Monday, October 31, 2011


After reading the following article where MP Rathgeber was embarrassingly disrespectful to Kim Pate of the Elizabeth Fry Society.  He objected to language Ms. Pate used in describing the impacts of excessive strip searches currently forced on the female prisoners at Kitchener's prison for women.  This particular story struck home.  Not only have I been subjected to multiple strip searches but I am also aware of the deeper issues which can surround them.
Prisoners are subjected to multiple strip searches during any period of incarceration as a matter of routine and under special circumstances such as a suspected presence of drugs in the institution.
 Some guards really detest carrying out these searches, especially those which are done as a matter of routine rather than the safety of the institution.  These state employees have been known to only pretend to carry out a strip searches at these times.  Simply handing prisoners clean clothing and standing in such a way as not to be watching them dress.  At the other end of this spectrum are those guards who get off on the "power over" dynamic of such searches.  These state sanctioned abusers take their time stipping inmates, sometimes carry out the proceedure in open walkways with substantial pedestrian traffic, arrange surprise searches at odd hours with women pushed and hurded into line ups with their hands kept atop their heads or cuffed behind their backs, orders to bend, turn, and lift are carried on much more thoroughly than normal or than called for in regards to the stated purpose of locating restricted weapons and drugs..  
Most prisoners will be subjected to both ends of this spectrum and everything in between during even a minimum sentence.  Many of us cope by transforming the process into a normal routine in our minds.  Oh well, whatever kinda situation.  But its not.  Especially for those men and women who have histories of sexual abuse.
Below is the email exchange between Kim Pate, myself and MP Rathgeber, below that is the article referred to.       by sheryl jarvis
Email Exchange,Re: Supreme Court Selection Committee Work

Description: From: SHERYL JARVIS []
Sent: October 8, 2011 3:08 PM
To: Cotler, Irwin - M.P.; Rathgeber, Brent - M.P.; Comartin, Joe - M.P.; Hoeppner, Candice - M.P.
Subject: re: Supreme Court Selection Committee Work
 Dear Members of Parliament

I would like thank each of you for your  dedication to Canadians through the work each of you are doing on this most important panel, the election of new members to the Supreme Court of Canada.

I would like to believe that each and every portion of this process would be given ample thought and consideration with all those present provided his or her own space to speak from their personal and professional experiences.  This after all is a fundamental aspect of what constitutes a thriving democracy.  It also happens to be included in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms:
"(b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication;"
I read about an incident which occurred recently where an invited guest and presenter(Kim Pate) from the Elizabeth Fry Society was disrespected for having discussed openly what is the reality for most women in prison - that is, being subjected to unnecessary strip searches which are experienced by those female prisoners as a form of sexual assault and a continuation of what has for over 80% of incarcerated women been a life time of sexual, physical, and emotional abuse.

Mr. Rathgeber how dare you claim to be speaking for survivors of sexual predators when you stated that Ms. Pate's comments were an affront to victims of such predators.  When it is common knowledge that women in prison are as a group those most often victimized sexually, emotionally and physically.

All Canadians including those imprisoned have the same fundamental rights and freedoms, especially those which necessarily protect human rights.  This of course is contrary to what you and your party would have Canadians believe when you continue to repeat media sound bites such as  “putting the rights of criminals against the rights of law-abiding Canadians”

Ms. Hoeppener, shame on you as a woman for putting the process of state sanctioned abuse of the most vulnerable women ahead of their individual Human Rights.  How very cruel!


sheryl jarvis
Woman, Mother, Survivor

Date: Fri, 21 Oct 2011 15:23:10 -0400
Subject: RE: Supreme Court Selection Committee Work
Dear Ms. Jarvis,
 Thank-you for your correspondence with regard to comments I made in the House of Commons regarding the Elizabeth Fry Society.
 Ms. Kim Pate recently appeared before the Public Safety Committee as a witness for the Elizabeth Fry Society.  In the course of her comments, Ms. Pate stated that strip searching inmates is tantamount to “sexual assault by the state”.  She used this phrase throughout her opening statement and in the rounds of questioning that followed. 
 I am concerned by Ms. Pate’s characterization, especially because it has no basis in fact or in law.  The Criminal Code clearly defines an assault as a non-consensual application of force and sexual assault as having an added aspect of sexual need, gratification, or sexual degradation. I only take issue with the characterization of these situations as having a “sexual” aspect. 
 While I have the utmost respect for the work the Elizabeth Fry Society and its members carry out on behalf of incarcerated women, I stand by the statements I made in the House of Commons. 
  Brent Rathgeber, Q.C.
Member of Parliament
Edmonton-St. Albert

Subject: Re: Supreme Court Selection Committee Work
Date: Sat, 8 Oct 2011 22:26:05 +0000

Dear Ms Jarvis,

Thank you so much for copying us on this. I am preparing some information for the Committee. Please let me know if you would also like to receive it. 
Thanks again and all the best, 

KimSent wirelessly from my BlackBerry device on the Bell network.
Envoyé sans fil par mon terminal mobile BlackBerry sur le réseau de Bell.

