Feds to Corrections: Co-operate with Ashley Smith inquest
Published Friday, November 2, 2012 3:28PM EDT
Last Updated Friday, November 2, 2012 10:01PM EDT
The federal government has ordered Corrections Canada to co-operate fully with an inquest into the death of Ashley Smith, the New Brunswick teenager who killed herself in a cell five years ago, and the lawyer for the girl’s family is calling for a Royal Commission.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper was “horrified” by newly released surveillance videos in the case, and Candice Bergen, parliamentary secretary to Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, confirmed Friday that the government expects the agency to follow instructions.
Julian Falconer, the lawyer representing the Smith family, said more needs to be done after the coroner’s inquest in Ontario wraps up.
“It’s appropriate that all the footage, absolutely every step of Ashley’s treatment across the system, is to be looked at,” he said Friday. “The only place that can ever happen is a Royal Commission of inquiry.”
The coroner’s inquest, held in Toronto, released three videos totalling 43 minutes this week that showed disturbing incidents, including Smith getting tranquilized against her will, and duct-taped to her seat on a plane.
Sources have told CTV News that there are actually about 60 hours of video footage showing 109 incidents in which correctional staff at various institutions used force against Smith.
Some of that footage shows a guard smashing Smith’s fingers with a flashlight, sources say.
CTV News has also learned that there is video of Smith being wrapped in a strait jacket and tasered at one point in a New Brunswick provincial facility, before she was transferred to a federal prison.
Smith was 19 when she choked herself in her cell at the Grand Valley Institution in Kitchener, Ont. in October 2007.
Guards were ordered not to enter her cell to remove any ligature around her neck unless she stopped breathing.
Publicly, Harper called Smith’s treatment and death a “terrible tragedy.”
“Obviously, there’s information that’s come to light that is completely unacceptable to the way Corrections Canada is supposed to do business,” he said in the House of Commons Thursday.
Government lawyers had been fighting to keep a series of videos involving Smith under wraps and to limit the scope of the inquest. Lawyers argued that Ontario coroner, Dr. John Carlisle, did not have jurisdiction to delve into how Smith was treated in federal prisons in provinces outside Ontario.
In another video shown at the coroner’s inquest this week, a subdued Smith is seen with a hood over her head as staff duct-tape her arms to an airplane seat during a transfer from a Saskatoon prison. When she complains that it hurts, they threaten to duct-tape her face.
First jailed at 15 for throwing crab-apples at a postal worker, the Moncton, N.B. teen’s sentence was extended over numerous in-custody incidents. In the years leading up to her death, she was transferred 17 times among nine institutions in five provinces.
Falconer said Smith’s family, as well as advocates for prisoners, hope the videos of Smith’s final months will lead to a higher level of accountability for corrections staff when dealing with inmates who are mentally ill.
With a report from CTV’s Ottawa Bureau Chief Robert Fife