Long-delayed inquest into prison death of teenager Ashley Smith starts

The Canadian Press
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Ashley Smith spent part of her early years in Summerside, P.E.I. before moving to Moncton with her family

Ashley Smith is shown in this still image taken from a coroner's video.

A coroner’s inquest jury is hearing evidence today in the case of a troubled teen who choked to death in an Ontario prison.

It marks the start of the second inquest into the death of Ashley Smith after the first attempt went off the rails and had to be scrapped.

Smith, 19, had developed the habit of tying ligatures around her neck and in October 2007 she choked to death as correctional officers watched.

She had spent much of her last year in segregation, shunted across the country from prison to prison.

Presiding coroner Dr. John Carlisle has made it clear he wants to explore how people with mental illness are treated in prison.

Julian Falconer, the lawyer for the Smith family, says the family hopes the inquest can shed light on why a mentally ill young woman was subjected to what he calls “absolute torturous circumstances.”

“This has been a very long time coming for a family that has literally fought blood, sweat and tears to get a process in which the truth would come out,” Falconer said outside the coroner’s courts.

“We’d like answers to those questions, but invariably my experience has been (that) this ends up being turned on the family, so this is going to be a tough process.”

The inquest is expected to last at least six months.

Smith is from Moncton, N.B., but spent part of her early years in Summerside, P.E.I. She was adopted when she was five days old. She began to act out at school starting at age 10, the beginning of a long downward spiral that saw her suspended from schools and find herself in youth custody at age 15.

In the three years Smith was in custody in New Brunswick, she racked up several hundred recorded incidents, ranging from refusal to hand over a hair brush, to self-harm and suicide attempts.

Kept almost entirely in segregation, the increasingly troubled teen spent the last year of her life shunted 17 times among nine institutions in five provinces. She tried to hurt herself with alarming frequency.

In September 2006, weeks before she was moved into the adult prison system, Smith wrote in her journal: “If I die then I will never have to worry about upsetting my mom again.”

This is the second inquest into her death. The first collapsed last year amid months of bitter legal fights when the coroner, Dr. Bonita Porter, abruptly resigned.

 

Geographic location: Summerside, P.E.I., Moncton Ontario New Brunswick

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