The Commons: Vic Toews again imparts his judgment

The Public Safety Minister on the case of Ashley Smith

The Scene. After eight questions about other matters, the House returned to the serious matter of Ashley Smith.

“Mr. Speaker, in her 11 and a half months in federal custody, Ashley Smith was involved in 160 use of force incidents. She was subjected to a barrage of inhumane treatment: pepper spray, tasering, duct tape, and chemical restraints,” the NDP’s Randall Garrison recounted. “We know our correction system failed Ashley Smith, and we know the correctional investigator has put forward basic recommendations to prevent tragedies like this from ever happening again. Once again I ask the minister, will he commit today to fully implementing these recommendations on dealing with mental illness in our correction system so there are no more tragedies like Ashley Smith?”

It was Vic Toews’ responsibility to take this. “Mr. Speaker, this is a very sad case. Our thoughts go out to Ms. Smith’s family,” the Public Safety Minister offered. “This tragedy continues to show that individuals with mental health issues do not belong in prisons but in professional facilities. At the same time, our government continues to take concrete steps on the issue of mental health in prison. Since 2006, we have invested nearly $90 million in mental health for prisoners and we have taken action to improve access to mental health treatment and training for staff.”

The NDP’s Rosane Doré Lefebrve stood and seemed to suggest that a tragedy was not the word to describe Ms. Smith’s fate: that this was not an accident that couldn’t have been predicted. “In the case of Ashley Smith, and too many women with mental illness, you could see it coming,” she said. She then restated the question. “It’s been a week since the NDP has been asking questions about the subject, whether the Conservatives will implement the recommendations of the Correctional Investigator of Canada,” she said. “Will the Conservatives follow the advice of the Correctional Investigator of Canada, yes or no?”

Mr. Toews managed two sentences in response—”Mr. Speaker, we continue to work with the correctional investigator. We review all of his recommendations.”—before turning the matter on the NDP. Nine months removed from explaining that opposition MPs could stand with the Conservatives or stand with child pornographers, Mr. Toews now fretted that the NDP was insufficiently conscious of the victims of crime.

“However,” he segued, “I would note that the NDP, while consistently speaking on behalf of prisoners, never speaks on behalf of the victims of these prisoners. It never talks about the damage done to people outside of prisons. I wish New Democrats would take a more balanced view about what it means to have a safe society, not simply the individuals in the prisons but those who are abused outside of the prisons.”

There were noises of astonishment from the opposition side. Sylvain Chicoine, the New Democrat next scheduled to pose a question, stood up from the back row and waited for the Speaker to call on him, but the front row had apparently decided on the spot to make a line-up change. Nathan Cullen motioned for Mr. Chicoine to sit and alerted the Speaker that it would be Thomas Mulcair, seated to Mr. Cullen’s immediate left, who would go next.

Mr. Mulcair stood and looked directly at Mr. Toews. “Mr. Speaker,” the NDP leader asked, “is that minister capable of understanding that she was the victim here?”

The New Democrats stood to applaud the query and the sentiment contained therein. The Liberals soon joined them.

Mr. Toews was apparently undaunted. “Mr. Speaker, I have made it very clear where our government stands on that and I am very proud of the position that the Prime Minister took in terms of ensuring that our officials in Correctional Service Canada co-operate completely with the coroner,” he explained.

There was heckling from the opposition side. Mr. Toews pointed at Mr. Mulcair. “I would like to ask that member,” the minister offered, “who has never once stood and spoken for victims, why is it that he is always silent when it comes to victims outside of our prisons?”

Seated across the way, Mr. Cullen shook his head. Beside him, Mr. Mulcair nodded grimly.

The House moved on to other matters, but when the questions came back around to the Liberals, it was Bob Rae who stood up.

“Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Public Safety praised the Prime Minister for changing the direction of the coroner’s inquest in Toronto and for giving different instructions to Corrections officials than in fact took place,” the interim Liberal prefaced.

