Frequently Asked Questions

What is a prison farm?2019-07-21T23:41:15-04:00

Many of Canada’s prisons have large tracts of farmland, acquired over the course of Canada’s colonial history. Until 2010, Canada had six federally funded prison farms producing food for prisoners. These were mixed operations of crops, vegetables, and animal agriculture (meat, milk, egg production) before they were shut down by the Harper Conservative government.

Why were prison farms closed?2021-02-27T17:51:09-05:00

Canada’s longstanding federal prison farm program was shut down by the Harper Conservative government between 2009-2011 because the program was not financially sustainable, losing $4 million annually, and the traditional agricultural model did not teach employable skills. The government stated that fewer than 1% of released offenders went on to gain employment in agriculture.

Why are prison farms reopening?2021-02-27T17:52:49-05:00

In 2015, the Trudeau Liberals made a campaign promise to reopen prison farms. After election in 2016, the new government began a public consultation to determine what model the new prison farms would adopt. At the same time, the government was investing millions of dollars into the construction of a Chinese infant formula factory between the two Kingston prisons (Collins Bay and Joyceville) where the prison farms will be located. In 2018, it was announced that the new prison farms would be industrial goat dairy, reportedly to supply this facility.

Why infant formula?2021-02-27T17:57:05-05:00

Canada has invested millions of dollars at the federal and provincial level to support the Chinese company Feihe International building an infant formula factory in Kingston, Ontario, under the name Canada Royal Milk. The facility is situated between the two prisons where the prison farms are being established. Since prison farms can no longer feed prisoners due to the Food Service Modernization initiative adopted by Correctional Service of Canada, prison farms will now be producing goods for commercial sale to the private sector. The government is building up Canada’s goat dairy industry to supply the Feihe facility, which will ship 85-100% of its product to China. Using the prison farms for this purpose presented a solution to the paired problems of reintroducing prison dairy operations for external markets, and supporting the government’s multi-million-dollar infant formula investment to open new export markets for the dairy industry.

Why goats?2021-02-27T17:58:55-05:00

Goats were selected as the core operation for the reopened prison farms in Kingston Ontario because of the “looming demand” for goat’s milk to supply the Feihe International infant formula factory, and because goat dairy is not restricted by the same quota system as cow dairy. Feihe needs 75 million litres of goat milk from approximately 150,000 goats to make their plant operate, which exceeds Canada’s entire nationwide supply (55 million litres). If Feihe is unable to source a sufficient supply of goat milk, the company intends to build its own 70,000-head milking unit.

Why a factory farm?2021-02-27T18:02:44-05:00

The definition of a factory farm is “a system of rearing livestock using intensive methods, by which poultry, pigs, or cattle are confined indoors under strictly controlled conditions.” This describes the core component of the new prison farm model: 2200 goats intensively farmed in confinement. Goats are susceptible to a wide range of disease, making a controlled indoor facility the only viable option for an operation of this magnitude. The CEO of CORCAN (the business line of Correctional Service of Canada) has stated that the magnitude of the operation is an effort to gain an “economy of scale” advantage since goat dairy is otherwise not profitable. According to government statistics, a litre of goat’s milk costs $1.30 to produce and sells for $1.09.

What is your connection to Save Our Prison Farms?2021-02-27T18:08:58-05:00

When prison farms were shut down in 2010, it sparked community resistance as people protested under “Save Our Prison Farms” banners. Protesters included people from all walks of life, from farmers to food activists, nuns, and prison abolitionists. Out of this history, Evolve Our Prison Farms emerged in 2016 when the Liberal government began seeking input into possibilities for the restored prison farm program. What started as a small group of prison farm activists and academics has grown into a national justice movement with thousands of supporters across Canada calling for an ethical and environmentally sustainable program. Our supporters include many of the original Save Our Prison Farms activists, however the leadership of the former Save Our Prison Farms campaign are livestock industry representatives who now form the Prison Farm Advisory Panel overseeing the for-profit factory farming model that is being introduced.

What is animal-assisted therapy?2021-02-27T18:19:55-05:00

Animal-assisted therapy (AAT) is a type of therapy that involves animals as a form of treatment or trauma intervention. This can take many forms, from emotional support or service animals to canine or equine therapy programs. Many farmed animal sanctuaries and other animal rescues incorporate therapeutic programs for at-risk youth, autistic youth, ex-prisoners, or military personnel and first responders suffering from PTSD. Such programs are highly successful at improving social, emotional, and cognitive functioning. Animal-assisted therapy is the ideal model for incorporating animals into prison programming.

