Motions continue at Ashley Smith inquest; corrections officials told to co-operate

TORONTO – Motions are to continue today in Toronto at a coroner’s inquest into the death five years ago of a troubled teenager in a Kitchener, Ont., prison.

Ashley Smith, who was from Moncton, N.B., died at the age of 19 after wrapping a strip of cloth around her neck and choking herself as guards, who were told not to intervene, stood watch outside her cell.

Justice department lawyers had been trying to restrict the inquest’s ability to summon witnesses from outside Ontario, saying the coroner didn’t have jurisdiction beyond Ontario’s borders.

The government retreated from that position following the screening of a disturbing video that shows guards duct-taping Smith and drugging her against her will.

It led Prime Minister Harper to criticize correctional authorities for unacceptable behaviour, and order corrections officials to co-operate fully with the inquest.

Julian Falconer, the lawyer for Smith’s family, says Justice Department lawyers have withdrawn submissions that had been seeking to restrict the scope of the inquest and its ability to issue summonses outside of Ontario.

Smith was first arrested at 13 for assault and causing a disturbance. She continued to land in trouble for making harassing phone calls and pulling a fire alarm, then was first thrown in jail at 15 for throwing crab apples at a postal worker.

She eventually wound up in the federal prison system where, during the last year of her life, she was transferred 17 times among nine different prisons. She spent much of her final year in segregation due to repeated instances of self-harm and choking herself.

Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae has called for a public inquiry into Smith’s death to go beyond the particulars of Smith’s death to expose the general inability of the prison system to cope with mentally ill offenders.