No one had to ask 90-year-old Ken Watkins to sign the petition opposing Batshaw Youth and Family Service’s plan to build a locked facility in a residential neighbourhood in the heart of the municipality.
A Dorval resident since 1936, Watkins was one of the first to sign the petition when it was created over a year ago. And in recent days, he says, he has been going door to door collecting as many signatures as he can before the petition closes Saturday.
Monday, he said the petition is the only way to signal one’s civic discontent with the Quebec court system.
In late August, a Quebec Court of Appeal ruled in favour of Batshaw, giving the agency the go-ahead to replace its 40-bed, open-door youth centre at Dorval and Dawson Aves. with a larger “closed,” or locked-door, facility at the same location.
The city of Dorval has requested the Supreme Court of Canada hear the case, and, two weeks ago, it put out a call asking residents to sign the petition to show their support for the court challenge.
As of Monday afternoon, close to 5,000 residents had signed the petition, 1,000 of them new signees since the city launched its court challenge, said Sébastien Gauthier, a city spokesperson.
“Support has been strong,” said Watkins, who has collected close to 300 signatures in the past two weeks.
A Second World War veteran, Watkins said he believes the issue is defending the democratic right of citizens and an elected municipal council to say “no” to a facility that would have a negative impact on the quality of life and property values in Dorval.
“It’s that simple,” said Watkins, who lives about a kilometre away from the Batshaw centre.
He said people are threatened by the idea of a locked facility that houses “convicted criminals,” even if they were found guilty under the Young Offenders Act. “It’s a jail; There is going to be a 12-foot fence with barbed wire on top.”
Going door to door, he said, he has only encountered three people who supported the facility, and “they were current or ex-employees” of Batshaw Youth and Family Services.
Last week, Margaret Douek, the agency’s executive director, said Dorval’s characterization of the Bat-shaw Centre as a “prison” for criminal youths under 18 years of age is instilling undue fear in the minds of residents.
Batshaw needs to expand the Dorval facility because its 60-bed closed facility in Prévost, 70 km northwest of Montreal, is out of date.
She said the majority of Batshaw’s clients are children and youth, who more often than not are victims of neglect and trauma. And she added they primarily come from the West Island and the western half of Montreal.
The petition can be signed until the end of Saturday afternoon at Dorval city hall, the Sarto-Desnoyers Community Centre, the Surrey Aquatic Centre or the public library on Lakeshore Dr.
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