On this, Mr. Rae had three questions. “I would like to ask the minister very directly, why did he not issue these instructions months, indeed years ago? Why did lawyers for the Government of Canada consistently take the position that the coroner’s inquest did not have jurisdiction over critical issues facing Ashley Smith? Why would the minister have left this up to a statement by the Prime Minister in the House of Commons in response to a question from the opposition?”

In his seat, Mr. Toews unclipped a blue piece of paper from the binder in front of him. Rising to respond he seemed to stick mostly to his script.

“Mr. Speaker, we made it very clear that we want to ensure Corrections Canada co-operates fully with the coroner’s inquest,” he explained. “It was for that reason we made sure, through the Prime Minister’s statement…”

The Liberal corner laughed.

“.. that the arguments with respect to the limited constitutional jurisdiction of the coroner were no longer pursued,” Mr. Toews continued.

“In fact,” he concluded, “the coroner has the full ability to look into this particular case.”

Afterwards in the foyer, Mr. Rae departed from reporters’ questions about the American election to offer a bit of unrequested advice to the government side. “I thought Mr. Toews today really in reaching down way low in a partisan sense to try to score some partisan points with respect to the Ashley Smith situation I think he did himself and the government a real disservice,” Mr. Rae ventured. “I think it’s a situation that requires a different response from our ministers than we’ve seen.”

The Stats. Foreign investment, prisons, veterans and ethics, four questions each. Intergovernmental affairs, three questions. Government spending, the economy, union, fisheries, the Navigable Waters Protection Act, employment insurance and Canada Post, two questions each. Natural resources, forestry, air travel, the north, credit cards and the governor general, one question each.

John Baird, seven responses. Pierre Poilievre, six responses. Vic Toews and Denis Lebel, four responses each. Steven Blaney, three responses. Tony Clement, Gail Shea, Diane Finley and Steven Fletcher, two responses each. Peter MacKay, Peter Penashue, Kerry-Lynne Findlay, Joe Oliver, John Duncan, Ted Menzies and James Moore, one response each.




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The Commons: Vic Toews again imparts his judgment

  1. In Toews case I would suspect Dementia, but I know that the rest of the Cons….no matter their age…..are just as confused, incompetent and silly.

    • He now has himself standing with the postal workers. He has fallen and can’t get up.

  2. Since 2006, we have invested nearly $90 million in mental health for prisoners…

    Your government has also invested over $50 million in “border security” up in Muskoka, but other than gazebos for Toady, just what did it accomplish?

    Vic Toews’ windy replies have no credibility

  3. If you parse Toews closely what he is really saying is that until the opposition forced the PM’s hand, his own view – that no one inside the prison system could possibly qualify for the role of victim – prevailed.
    We are witnessing the unraveling of a very ugly set of ideological assumptions on the part of this govt, that those who wind up behind bars simply deserve in all cases what they get.
    Bit late for your crocodile tears now Toews, you nailed your colours to the mast head long ago; spare us both your partisanship and your phony sanctimony.

    • What you are really seeing here is the mental health patient with a borderline personality disorder. There is no cure for this “mental health illness”. The relatively few patients with the diagnosis eat up a disproportionately large amount of the mental health resources. It is common knowledge that they discompensate when hospitalized and therefore their psychiatrists try to maintain them as best they can in the community.
      This girl should NEVER have been left in a jail…she should have been released and if that wasn’t possible..she should have gone to a forensic psychiatry centre where they would have been trained in how to deal with her. However, sadly the truth is that they often overwhelm mental health professionals as well. If you do research you will find that they want attention anyway they can get it and they up the ante…often in ways VERY destructive to themselves in order to get it. This includes suicidal gestures…slashing; med overdoses, etc. ….usually always where they will be rescued. However, as with all rescues, there are often miscalculations and failed rescue attempts. The longer they are hospitalized, the more attempts and the more outrageous they become.
      There were alot of mistakes made here: #1: to incarcrate her in the first place; #2: to increase the time to be served because she assaulted her guards….they were feeding into her need for attention; #3: to put her in seclusion….she would just up the ante for attention…tie things around her neck; spit on people (if you don’t respond to the stuff she does, there is no secondary gain). This people got into a power struggle with someone who would risk everything (her life) to win.

