The Commons: Less acrimony from Vic Toews, more questions for him

The Commons: The Public Safety Minister makes himself clear

by Aaron Wherry

The Scene. Rosane Doré Lefebrve wondered if the Public Safety Minister, given yesterday’s tone, might like to apologize to the family of Ashley Smith. The New Democrats present stood to applaud this suggestion.

Vic Toews stood and reported to the House as follows.

“Mr. Speaker, let me be clear on what I said,” he said. “This is a very sad case and our thoughts go out to Ms. Smith’s family. Some of the behaviour seen in these videos is absolutely unacceptable. Our government has directed Correctional Service Canada to fully co-operate with the coroner’s inquest.”

Ms. Doré Lefebrve was not impressed. ”Mr. Speaker, this is not really an apology, but that’s probably all he is capable of doing,” she scolded.

There were groans from the government side.

Hopefully Mr. Toews’ aim yesterday was not to scare opposition MPs away from this subject. It seemed, instead, to have had the opposite effect. Where on Tuesday afternoon, the case of Ashley Smith was not raised until the ninth opportunity, today it was the subject of five of the first eight questions.

Ms. Doré Lefebrve repeated her query of the day before: would the government be implementing the recommendations of the corrections investigator?

Mr. Toews stood and reported as follows.

“Mr. Speaker, our government has always stood for the rights of victims and has done the right thing in regard to Ashley Smith. Not only did I direct CSC to settle litigation nearly two years ago, but CSC has also now been directed to co-operate fully with the coroner’s inquest,” he explained.

“Five years too late!” yelled Marc Garneau from the Liberal corner.

“In respect of an action plan, this is something that I raised with the provincial ministers over a year ago,” Mr. Toews continued. “As a result of our discussions last week with the Minister of Justice and all of the provincial and territorial ministers, we are in fact examining an action plan to deal with mental illness.”

Now it was Bob Rae’s turn and, like yesterday, the interim Liberal leader piled up three more questions.

“The coroner’s inquest in Ontario only covers the last year in custody,” he noted. “I would like to ask the government, is Corrections Canada in possession of other videos with respect to the care and treatment of Ashley Smith prior to the period under the jurisdiction of the coroner’s inquest? Has any one in the government seen those videos? Is the government now prepared to make any such videos public?”

John Baird, the Prime Minister’s stand-in, took this one, offering several reassurances without addressing the questions.

Mr. Rae was unimpressed and reiterated his queries. After some glancing back-and-forth along the government front bench, it was decided that Mr. Toews would respond this time.

“Despite the jurisdictional limitations of the coroner, we have indicated that CSC is to co-operate fully with the coroner,” Mr. Toews explained, holding no piece of paper this time. “If the coroner has need of certain information, the coroner simply can ask or subpoena for that information. I have directed CSC to co-operate.”

Mr. Rae held out his hands as if to plead for understanding. “Mr. Speaker, the minister who is in charge of Corrections Canada either knows or does not know whether or not there are videos for the period that he knows perfectly well are not covered by the coroner’s inquest,” he explained.

Now he crossed his left hand under his right arm and pointed with his right hand at the government side.

“I am asking the minister very directly, if the Government of Canada is really interested in getting to the bottom of this, why not deal with the jurisdictional issues that are still before the coroner because of the objections of some of the contracting physicians?” he asked “Why not hold a public inquiry which will deal with the entire period under which Ashley Smith has been custody?”

There was some grumbling from government members at this reference to a public inquiry.

“The facts dealing with her case have to come out,” Mr. Rae concluded.

Once more to Mr. Toews. “Mr. Speaker, a coroner’s inquest is a public inquiry,” he offered. “Not only does that coroner have jurisdiction in respect of subpoenas, we have directed, in so far as Correctional Services of Canada has any relevant information with respect to this matter, it shall be disclosed if the coroner requests it.”

He was a bit more insistent here, but yesterday’s cross words were not repeated.

The Stats. Prisons, five questions. Veterans and government services, four questions each. The economy and the budget, three questions each. Canada Post, ethics, intergovernmental affairs, foreign investment, the F-35 and the coast guard, two questions each. Employment insurance, infrastructure, history, fisheries, the environment, trade, arts funding and crime, one question each.

Steven Blaney, five responses. John Baird and Vic Toews, four responses each. Jim Flaherty, Pierre Poilievre, Tony Clement and Gail Shea, three responses each. Diane Finley, Rona Ambrose, Steven Fletcher and Gerald Keddy, two responses each. Peter Penashue, Christian Paradis, Denis Lebel, Peter Kent, James Moore and Rob Nicholson, one response each.




