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“Jail closure unacceptable”

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Dauphin and area residents gathered in force Monday evening to send a message to the provincial government.
And the message coming from the crowd filling the Aspen Lodge, Strilkiwski Viewing Lounge, Curler’s Lounge and the hallways connecting them was clear - the decision to close Dauphin Correctional Centre (DCC) is one that will have far reaching and lasting negative effects on the community.
Provincial representatives including Dauphin MLA Brad Michaleski, Deputy Minister of Justice David Wright and Assistant Deputy Minister of Justice for Policing and Public Safety Scott Kolody heard from a variety of presenters offering practical and, at times emotional information about the impacts of closure.
Chris Geisel, speaking on behalf of the corrections officers affected, and Sasha Golding, speaking on behalf of their families, brought a human face to the issue.
Since learning of the plans to close the DCC, Geisel said he has been on a roller coaster of emotions.
“Personally I have been struck by frustration, anger, sadness, anxiety and also a sense of fear,” he said.
“To go from the construction of a new jail to completely closing ours, when all the other jails, except for the youth, all across the province are over capacity makes zero sense.”
Families are being forced to make life changing decisions in an information void, he said, as communication from the province is virtually nonexistent.
“How do we even start making plans? What options do we have? Just over three months is not enough time to figure things out,” he said.
“Where is the compassion from this government? I am not going to lie, it has been hard to sleep at night not knowing what my family’s future holds.”
Other presenters offering insight into the economic and social fallout of the closure included Randy Daley representing the Dauphin and District Food Bank and the Crisis Prevention Task Force; Michelle Gawronsky representing the Manitoba Government Employees Union; Ross Robinson representing the John Howard Society; Francis Chartrand representing the Manitoba Metis Federation; Sarah McNamara representing the Dauphin/Swan River Bar Association; Staff-Sgt. Terry Lucier and Inspector Lee Fortin representing the RCMP; Dan Ward representing Mountain View School Division; Stephen Chychota representing the Dauphin and District Chamber of Commerce; and Clayton Swanton representing the Dauphin Economic Development and Tourism Board.
Wright assured the crowd the information provided would be taken back to Winnipeg.
“Our role tonight is to be here to listen and to hear your concerns.” he said, reiterating that the department is committed to working with the families affected.
“We will endeavour to make sure that we are available and to connect you with opportunities and continue to work with you. That is a commitment that we do make. We are committed to ensuring that all DCC staff do have options in other corrections facilities. There are jobs available and we will continue to work with the union to develop a process.”
Addressing the uncertainty that corrections staff and their families are feeling, Wright said the department is committed to sharing information in a timely manner.
“We are committed to getting you information as quickly as we can. I know today we put up, in full discussion with the union, some FAQs that are available to certain questions and there certainly will be more to follow,” he said adding a process is being developed in consultation with the union to determine the next steps.
“Our commitment is to work through that process with the union as quickly and efficiently as possible to ensure that we can get you full information about what the next steps are.”
Stating he is okay with the decision to close DCC, Michaleski told the crowd the province is committed to ensuring the long-term economic health of the community.
“We got a really firm commitment from the government to help to mitigate this in terms of economic development,” Michaleski said, referring to last week’s announcement of several economic development initiatives for the area including the Economic Development Office and the Rural Economic Development Agency holding a regional meeting with Team Manitoba strategic partners North Forge, World Trade Centre Winnipeg and Travel Manitoba in Dauphin in February.
Other plans include an economic development tour and mission to the area, a branding program for the community in co-operation with Travel Manitoba, a labour market study to support business expansion and attract investment and ongoing supports for business and industry.
“What the announcement was really, in my opinion, it’s a doorway to begin talking. This is the first time this has ever been done, this is the first time it has ever taken this approach in this region. Really it is doorway for everybody to sort of look at our resources, look at our assets, look at our strengths and weaknesses,” Michaleski said.
“Let’s build a comprehensive plan for the region and get a completely unprecedented commitment towards economic development in this region. For the first time everybody is going to have say and the consultation process that is going to begin with this is going to be helpful for the entire region.”
The townhall meeting, organized by the City and RM of Dauphin, was just the first step in what is expected to be a long process to either get the decision to close DCC reversed, or to see the development of a new correctional and healing facility.
City manager Sharla Griffiths urged those in attendance to continue voicing their displeasure to elected officials.
“For the public, please to continue to reach out to your elected officials,” she said.
“Flood their contacts with your concerns. Let them know that this is not acceptable.”
Pleased with the turnout at the meeting Dauphin Mayor Allen Dowhan was nonetheless upset that the decision makers from the province were not in attendance.
“I was sort of disappointed that we never got any answers. It is time for the Premier and the Justice Minister to come and speak to us. I know they can reverse this decision and it is time.” Dowhan said.
Deputy-Reeve Midge Sametz said the meeting included a lot of good information that can be taken back to Winnipeg for consideration.
“We are hoping that they will meet and consult and give us the information that we are asking of them,” Sametz said.
“If they consult like we are requesting them to do, there will be answers coming forward from that.”
Sametz and Dowhan both committed to continue to work collaboratively with other municipalities in the area - including Lakeshore, Mossey River, Gilbert Plains, Grandview, Ste.Rose and McCreary - to combat the closure.
“We are taking the information that was given here tonight, we are meeting again and we are going to see out of that information what we can move forward on. But we are going to do it as a region,” she said.