  4. Obviously the NDP has never been the unfortunate victim of a
    crab apple bombardment. I know my adolescent years were severely
    marked by the trauma of several such events. Nearly drove me into
    the waiting arms of child pornographers. Shameful.

    • I hope they locked those bombarders up then.[ i'm not sure if that's in any way funny at all?]

  5. She was in jail for throwing apples in the beginning I think. She didn’t deserve a death sentence, she needed help and they killed her for what???

    • you;re an idiot. she was re-charged for assaulting staff members. would you let that slide? and where do you suppose you would house a violent, abusive, mental health patient? a faiclity without locks? get a grip. some people need to be locked up – ashley smith being a prime example

      • Ah – a mental institution? Believe it or not, there are professionals who know how to deal with aggressive patients. If you don’t care about the mentally ill, why would you want correctional officers put in the position that they were in in this case.

        • “mental institution” riiiiight. and this is 1965.

          • We should go back to 1965 and start over. We de-institionalized mental health but never put the necessary resources into treatment. The Vancouver.downtown east side is a testament to that. So rather than fund treatment which would reduce criminal behavior we have chosen to ignore it and criminalize the mentally ill.

        • I know you have never appreciated my input Jan but there is actually something .called a “Forensic Psychiatry Centre” for people who have criminal charges but are also mentally ill. Having said that, I will tell you that nurses in all mental health facilities as well as nursing homes are often victims of physical abuse as patients with mental illness do tend to be violent. They do spit, hit, and bite. They also spread their feces and other body fluids freely. It is a challenging place to work. Of course we are trained to treat everyone with dignity and we would NEVER use duct tape. However, if someone is clearly psychotic (meaning that can’t tell the difference between reality and fantasy and they are a danger to themselves or others) we do use chemical restraints such as injections of anti-psychotics and sedatives. I think the difference is that most nurses in mental health treat a patient the same way they would want a family member to be treated. In Alberta we have a law….protection of persons in care…..we are all responsible on the unit for the treatment of each patient, whether they are our particular patient or not. We can be charged if patients on our units are not treated with the greatest care and dignity.

      • thanks for your comment, you are giving us proof that those staff and medical members all they knew how to do was pepper spray, tasering, duct tape, and use chemical restraints… so where is the competency, the expertise or the ability to be a true correctional officer, is that all you need to work at correctional facilities…

        • No corrections officer likely has the training to deal with a challenging “mental health patient”. Who should have been dealing with this young lady was a nurse. Who should have been issuing the orders was a psychiatrist.

  6. why bother? Toews could just say he absolutely intends to do it and then just twiddle his thumbs until 2015 (when hoepfully he will be replaced). It’s not like this government, or by extension people who vote for them, actually cares about courses of action taken by government or anything.

  7. I honestly don’t think Vic Toews is capable of understanding anything. Vic Toews is a power abuser wanna be. He just keeps trying and trying to get away with making all of us victims to his nasty ideology.

  8. One other reminder if the illegitimate Harper government is saying one thing please just remember to read it backwards because you’ll hear the truth that way.

  9. We all knew the CRAP supported torture. They didn’t say they supported it in our prison system, but not on our streets.

  10. Prison should not be a nice place to live.

    Prison is a punishment for crime.

    Anyone committing a series of crimes, or a single violent crime, has a mental problem. That’s right. Every single repeat offender, every person who rapes and murders, all violent criminals, they all have a mental problem. That is not a get out of jail free card.

    You can try to address the precursors to this, but to shed a bunch of salty tears over these poor criminals is pointless. They are who they are. They did what they did. Let them suffer in prison and think about what they did. Maybe they decide to clean up, maybe they can’t do it on their own, in which case I’d suggest we flush them down into the deepest cell we can find.