However, as indicated in our 2021 academic report (Canada’s proposed prison farm program: Why it won’t work and what would work better), Evolve Our Prison Farms no longer advocates any animal involvement in prison farm programs. “Considering the potential for abuse (recognized by CSC in its guidelines), the heightened risks posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the difficulties associated with any form of animal management, as well as CSC’s lack of transparency surrounding the unexplained deaths of numerous animals already in its care, this report concludes that the prison farms should not involve animals in any capacity.”

Is it too late to evolve our prison farms?2022-10-30T10:58:37-04:00

No. Corrections Canada has not yet begun constructing the industrial goat dairy facility, which was originally planned for 2019 but there have been many delays and obstacles in bringing this plan into effect. There is still time to convince the Correctional Service of Canada to reverse course. Even if the current plan goes into effect, it could quickly fail for any number of reasons: mounting China-Canada tensions; Chinese boycotts of Canadian products; the possibility of Feihe deciding not to add prison labour to its infant formula supply chain; the challenging logistics of goat dairy and CSC’s lack of industry experience; prisoner non-participation; legal challenges; and/or public opposition against the use of prison labour to factory farm animals for private corporations and export markets.

What do prisoners have to say?2022-10-30T11:09:30-04:00

Prisoners who have spoken out in defense of the former prison farm program are now beginning to condemn the new prison farm model. Prisoners who have passionately credited their personal transformation to the therapeutic benefits of working with cows on the old prison farms are warning that the new prison farms will no longer offer these benefits. What was once one-on-one care of a handful of cows in fields will now be replaced by pushing buttons and hooking up machines to large batches of goats, cycle after cycle, in a fully indoor facility. A 2018 survey of 150 prisoners at Joyceville Institution in Kingston found that 75% of prisoners voted in favour of animal sanctuary over a dairy operation, before it was revealed that the new prison dairy model would be a goat factory farm. In 2021, 94% of over 50 prisoners surveyed at Joyceville Institution said they did not support the new prison farms. Many prisoners have written letters and articles expressing their support for the vision advocated by Evolve Our Prison Farms.

Some prisoners who have critiqued the new prison farm program, or who have reported mismanagement to the media, have suffered consequences. More than one inmate has reported being swiftly removed to another institution and reclassified to a higher security status after exercising freedom of speech.

What do experts have to say?2022-10-30T11:11:35-04:00

Experts in every relevant field – law, criminology, social work, climate science, labour studies and animal therapy – have expressed support for an ethical and environmentally sustainable approach to Canada’s prison farm program as proposed by Evolve Our Prison Farms. Equally, these experts and many prominent individuals including David Suzuki, Margaret Atwood, Elizabeth May, Scott Reid, Fred Penner, Dan Piraro, Ivan Zinger and Howard Sapers have expressed concern over the problems associated with prisoners factory farming animals for a multinational corporation.

What would an evolved prison farm look like?2022-10-30T11:03:56-04:00

The possibilities for an ethical and environmentally sustainable prison farm program are endless, limited only by imagination and political will. Beginning in 2016, Evolve Our Prison Farms proposed a model of innovative plant-based agriculture (ideally producing food for prisoners and communities in need) while offering animal-assisted therapy as other prisons have done. In 2021, Evolve Our Prison Farms published an academic report, Canada’s proposed prison farm program: Why it won’t work and what would work better.

If prison farms can no longer feed prisoners, then the program should have a social justice focus. For example: generating produce for northern Indigenous communities; supplying hospitals, military bases or food banks.

Prison farms can contribute to local food security and agricultural innovation through labour-intensive organic permaculture and agroforestry, fruit and nut tree plantations, and production of nutrient-dense vegetables. Fundamentally, prison farms should prioritize ecological sustainability, human health, food security, and fiscal responsibility. They should provide opportunities for prisoners that offer education, life skills, and job skills relevant for reintegration into a society that is increasingly concerned with issues of climate change, public health and animal welfare, and where job opportunities continue to grow rapidly developing green economies.

How can I help?2021-02-27T16:31:57-05:00

Visit our Take Action page. Follow the unfolding story on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. Contact your local MP and write to the Minister of Public Safety and the Commissioner of the Correctional Service of Canada. Contact us with your stories, perspectives or suggestions. Contact any journalists you may know. We need numbers, awareness, critical questions and investigative journalism. We need Canadians to care deeply about what’s happening with Canada’s prison farms and the injustice this program will perpetrate against prisoners, animals and environment. For every conceivable reason, it’s time to Evolve Our Prison Farms.

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