Queen’s PhD student questions tourism, concerts at Kingston Penitentiary

A Queen's University doctoral student has penned a piece questioning whether its ethical to market Kingston Penitentiary as a form of tourism and a place for events. Global News / Archive

A prison is no place for a party — that’s the opinion of a Queen’s University PhD candidate who has recently penned a piece questioning a charity concert set to be held at the Kingston Penitentiary.

READ MORE: ‘Rocking the Big House’: Kingston Penitentiary to host September concert

Linda Mussell, a doctoral scholar in political studies at Queen’s, wrote an opinion piece for The Conversation in which she argues that using Canada’s oldest penitentiary for such an event may be morally questionable.

Queen’s PHD student Linda Mussell believes there should be more conversation about getting tourism dollars from places like Kingston Penitentiary. Global Kingston

Since the Kingston Penitentiary closed its doors in 2013, Corrections Canada, in partnership with the City of Kingston and St. Lawrence Park Commission, has been hosting public tours at the institution — with the proceeds going to United Way KFL&A, the St. Lawrence Parks Commission and Tourism Kingston.

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The penitentiary is also a stop on the Kingston Trolley tour, and a filming venue being marketed to major cinematic and TV productions.

Mussell says using the jail as a form of entertainment could be seen as a form of “dark tourism,” which she described as “generating tourism dollars from places that are identified with death and suffering.”

READ MORE: Film, television production at Kingston Penitentiary on the table

The PhD scholar argued holding tourist attractions at the penitentiary, or an event liked the one being held by the United Way, may be dismissing the building’s “dark history,” which includes housing wrongfully-convicted people and children, keeping many of its inmates in solitary confinement, and the “mass incarceration of Indigenous prisoners.”

“I think that we should have more conversation about what it means to do those sorts of activities in a place that’s associated with suffering and death,” Mussell told Global News.

President and CEO of United Way KFL&A Bhavana Varma says the United Way understands that the penitentiary has a “complex” past.

Bhavana Varma, CEO of United Way KFL&A, believes the funds her organization receives from events at the penitentiary are helping youth in the community. Global Kingston

“There were some terrible things that have happened there and that is something that we acknowledge and will acknowledge at the event as well,” Varma told Global News.

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Despite Mussell’s concerns, Varma highlighted that the proceeds from the tours as well as the concert have gone to help countless youth in the community.

WATCH: (May 8, 2019) Rocking the Big House: Kingston Penitentiary to host September concert

Click to play video: 'Rocking the Big House: Kingston Penitentiary to host September concert'
Rocking the Big House: Kingston Penitentiary to host September concert

“This is an event that is going to raise funds, just as the money from the tours that the United Way receives, has been invested in programs for youth, we will invest this money to help youth stay out of homelessness,” Varma said.

The sold-out concert is set to take place on Sep. 14, and will feature Tom Cochrane, the Headstones, The Trews, The Pursuit of Happiness and Kasador.

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