    • Not all prisoners are criminals, some have no understanding of the norms of society. Unless you deal directly with the mentally and physically handicapped, your opinion is useless. I speak of which I know, I have a 15 year old niece who has the mental capacity of a 3 year old, and she has no concept of right or wrong according to our society. I would truly love to have someone as close minded as yourself deal with her for a week, it might be an eye opening experience!

      • …..and again, she would never be assigned as being criminal resonsibile for her acitons. you’re arguing two completely different points. Ashley smith was neither physically nor mentally handicapped. She had a raging conduct disorder. SHe knew her actions, she understood them. SHe assaulted staff regularly, and was charged for it – how is this difficult to understand? comparing Ashley Smith to your neice is dumb

        • Do you have direct, personal knowledge of Ashley Smith’s case? If you know specifics let’s hear them. And what the hell is a “conduct disorder”? Everything I’ve heard/read about this tells me that she had mental health issues which were exacerbated by both the so-called “treatment” & lack of appropriate treatment she received while in custody. There is a distinction between being mentally ill and mentally handicapped – or does mental illness not exist in your world – it’s just a “conduct disorder” & therefore ripe for punishment.

      • ….and having a neice does not make you an expert. deal with criminals, work in a jail – then talk.

        • If your working in a correctional facility, you shouldn’t be. You either shouldn’t have ever been hired, or you’re burnt out.

          • i’m neither. come to our world. see how long you survive.

        • I never stated that I was an expert. And yes, I have worked in a jail, in fact I was in the BC pen when the riot occurred in 1976.

        • From all indications, this girl likely suffered from borderline personality disorder. The problem is that corrections officials thought they could “out maneuver” her. Big mistake! Patients with this disorder cannot be managed by any kind of “typical” methods like putting them in seclusion, etc. because the more individualized attention they receive, the more they decompensate….the more they up the ante. Sadly, she only responded in the ways she knew how to. She should have been in a forensic psychiatry centre and then released into the community. People with this disorder do very poorly in hospitals or any kind of institution. There are no meds to treat the disorder and there is one therapy that has had some success – dialectical behavioral therapy. However, the patient has to really want to work at it for it to succeed.

      • Jeff, your nieice is developmentally delayed. That is quite different from someone who has a personality disorder, such as borderline personality disorder. Your niece might act like a 3 year-old but she likely doesn’t resort to self-destructive behaviors (cutting; sucidal gestures, etc.) to get attention. As the need to get attention increases, the seriousness of the behaviors escalates. It is quite hard for anyone to understand but the person with this kind of disorder seeks out and demands any attention even if it is negative attention. People with these disorders are NEVER hospitalized in psychiatric units for long periods as they decompensate steadily. Sadly, the correction system appeared to have NO CLUE as to what they were dealing with. They should have sent this young woman to a forensic psychiatry facility although she would have posed a challenge there as well.

        • she did – she was in Pinel

    • Makes sense when you’re describing really violent and senseless crimes. However, Ashley Smith does not fall within the category you describe. Her escalating behaviour should have been a strong signal to folks within the correctional system. Obviously power tripping as to who’s in charge was the norm. A very sad situation because an adequate mental health program within the correctional system would have picked up on her situation and done something about it very early on. To lump her in with those criminals you describe is just wrong.

    • Yes & the punishment should fit the crime. Ashley Smith was originally incarcerated for THROWING CRABAPPLES AT A POSTAL WORKER!!! Are you suggesting that the punishment for that crime should have been death?

    • Prison being a punishment I suppose is a valid position to hold, but in the end it’s one that, I think, is counter-productive.

      Recidivism rates correlate very strongly with length of time in prison. So while it may feel good to “punish” them, ultimately, it just ends up causing more harm because you simply increase the chance that they’ll re-offend upon release.

  11. “In fact,” he concluded, “the coroner has the full ability to look into this particular case.”

    The coroner can look into the money we have spent (on prisons), but he cannot look at the money we haven’t spent (on mental health issues).

    • Ah, yes, the Flaherty doctrine.