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The Commons: Less acrimony from Vic Toews, more questions for him

  1. How to move beyond not just dealing with but nurturing and embracing the mentally ill and intellectually challenged is perhaps the greatest social challenge of this coming generation. In the past we locked them up; now we set them free without constraints until they fail and THEN we lock them up. (progress)

    • I am not sure how we could “embrace and nurture” people who suffer from borderline personality disorder more than we do already. You might not be aware of this but the very few people with this disorder use up a very large proportion of the resources in mental health care. There is no medication to treat this disorder and these individuals decompensate if kept in hospital for more than a day or two. There is one therapy that has shown some success….Dialectical Behavioral Therapy but the patient has to be a willing and motivated participant.
      Unfortunately not all classifications of mental illness that are listed in the DSM IV can be treated with equal success. We have only to think about psychopathology and sociopathology to know that this is true. We have make leaps and bounds with illnesses such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder but the same cannot be said for the personality disorders. I am sure people find it hard to fathom the difficulties involved in caring for a patient that is trying to start you on fire or spread feces on you but these are just a few of the challenges I have witnessed while looking after people with borderline personality disorder. Just to clarify, these patients are not psychotic or low functioning…rather they are angry because of some perceived slight. Within 30 minutes they are fine and have moved on….until the next slight occurs.

      • Thanks very much for your post. I had somebody very close to me suffer from BPD, and what you say is bang-on correct. These people tend to be extremely resistant to treatment; in fact, they’re about the worst candidates for treatment that you can possibly imagine.

  2. conservatives have become even more pathetic if that was at all possible………

  3. I think it is somewhat offensive that the Opposition is using the Ashley Smith case for political purposes. There has already been an investigation. It is published here: http://tinyurl.com/bojp34n Part of the problem is that Smith was not diagnosed as being mentally ill. She had a personality disorder manifested as a severe behavioural disorder, but that is not the same as being mentally ill. She was in and out of a whole range of institutions and no one could deal with her. Smith was determined to die and eventually they stopped fighting her. As Toews indicates — this is a sad, sad case, but it is being distorted by the Opposition and the media. Read the report identified above and see what you would have done in her case. This is not a case on which to build an argument for improved services. Nothing was going to help her avoid her tragic fate.

    • Rose, the truth of the matter is that Ashley Smith probably didn’t want to die. The case with many people with personality disorders is that they display “para-sucidal” behaviors. This means that they make suicidal gestures knowing that someone will save them or they cut their wrists but never do it deep enough to actually cause a fatality. The problem with these suicidal gestures is that sometimes mistakes occur and the person is not saved or the cut is too deep and death does occur. The problem in the Ashley Smith case is that things NEVER should have escalated the the point that they did. Ashley Smith should have been at a forensic psychiatric centre where people with criminal charges who are suicidal/para-sucidal, etc. are sent because it is fully staffed with psychiatric nurses and psychiatrists who specialize in dealing with people who have all kinds of psychiatric disorders including personality disorders which are particularly challenging. Ashley Smith may not have lived a long life that is true BUT it wasn’t the job of the corrections system to get in a pissing contest with her. They were out of their league and now they are suffering for their hubris.

      • Thanks to HI for shedding a little light on what was probably happening in the Ashley Smith case.

        Just like I don`t see the point of blaming Health Professionals for those who die from food or alcohol or drug addictions, I do not see any use in condemning Correctional Services for what appears to have been an impossible case.

        Sure, find out why she was in jail when she should have been in a psyc. centre, though I bet you will find out there was a major case of Greyhound Therapy going on there.

        As for the Opposition and their queries in Parliament—the first three times they inquired about Ashley they were doing a public service and doing their job—the last forty questions smell like political opportunism to me.

    • The CBC’s Fifth Estate reports that Ashley Smith was also diagnosed with Non Verbal Learning disorder (they say “Ashley shows signs of non-learning verbal difficulties that “may relate to some neurological deficits.”). I don’t believe that nothing could have helped her “avoid her tragic fate” — I think that schools and psychologists who were trained and capable of supporting her learning disability could have helped her avoid suicide. People with this kind of learning disability are often misunderstood and not accommodated in schools. There has been a lot of system failure in this young woman’s case.

  4. I feel a bit bad for Toews here. It’s not like he put his own hands around Ms. Smith’s throat or anything. He’s just the parliamentary minister responsible for the portfolio of the department that drove her to suicide. He’s just the minister who’s responsible for the department that wanted to deny information to the coronor’s inquest looking into her death. He only implied that opposition members don’t care about victims, as if to say that Ms. Smith wasn’t a victim herself. Perhaps, by extension, nobody incarcerated within the correctional systems of our governments could ever be victims if, say, the people abusing them are officers or employees of our various correctional departments. And even if they could, no coronor should be given access to such sensitive information. For at least five years, anyway. Leave Vic ALONE!

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