Metro Morning

Prisoner advocate hopes to shed light on correctional system as senator

With the hope of creating a non-partisan senate, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appointed six independent senators this week, including Kim Pate, a longtime advocate for women in the justice system.

Pate was appointed with 5 others in Ontario to serve as non-partisan senators

Kim Pate has worked for 35 years in the social justice and criminal justice systems. (CBC)

With the hope of creating a non-partisan senate, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has recommended the appointments of six new, independent senators to fill vacancies for Ontario. Kim Pate, executive director of the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies and a longtime advocate for women in the justice system, is one of them. She spoke with Matt Galloway on Metro Morning about her goals for her new position.

Questions and answers have been condensed.

Matt Galloway: How does one find out that one has been recommended for appointment to the senate?

Kim Pate: I received a phone call from the prime minister. I didn't know it was coming, but I knew there were some security checks being done, and I had been asked to provide a phone number where I could provide a number where I could take a confidential phone call.

MG: Why did you say yes?

KP: Because, after much thought, I believe in our parliamentary democracy, I believe that the strengthening of our upper chamber is important and the idea of having more independent seats and the potential of non-partisan leadership was very attractive.

MG: What is it about the senate that you believe in?

KP: The senate should be the chamber of sober second-thought. It's supposed to ensure that issues that may have been dealt with in a partisan way in the lower chamber can be dealt with in a non-partisan way. Historically, that certainly hasn't always been the case. When I received a call from the prime minister, he said it was the type of work and the activism I'd done, and the manner in which I had done that advocacy, that the government and the country was interested in having. I've spent 35 years working in and around the social justice and criminal justice system.

MG: You've worked on correctional facilities for years. How do you hope that what you know about what life is like on the inside can inform your work in the senate?

KP: Right now, the current government is interested in looking at is the overrepresentation of indigenous people in prison, and also things like the inquest into the death of Ashley Smith. Our organization has been encouraging the elimination of the use of segregation, which coincides with what the Ontario and Canadian Human Rights Commission has been urging.

MG: Do you think that as a senator you'll be able to nudge the federal government on these issues?

KP: One of the real motivators since I was first nominated was watching Senator Murray Sinclair act in the position that he's in. It gives me great hope that there's a lot of opportunities for these issues. As a senator, as a member of parliament, as a judge, individuals have the right to access to enter our prisons. I dare say most don't exercise that right and I think we should be looking at exposing more of our prisons. It wasn't until the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms that prisons had to adhere to the law in the first place. I think there are many many things we could do to help people know what really happens in prisons and to look at 'decarceration.'