Paddy Torsney hosts Senator Kim Pate at the 21st Women's Day breakfast.

Event 100By Pepper Parr

March 6th, 2017



The 21st session of the International Women’s Day Breakfast hosted by former Burlington MP Paddy featured newly appointed Senator Kim Pate.

She gave the room of women an eyeful when she talked about the criminal justice system and how it treats women.

Kim Pate + Henderson - plates

Paul Hensall gave Senator one of the Convo Plates his Foundation created to keep a conversation about mental health going.

Pate was the Executive Director of the Elizabeth Fry Society for more than 35 years. She was instrumental in and widely credited as the driving force behind the Inquiry into Certain Events at the Prison for Women in Kingston, headed by Justice Louise Arbour. During the Inquiry, she supported women as they aired their experiences and was a critical resource and witness in the Inquiry itself.

It was no surprise then that Senator Pate chose to get very specific about what the federal government does and doesn’t do with and to women who are in conflict with the law.

Pate told the audience of influential Burlington women and representative students from almost every high school in the city, that it costs the federal government $348,000 to keep a woman in prison for one year.

She told the audience that the federal government spent more than $2 million transporting Ashley Smith from prison to prison before the young women ended her life in her cell while prison guards stood outside the cell door.

Ashley Smith was sent to prison for throwing stones at a postal worker. Her time in federal penitentiaries did not go well – she was a discipline problem and the time she had to remain in prison kept getting longer and longer.

The Ashley Smith case is one of those tragic embarrassments for which no one was held accountable.

Woman day 2017 Long line BEST

There was a long line up at the registration desk – for many high school students it was their first major event where they were celebrated as young women.

Accountability is big with Senator Pate – but she takes it much further than most and preaches that society as a whole is accountable for how we handle those people who come into conflict with the judicial system. She does not pull her punches and being soft is just not her manner. She differentiates between being soft on those who are responsible and being compassionate to those who need help.

Pate asked her audience – why does any of this matter to Burlington and replied to the question saying it is in our best interest.

Before she started her talk Senator Pate encouraged her audience to ask questions – interrupt me if you have a question. Clearly the Senator had not been to Burlington before – that isn’t the way we Burlingtonians behave. We choose to be polite – which some describe as our complacency – after all there is no serious criminal element in the city.

Womans day safest place - police

It was the safest room in the city – four female police officers shared the table with four high school students.

Pate pointed out later in her talk that she is in pretty consistent touch with five people in Burlington who are on the wrong side of the bars. A Gazette reader mentioned to us a few days after the talk that they were working with a young man who is serving a prison sentence.

More than 88% of the women in prison are there because of poverty issues – they cannot sustain themselves and are not able to get away from relationships that are abusive.

Pate is a strong advocate of a living wage being paid to very person in Canada.

The two groups of people most as risk and who end up being tangled with the courts are women and students. At the root of all their problems is the matter of poverty.

“You will be changing that” Pate told her audience.

More than forty years ago in Dauphin, Manitoba residents were selected to be subjects in a project that ensured basic annual incomes for everyone. For five years, monthly cheques were delivered to the poorest residents of Dauphin, Man. – no strings attached.

And for five years, poverty was completely eliminated.

Womans day March 2017

The hall was filled – the guests at this table were at the buffet.

The project’s original intent was to evaluate if giving cheques to the working poor, enough to top-up their incomes to a living wage, would kill people’s motivation to work. It didn’t.

But the Conservative government that took power provincially in 1977 – and federally in 1979 – had no interest in implementing the project more widely. Researchers were told to pack up the project’s records into 1,800 boxes and place them in storage.

A final report was never released.

Kim Pate - senator

Senator Kim Pate

You can guess what Senator Pate is going to be advocating for while she serves as a Senator.

The money is always there she said – they found the $2 million they needed to transport Ashley Smith between eight different penitentiaries when she was behind bars.

The Ashley Smith story:
Ashley Smith, born 29 January 1988 in New Brunswick was adopted when she was 5 days old. According to her adoptive parents, Coralee Smith and Herbert Gober, she had a normal child hoodbut between the ages of 13i-14, her parents noted distinct behavioural changes in the child; by age 15 she had been before juvenile court 14 times for various minor offences such as throwing crabapples at a mailman, trespassing, and causing a disturbance.

In March 2002, Smith was assessed by a psychologist who found no evidence of mental illness. However, her behavioural problems continued and she was suspended from school multiple times in the fall of 2002. In March 2003, after multiple court appearances, Smith was admitted to the Pierre Caissie Centre for assessment.

She was diagnosed with ADHD, learning disorder, borderline personality disorder and narcissistic personality traits.

She was discharged several days early from the Centre for unruly and disruptive behaviour and returned to the New Brunswick Youth Centre (NBYC).

Smith was remanded to the NBYC multiple times over the next 3 years; during this time she was involved in more than 800 reported incidents and at least 150 attempts to physically harm herself.

In 2006, Ashley Smith turned 18; in July of that year a motion was made under the Youth Criminal Justice Act to transfer her to an adult facility. Smith hired a lawyer to fight the transfer, but was unsuccessful.

On 5 October 2006, Smith was transferred to the Saint John Regional Correctional Centre (SJRCC). Due to her behaviour at SJRCC, Smith spent most of her time there in segregation; she was tasered twice and pepper-sprayed once. On 31 October 2006, Smith was transferred to the Nova Institution for Women in Nova Scotia (a federal institution). Through 2007, Smith was transferred a total of 17 times between eight institutions during 11 months in federal custody.

While at Grand Valley Institution for Women in Kitchener, Ontario, on 16 October 2007, Smith requested to be transferred to a psychiatric facility; she was placed on a formal suicide watch on 18 October. In the early hours of 19 October, Smith was videotaped placing a ligature around her neck, an act of self-harm she had committed several times before. Guards did not enter her cell to intervene, and 45 minutes passed before she was examined and pronounced dead.

On 25 October 2007, three guards and a supervisor at the Grand Valley Institution for Women were charged with criminal negligence causing death in relation to Smith’s suicide; the warden and deputy warden were fired, but Warden Cindy Berry later quietly rehired. The criminal charges against her subordinates were later dropped.

No charges were ever brought against the warden or deputy warden.

On 8 October 2009, Smith’s family launched a wrongful death lawsuit against the Correctional Service of Canada, demanding C$11 million in damages; the suit was eventually settled out of court in May 2011 for an undisclosed amount.

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