Indigenous prisoners, segregation top priorities for new Ottawa senator Kim Pate

An Ottawa-based advocate for marginalized Canadian prisoners named Monday to the Canadian Senate says she’ll be working to reduce the number of Indigenous people who end up in the country’s penal system.

Kim Pate, the executive director of the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies (CAEFS), is one of six appointees that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will be putting forward to fill Senate vacancies in Ontario.

“I very much see — as already part of the mandate of this government — [the desire] to reduce the numbers of people in prison, particularly Indigenous people. That’s something I feel I can contribute to,” Pate told CBC Ottawa’s All In A Day Monday afternoon.

“I must confess, I’m a bit daunted by [my new responsibilities]. But if in the end I can’t effect change there, then I wouldn’t stay.”

Since 1992, Pate has worked with and on behalf of women in prison and provided support toward their reintegration into society as part of her work at Elizabeth Fry.

I need to be held accountable in any decision I make — whether it’s in the Senate, or any position.  – Kim Pate, newly-named Canadian senator

Pate has also shed light on the special needs of Indigenous women, who are overrepresented in Canadian federal prisons, and those with mental health issues. Prior to joining the CAEFS, Pate also worked for several years with the John Howard Societies.

She said Monday that the non-partisan nature of the Senate appealed to her way of thinking. 

“I like to look at the evidence. I like to know what’s happening. And I like to be able to apply the law and policy in a way that is fair to all people,” Pate told All In A Day.

“If we’re making decisions that are not appropriate, we should be able to challenge them.”

Merit-based process

In January 2014, Trudeau expelled all senators from the national Liberal caucus and vowed to appoint independent members to the Senate if elected.

The six new appointments were selected using the government’s new merit-based process, as were last week’s nine appointments.

Pate, who also teaches part time with the University of Ottawa’s faculty of law, said she would also focus on eliminating the use of segregation for female and Indigenous prisoners, as well as those with mental health issues, during her time in Canada’s upper chamber.

She also said she had an “abiding interest” in contributing to the discussion about national standards for health care, social services and education.

“I know from the calls I’ve been getting from women in prison, from women in psychiatric hospitals, from activists on the ground, from allies, from colleagues, that my feet will be held to the fire,” said Pate.

“And I value and welcome that. Because I think I need to be held accountable in any decision I make — whether it’s in the Senate, or any position.”

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