Date: Thu, 27 Oct 2011 17:48:30 -0400
To: <>
Cc: <>
Subject: RE: Supreme Court Selection Committee Work

Dear Honourable Rathgeber

The newspapers quote an MP who said that you are usually more reserved and respectful, that he was surprised to find out it was you who had made the comments to Kim Pate.  The tone of your email seems to bear that out.  However its tough to tell if you wrote it or one of your assistants did.....

You point to specific acts of law regarding the definition of sexual assault.  The problem with relying entirely on the law books is that peoples life experience's and thus their reactions to situations such as prison strip searches can not be accounted for.

The purpose of a strip search is to maintain the safety of prisoners and staff.  Tobacco is not a weapon.  The possibility of tobacco being smuggled into prison is not nearly reason enough to put prisoners, women in this case through what is for some a highly traumatic event. 

In the case of women's federal institutions these strip searches are happening regularly and persistently.  The staff are not required to strip search prisoners in order to address the question of tobacco but they do it anyways.

It is common knowledge that many prison guards chose their professions because they enjoy the "power over" dynamic.  There is for some a perverse sort of pleasure in degrading and humiliating others.

Most women who end up in prison have been sexually assaulted in their life times.  A strip search can cause a woman to relive feelings of degradation and humiliation.  Whether this is the staffs intention or not and whether it is written into law or not assault is the woman's experience.  Here again she is being ordered against her will to remove her clothing and to stand, bend, lift, and stretch her body on command for no good reason.

The truth is that many female prisoners find a way to cope with this by dissociating themselves from their bodies.  They may pretend it isn't happening, or that it is someone else standing there, or they may simply pretend to themselves that it doesn't matter, that they don't care.  In any case it does have an adverse impact on the woman's mental health.  This is just the opposite of what we should be aiming for.  

I know you may not believe these statements to be accurate or you may dismiss them as the babble of a "bleeding heart liberal", but I hope you will at least consider that perhaps there is some merit to what I say. 

Human beings, human relationships are all so very complex and often there is more than what meets the eye.  I'm sure you will at least agree with that last statement. 

thank you for continuing the conversation on this topic

Mother, Advocate, Survivor 

Many thanks for your compelling confirmation and correspondence with Mr. Rathgeber, Sheryl. Thanks, too, for being such an articulate ally. All the best, Kim
Sent wirelessly from my BlackBerry device on the Bell network.
Envoyé sans fil par mon terminal mobile BlackBerry sur le réseau de Bell.

Tory MP Rathgeber refuses to apologize for criticizing director of national group devoted to helping women in prison

Democrat MP Peter Stoffer calls for Conservative MP's apology, but Brent Rathgeber says NDP 'putting the rights of criminals against the rights of law-abiding Canadians.'

Veterans Affairs Minister Steven Blaney, Defence Minister Peter MacKay and Status of Women Minister Rona Ambrose launch Women's History Month on Monday before a Tory MP crticized the Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies. (Photograph by Jake Wright)

By TIM NAUMETZ October 5, 2011

PARLIAMENT HILL—A Conservative MP who sat on a Commons advisory panel screening candidates for nomination to the Supreme Court of Canada is under fire for making a formal statement in the House sharply criticizing the director of a nationwide group devoted to helping women in prison.

Brent Rathgeber (Edmonton-St. Albert, Alberta) slammed Kim Pate, executive director of the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies, for comments she made opposing a rise in strip searches of female Corrections Canada prisoners, describing the naked searches as “sexual assault by the state.”

Ms. Pate made the comment during testimony at the Commons Public Safety Committee the previous day, when she told MPs the strip searches are so invasive and prevalent that some women inmates have refused to have their children visit them in prison out of fear they would also be strip-searched.

She said the searches are for contraband of all kinds, including jewellery and cigarettes, and “virtually no drugs” have been found and no weapons in the searches of female prisoners, which Ms. Pate said have increased “massively” because of a recent ban on cigarettes in federal prisons.

