Submitted by megan on Mon, 03/30/2009 - 21:57
I had to leave before it was over. It started at 7, though the first half hour was taken over by farcical procedural discussions. By 9:15, the low-ceiling headache I'd been nursing all day had blossomed into a steady pulse up and back from my left eye. Probably from trying to track all those jerking knees.
Correctional Service Canada needs to put a parole office somewhere. One of the proposed sites is 1010 Somerset St West. This is about a 5 to 10 minute walk from the house I own. It's in a neighbourhood I have lived in for 8 years and have loved fiercely for about the same. My nieces will likely have to walk by the office on their way to school in a couple of years.
Which is to say, I care deeply about what happens in my community and to the people who live here.
I am not opposed to the parole office being located at 1010 Somerset St W. There was a row of us, in the back left of the room, who were either not opposed to the 1010 location or were at least willing to listen.
We were in the minority, by far.
The majority were vehemently opposed. For specious fear-based reasons, so far as I could tell.
To set the stage, here are the facts as I understand them after attending the meeting tonight.
Fact: CSC needs to move their parole office from across from the Elgin Street Public School. They're moving out of their current location because 1) their lease is up and 2) they've outgrown the space and 3) there's been community opposition that I don't know enough about to comment on, but ended with CSC agreeing not to renew their lease there. Though frankly, (3) seems irrelevant in the face of (2).
Fact: They've been in their current location on Elgin for several years now, since around 2004.
Fact: Crime rates have not gone up in that area.
Fact: The parole office receives an average of 8 visits a day from around 100 parolees living in the Ottawa core. 75 of the parolees live between the canal, Gladstone, the Parliament buildings and a street I didn't catch because of the general hubbub. But it was west of Preston, so Parkdale or Holland would be a good guess.
Fact: Most of the visits don't happen in the office, but in the parolees' homes and workplaces. The number of visits a parolee receives depends on her or his sentence. It's not less than 1 visit per quarter, however.
Fact: The parolees are all people who are serving under federal law with sentences of more than two years. Though they are less than 1% of the people arrested, they have committed some terrible crimes: there are murderers as well as pedophiles (mainly incest perpetrators) and other sex offenders. However, the bulk of the offenders are there for crimes against property, for which the penalties are stiff.
Fact: Each parolee has restrictions specific to their case. Some aren't allowed to leave certain geographic areas. Some have to be checked for drug or alcohol use. Some aren't able to associate with certain people. Right now, there are 5 offenders who are not able to visit the current parole office location because they are not allowed to be that close to a school. If 1010 is chosen, some of them still not likely be allowed to visit that office because of its proximity to Devonshire (approx. 400 metres walking).
Fact: The presenters from CSC weren't prepared to tell us about recidivism rates. When I say they weren't prepared, I mean they hadn't crunched their numbers before they came to the meeting. "Low," is about all they could say with certainty.
Fact: Most often, when a parolee is remanded back into custody, it is for violation of one of their conditions. The example offered were: failing a drug/alcohol test; going to Carleton Place.
Fact: Halfway houses tend to be in fairly stable locations. They don't change location depending on where the office is. They've also been stable in number over the past several years.*
Fact: There are two halfway houses within 500 metres of the proposed site that have been there for years.*
Fact: The number of parolees has gone down from 250 to 200. Sorry, didn't note when it was 250. Since the District Manager started as a parole officer, which I realize is probably not all that helpful to you.*
Fact: At least one of the presenters wants this location because it's close to where the parolees are already living and easy for them to get to it by transit. The parolees live in the core because that's where the jobs and the services are, as well as the most affordable rents.
This is the part that gets me the most. It seemed like none of the people who were vehemently opposed could remember that most of the people who will be visiting the office are already living here.
I can't see that having an average of 8 parolees take the 2 every business day is going to change my community. Seeing as how the parolees are already my neighbours. Seeing as how they are already, I can only assume, taking the 2. And swimming at the Plant Bath. And eating pho.
A couple of hours in, the phrase "these people," as sneered into the microphone, often quite close to the phrase "our community," was starting to make my skin prickle.
Our community? Their community too. They live here. I am their neighbour as much as they are mine. And they are probably pissed I haven't raked my lawn yet. They have just as much right to live here - so says the state, upon their release - as I do.
I don't know who they are, of course. I may have seen them on the street and thought they were assholes. Hard to say. Or maybe one of them smiled at me when I was having a shitty day. Stranger things. After tonight, I think I might rather live with parolees beside me than those who spoke out tonight with their voices full of sanctimony and hatred.
Some of the reasons the sanctimonious didn't want those people in our community, reasons that came up again and again, no matter what the CSC presenters said: the office would bring more parolees into the neighbourhood, either temporarily for visits or permanently in halfway houses; the children wouldn't be safe with parolees in the neighbourhood; the parolees would attract the other things we don't like, those awful addicts and street workers; it would bring property values down.
Though the couple times it came up, people quickly shied away from that last one and got back to saving the children.
One woman said (and I paraphrase, my apologies): "My husband does neighbourhood safety walks; he knows that in the past 8 years, crime has gone down in this neighbourhood. What will happen if these people come into our neighbourhood!"
I spoke at this point. I said that if crime has gone down in the past 8 years it has gone down with 75 parolees living here.
My words were quickly ignored. She started to sputter and yell, the facilitator cut her off, and went to the next woman. Who talked, among other things, about how she was afraid for the children walking to school right by the forest where the parolees would be lurking. It wasn't just her. There was a lot of talk about that "forest," which is more of a stand of trees running along the O-train tracks underneath Somerset.**
Never mind that any lurking parolees would either have to leap from their hiding place in the trees onto the bridge high above, or they'd have to climb a tall fence and sprint across a parking lot to grab the children on their way to school.
This wasn't that kind of discussion. I understand people being afraid, but I hate what it can do to us.
Not long after my logical argument got sucked to the bottom of the pool, I realized that it was a lost cause. That I'd be better off writing you all a relatively calm blog post and CSC a letter stating my support for 1010 than sticking around and fertilizing the pulsing ache in my head.
*Since I'm a blogger, I didn't bother to look these dates up. If anyone has these details as to exact years, etc. please leave them in the comments below and I'll add them in. Otherwise, you should look them up yourself before believing me completely.
**You can see it pretty decently if you zoom in on the satellite view of Google maps.