Government orders Corrections to co-operate fully with Ashley Smith inquest

The Canadian Press
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An undated family handout photo of Ashley Smith.The family of a troubled young woman who choked herself to death in prison is calling on the RCMP to launch a criminal investigation into events leading up to her death.Ashley Smith had been transferred between facilities and institutions 17 times in the last 11 months of her life before her death in October 2007. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO

The Harper government says it has ordered Correctional Service Canada to co-operate fully with an inquest into the death of a disturbed teenager who choked to death in a cell five years ago.

“What we’ve instructed CSC to do is co-operate fully with the coroner’s inquest” into the death of Ashley Smith, said Candice Bergen, parliamentary secretary to Public Safety Minister Vic Toews.

“That was our instruction and that’s what we expect them to do.”

Government lawyers fought in vain to keep a series of videos involving Smith, who lived part of her life in Summerside, P.E.I.,  under wraps and are still trying to limit the scope of the inquest, to block scrutiny of what happened to Smith in prisons outside Ontario.

The screening this week of one disturbing video that shows guards duct-taping Smith and drugging her against her will prompted Prime Minister Stephen Harper to criticize correctional authorities for unacceptable behaviour.

There are still hours of videos that remain unseen by the inquest, but Bergen offered no clues as to whether they will be released.

“We expect full co-operation,” she said in response to a direct question about the videos. “That’s what we want to see.

“This has been a tragedy. What we’ve seen in the videos is completely unacceptable. Obviously, CSC is working to make changes but this is an important inquest so we want to see CSC co-operating fully with the coroner.”

Liberal MP Ralph Goodale sounded skeptical when asked about the government’s apparent change of heart.

“I hope it’s true,” Goodale said. “The government often gives those glib replies and then you examine their behaviour afterward and it really doesn’t ever happen.”

Bergen was asked why it took the government so long to order full co-operation.

“I think that there’s been a process in place and decisions were made concerning the videos,” she said.

“We’ve seen some very tragic things and the government recognizes and believes very strongly that CSC needs to co-operate and that’s what we’ve instructed them to do.”

Smith choked to death as guards looked on in October 2007 at a prison in Kitchener, Ont. She spent the last year of her life in segregation, shunted among prisons in five provinces

Goodale said he hopes the government lawyers will now back away from trying to limit the investigation to the events in Ontario.

“The whole point here is that there was a pattern of behaviour, going on over a long period of time, some of it within federal jurisdiction, some of it within provincial jurisdiction, that led to some very dire consequences for this mentally ill young woman,” he said.

“To say you can compartmentalize that as if it were some kind of constitutional conference is just absolutely ludicrous.”

The investigation followed a plea by her family to the RCMP that Smith had been restrained and given anti-psychotic and other drugs against her will without any legal or medical justification.

The RCMP, claiming it had no jurisdiction, passed the complaint to Quebec provincial police, who investigated three incidents in July 2007 at the federally-run Joliette prison in Montreal.

Prison authorities gave the investigating officer access to Smith’s administrative file and surveillance videos, some of which were shown at the inquest into her death on Wednesday, but not to her medical file, according to documents made available by the family.

The provincial police report found authorities used force on Smith “when she behaved contrary to regulation.”

The Smith family also asked Waterloo regional police for a criminal-negligence probe over management directives to guards at the Grand Valley prison in Kitchener where Smith died.

No charges were laid as a result of that request.

Guards were ordered not to enter Smith’s segregation cell to remove any ligature around her neck unless she stopped breathing.

The result was Smith choked to death while guards did nothing.

Goodale said the correctional service would be wise to come clean with the whole record now that people have seen some of the video.

“There seems to have been an attitude here to hush it up, cover it over, sweep it under the rug, hope it will all pass by,” he said.

“With the publication of the videos in the public domain, Canadians have seen now at least a part of what was being hidden from them. They did not like it and I think Canadians will demand that there be complete transparency here.”


Organizations: CSC, RCMP

Geographic location: Ontario, Summerside, Kitchener Quebec Joliette Montreal Grand Valley

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Recent comments

    November 02, 2012 - 21:49

    Do not look at just on side of this. Corrections did not send her to prison. The justice system sent her tp prison. It took guards 24 hurs a day, 7 days a week just to keep her from hurting herself. She should have been in a mental institution under drugs to keep her under control. It is unfdair to critize these corrections officers who have a jiob to do which is operating a prison not spending all there time and resources lokking after one mental and totally unstable person. Watch the story on 20/20 in you want to see the way it really was.

  • unreal
    November 02, 2012 - 17:06

    This should have never happen in Canada....Every little detail should be made public as how Canadains with mental health issues are treated. This is unreal at the way this child was treated at the hands of corrections....shame on them.....Its about time our front line worker are trained to deal with people with mental issues and not just throw them in a cell.....

  • Bill Kays
    Bill Kays
    November 02, 2012 - 16:45

    This is another photo op type deal where Harper can try to convince us that he has morals and is genuinely concerned when IN FACT HE COULD NOT CARE LESS ABOUT ANY CANADIAN CITIZEN. He is the head of one of the most crooked gang of thieves to hit Ottawa in a long time. He and his cabinet sit on their thrones issuing decrees that adversely affect us and our children and grand children. He and members of his gang are showing their true colors with every single decision or policy that they make. Harper should be more critical of his own policies.

  • Concerned Canadian Taxpayer
    November 02, 2012 - 16:20

    Why is the Harper Government just know waking up to this tragedy, this is a five year ordeal of cover ups and corrution within Corrections. The Federal Lawyers who played this aggressive game trying to hide crucial evidence should be investigated and disbarred. Everyone in Corrections who played this game should be investigated and fired. This is nothing short of a disgrace for our Cnadian Government. The family has been put through hell on earth trying to surpress the truth, thank God they have lawyer with guts and someone who can't be bought off. I hope the family receives massive compensation for this fiasco. Where in hell is Justice and why has this been allowed to happen.

  • disgusted
    November 02, 2012 - 16:09

    The staff shown on the video should be ashamed of themselves and under investigation. We knew of a demented prison guard in another province who used to brag about sadistic ways of antagonizing prisoners. He should have been behind bars imo.Sometimes the keepers can be worse than the inmates. It must be very hard for guards who are professional and are doing a decent job without torture.I know being a guard must be difficult but to lower yourself to the standard these ones did is criminal imo. and does nothing but scar honorable guards. To try and cover up adds to the stink of the situation too.