The Osoyoos Indian Band is about to be home to British Columbia’s newest provincial prison.
The project represents the first partnership of its kind in British Columbia between a First Nation and the provincial department of corrections. It’s a $200 million facility to be built in the Senkulmen Enterprise Park on Highway 9, on Osoyoos Indian Land, that will alleviate prison overcrowding elsewhere in the province.
Construction start dates weren’t announced, but the province wants the facility built by 2015. The project represents a return on the $9 million that the tribe invested in developing the new industrial park under the auspices of the Osoyoos Indian Band Development Corporation, Osoyoos CEO and Chief Clarence Louie said.
“Today’s welcome news reflects well on the strength of the business case we presented and the confidence we and the province feel in each other as partners in this significant project,” he said in a statement after the February 6 announcement by British Columbia Premier Christy Clark and Solicitor General Shirley Bond at a press conference in Osoyoos.
Key considerations in the government’s choice of Osoyoos included project costs, zoning, environmental impacts and accessibility to major transportation routes, the government release noted.
The project is expected to create up to 500 direct and 500 indirect jobs during construction. Once completed, it will provide the equivalent of 240 new, full-time positions. But B.C. Government Employee Union president Darryl Walker said he wanted to see provincial corrections officers employed there as well.
"The fact that it's being built as a [public-private partnership] is of some concern,” Walker said. “Not the design and build, but the necessity for this to be run as a provincial facility, with our corrections officers taking care of the needs of the inmates."
The Osoyoos beat out the Penticton Indian Band, which along with the Village of Lumby and District of Summerland were also in the running. The City of Penticton also put in a bid but later withdrew it.
Louie was buoyed at his band’s selection not just for the economical sustenance it would bring but also because he saw an opportunity to perhaps reach out to aboriginal offenders, who statistically comprise a much higher proportion of prison inmates than mainstream Canadians do. According to the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, aboriginal adults make up 30 percent of the province's prison population. Aboriginal youth make up 38 percent of youth incarcerated. Yet aboriginals comprise just under three percent of the Canadian population as a whole, according to Canada's Office of the Correctional Investigator.
Louie told The Globe and Mail that he saw the overrepresentation of aboriginal people among inmates in prisons that he toured while conducting research his band’s bid for the project.
"Of course, we hope to make an impact on the aboriginal offender, in reducing the aboriginal incarceration rates, and doing something different in this prison as opposed to the other ones across the country," said Louie.
The project adds to the businesses in the Osoyoos stable, which includes a winery, golf course, campground, construction company and gas bar. Louie, a 2011 Aboriginal Business Hall of Fame inductee, is known for building the business acumen of the band, including establishing the first-ever aboriginal-owned and -operated winery in North America. In all, the 460-member band employs more than 700 people.
“Our band owns the most businesses per capita of any First Nation in Canada, which makes us a major economic driver in our region,” Louie noted.