  12. Ashley Smith failed herself – this is all her doing. what was corrections canada supposed to do? line up for another punch in the face?

    • Your brain is failing you. Give it a shake.

    • So you are saying that someone who is mentally incapacitated is solely to blame? I gather then that you have never dealt with a person with a mental handicap. It must be nice to live in such a closed world where everything and everyone is in full control of their surroundings! In other words, get off your high horse and deal with reality! Jackass!

      • oh cry me a river.

        in canada we have a line in the sand, either you are criminally responsible for your behvaiour, or you are not. she was. sure, she may have had an underlying mental helath problem – but that does not excuse her behaviour, nor does it make her any less responsible for it. my sister suffers from depression – that’s a mental illness – so she should never be held accountable?
        “I’m sorry judge, i killed the man because i’m depressed. Oh! feel free to go then!!”
        The reality is that the bleeding hearts such as yourself who probably have NEVER seen the inside of a secure custody facilty, had to deal with the aggressive, violent, manipulative inmates have this pie in the sky view and think that all the world’s craziest people need are love and hugs. Ashley smith used threats of suicide repeatedly – ten, twenty times a day, when staff intervened, she threw shit in their face and attacked them. you think someone like that needs a peaceful walk in the park? need s cold milkshake and a talk? Look at Russell Williams! i bet he has a mental health issue. lets move him to a hospital based care facility with weekend passes….. Oh whats that? A change of opinion? Don’t let him stay in a minimum security hospital? why? because he’s an older man, and not a teenage girl? BS.
        it is YOU that needs to get off your high horse and realize that there really are bad people in the world, they really do bad things to people, and they really need to be locked up. Ashley smith was one of them,.
        It is you that is the jackass, jackass.

        • The depths of your ignorance is astounding.

          • so tell me then – where should she have gone? what fabled facility could have housed her?

          • You`re new here.
            The locals you are arguing with here have no interest in the details of the sad life and death of Ashley Smith. There main interest, like the opposition in Parliament, is to somehow score political points against the Harper government at the expense of this tragic death.

      • I think what custody worker is trying to tell you is that this particular person did not have a mental handicap but perhaps had a personality disorder that caused her to act the way she did. A person is considered mentally ill and not criminally responsible if they do not know the difference between right and wrong. Sociopathology and antisocial personality disorders are also considered mental pathologies but people who suffer from them are not considered not criminally responsible because they can tell the difference between right and wrong. They are fully aware of the things they do even if they feel no empathy for others or if they have great anger, etc. Much of our resources in mental health are used up by people who have personality disorders.

    • I hope you realize that every person in prison is also a human being. I’m a strong believer in “you do the crime, you do the time” and I’m also a believer that certain crimes should bring maximum punishment. However, Ashley Smith’s original sentence time was expanded and exacerbated due to her behaviour WITHIN prison. That alone should have been a signal to correctional staff that this person needs treatment over and above incarceration. Instead they chose power tripping.

      • so what, no charges should laid for offences in prison? go ahead, kill your cellmate – no charges laid? BS. As a guy who has been shanked by an inmate, laid charges against the dude, (who got 4 more years for it), i disagree. We are all responsible for our behaviour – even in prison.

  13. There is no part of any government in Canada that so routinely ignores or violates its legislation, policy and procedures, and what passes for a field manual there, the Commissioner’s Directives. Correctional Services of Canada staff only does half their job, failing to do anything that benefits prisoners. Because they do little or nothing–and what little they do, they do so badly that it cannot work–to rehabilitate prisoners, CSC is contributing to increasing crime and endangering Canadians. Partly this is because they are lazy, incompetent (for example, a Parole Officer receives, at most, 10 days training) and childishly irresponsible, but it is mostly because the Minister (Toews) and his minions are absolutely focussed on punishment (which has, as it turns out, no deterrent effect) and omit all of their responsibilites to encourage desistence. Guess what? They all come back, if staff haven’t suceeded in killing them or driving them to kill themselves.

  14. wow….just wow……….just resign already toews……you are no longer mentally stable……

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