Conservative MP Candice Hoeppner (Portage-Lisgar, Manitoba), who chaired the advisory panel screening nominees for two Supreme Court vacancies and is also a member of the Public Safety committee, also criticized Ms. Pate, after she made the comments in the committee.

Coincidentally, the third government MP on the Supreme Court panel, Robert Dechert (Mississauga-Erindale, Ontario) was recently the subject of lengthy controversy after he admitted to a series of romantic email exchanges with a Toronto-based journalist with China’s Xinhua state news agency, often accused of spying for the Chinese government.

NDP MP Peter Stoffer (Sackville-Eastern Shore, Nova Scotia) asked Mr. Rathgeber to apologize in the Commons to Ms. Pate but the Edmonton MP refused. A lawyer, Mr. Rathgeber and the other members of the panel took part in one of the most sensitive phases of the Supreme Court nomination process.

He accused Mr. Stoffer and the NDP, which had invited the Elizabeth Fry Societies to send a representative to the Public Safety Committee as part of a review of the use of drugs and alcohol in prisons, of “putting the rights of criminals against the rights of law-abiding Canadians.”

The phrase has been used repeatedly by the government and Conservative MPs to attack opposition MPs who have challenged a string of government crime bills over the past three years.

The Conservative members of the Supreme Court appointment advisory panel were all named by Prime Minister Stephen Harper (Calgary Southwest, Alberta) as he and Justice Minister Rob Nicholson (Niagara Falls, Ontario) began the reviews of candidates who will sit on the court as it braces for expected cases that could be among the most important it has heard in years.

Human rights lawyers say challenges against the omnibus crime bill, Bill C-10, the Safe Streets and Communities Bill, that the Conservative majority is currently rushing through Parliament are inevitable. They also say provincial challenges of legislation proposing to limit Senate terms severely and allow provinces to hold consultative elections on Senate appointments are also expected.

Mr. Hoeppner’s appointment as chair of the advisory panel came under scrutiny earlier because of the notoriety she won as the champion of the Conservative drive to dismantle the federal long-gun registry. Although a private member’s bill Ms. Hoeppner sponsored in the last Parliament to end the registry died in the Commons, her position on the panel was seen as a reward for the cross-country campaign she mounted.

Mr. Stoffer told The Hill Times he was astonished by Mr. Rathgeber’s attack against Ms. Pate, not only because of the group’s longstanding advocacy for women in prison, but because Mr. Rathgeber made the statement only four days into the internationally recognized Women’s History Month.

“We all have statements and if the Conservatives wish to attack the NDP or anyone else, in terms of political things, we don’t really care,” Mr. Stoffer said. “But if you’re going to attack the Elizabeth Fry Society and impugn their evidence, and impugn their motives, I think it is simply wrong.”

In the House, Mr. Stoffer said that the organization has been protecting womens' interests in the country and Mr. Rathgeber "goes after the Elizabeth Fry Society when it cannot defend itself. ... For many years it has been protecting the interests of women in this country, it has been protecting women who are incarcerated, many of whom are mentally ill and should not be in prison.”

In refusing to retract his statement, Mr. Rathgeber told the Commons: “The record from yesterday’s committee will reflect that I quoted the said society accurately and correctly, and I stand by those statements.”

Page 2 of 2

Ms. Pate told the committee the strip searches are a particularly traumatic experience for women inmates who have experienced sexual abuse and assault.

" Going back to the history of sexual abuse and physical abuse that many women have, many women find those kinds of invasive searches not just humiliating, but they become additionally punitive in terms of their histories of post traumatic stress, their histories of abuse,” she said.

NDP MP Joe Comartin (Windsor-Tecumseh, Ontario), his party’s representative on the panel, said he was surprised by what he had heard about Mr. Rathgeber’s statement.

“I’m a bit surprised it’s him, because as much as he is fairly mainstream conservative on these issues, he usually has more of a diplomatic approach,” Mr. Comartin said, suggesting it is possible the government directed Mr. Rathgeber to say what he did.

Liberal MP Irwin Cotler (Mount Royal, Quebec) cited his oath of secrecy for the panel and said he has not commented on any topic or MP associated with it.

Mr. Rathgeber told the Commons Ms. Pate’s description of strip searches as sexual assault by the state were “a slap in the face to our correctional officers, and legally dubious, it is absolutely insulting to those who have actually been victimized by a sexual predator.”

Mr. Comartin said the panel of MPs, which interviewed prospective candidates and reduced the field to a short list of six, reported the list of six to Mr. Nicholson last week. Mr. Nicholson and Mr. Harper are expected to announce the final two nominees next week.

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