“I looked up and I just knew how anxious they all were and you could see as each councillor declared how they were going to vote, sort of their response and reaction, my heart really did go out to people that were in the gallery,” she said in an interview.
She said it’s very hard to see residents so upset.
“There is a ward within the city that feels we didn’t make the right decision tonight,” Rogers said.
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