January 29, 1988
Ashley is born in New Brunswick. She was adopted when she was five-days-old by Coralee Smith, who later became the partner of Herbert Gober when Ashley was three years old.
Ashley had a normal childhood. She liked camping at the beach, kayaking, and riding her bike.
Herb and Coralee noticed a change in Ashley when she was around 13 or 14. She started acting out. She was defiant, disruptive, and disobedient. Documents from a social worker show that Ashley was in and out of youth court 14 times by the time she was 15 for various minor offences including trespassing, and causing a disturbance at the mall.
March 21, 2002
Ashley’s mom Coralee hired a psychologist to get an assessment. The psychologist found no evidence of mental illness just behavioral problems. Ashley is reintegrated into school, grade 8. Youth worker is assigned to work with Ashley.
April 2, 2002
Case conference is held at school. It is arranged that Ashley would attend school for half days in the morning and will attend interventions planning to deal with challenging oppositional behaviour.
May 1, 2002
Ashley appears in youth court in Moncton for the alleged offence of harassing phone calls. Ashley pled not guilty and trial is set for July 29, 2002.
May 29, 2002
Ashley follows a teacher home and repeatedly bangs on her door. Police are called. Ashley is suspended from school for five days.
Ashley is enrolled at Moncton High School in Grade 9. Ashley is suspended from September 9-13. Ashley has 17 incidents and two suspensions on her file from September to November, 2002. High school officials report that Ashley have a “defiant behaviour” and staff had “difficulty meeting her needs”. According to ombudsman Bernard Richard's report, The Ashley Smith Story, Ashley’s Behaviour Tracking Form reported “bullying, verbal threats, disrespectful attitude and non-compliance.” She was suspended for four weeks.
Ashley is suspended from school for two days for pushing a student into a teacher.
Vice-principal suggests an alternate school.
October 9, 2002
Ashley is banned from the mall. Youth care worker reports Ashley is very impulsive.
October 29, 2002
Youth worker gets psychologist with specialty in neurology for consultation. He reviews all assessments available and his initial impression was Ashley shows signs of non-learning verbal difficulties that “may relate to some neurological deficits.” He suggests behaviour modification.
November 6, 2002
School meeting with vice-principal, mom, and Ashley. Ashley is "not passing assignments and her marks are below average.”
November 20, 2002
Ashley attends Moncton Youth court. Ashley is charged with causing a disturbance. She receives 18 months supervised probation with conditions and community service work.
November 28, 2002
Ashley appears in Moncton Youth court. She pleads guilty to assault and refusing to comply with a court order. Sentencing is adjourned until March 3, 2003.
December 9, 2002
Ashley begins the alternate high school. The alternate school reports an incident on a bus. Ashley was reported to be aggressive with female passengers and bus staff. She is suspended from the bus service indefinitely. Ashley’s mom Coralee has to drive Ashley to school..
January 9, 2003
Ashley receives a subpoena on an alleged offence for causing a disturbance. Ashley is suspended from school for two days.
Ashley and her parents aren’t getting along. Ashley starts running high monthly long distance charges, ranging from $200 to $1,600 per month. She would spend a lot of time on the Internet, looking at inappropriate material. Ashley's mom reports she didn't have a lot of friends her age.
Ashley is sent to the Learning Centre because she is to disruptive at Moncton High School. She is disrespectful, disobeys and disrupts class. She is defiant and refuses to do her school work.
March 3, 2003
Ashley appears in front of a judge at the Moncton Youth Court and pleads guilty to a new charge of causing a disturbance. Ashley’s case is referred to the Youth Treatment Program. She is sent to the Pierre Caissie Centre, for a 34-day assessment.
March 9, 2003
Ashley is admitted to the Pierre Caissie Centre. The centre has an intensive support program that works with adolescents that display challenging behaviours. The centre works with Ashley’s mom, support program staff, a probation officer and the school to try and keep Ashley in the community. While there, Ashley has psychological and psychiatric assessments done.
Under “diagnostic impression”, a doctor at the centre writes that Ashley has a learning disorder, ADHD, and borderline personality disorder and narcissistic personality traits. The assessment recommends Ashley receives counseling from her local mental health center, monitoring and assessment for a personality disorder and that she receive a follow-up on the medication regime prescribed.
March 30, 2003
Ashley is discharged seven days early from Pierre Caissie Centre. It was felt that Ashley had difficulty interacting with her peers and staff; she was intimidating, rude, demanding and verbally aggressive. Police were called twice because she assaulted staff. She was sent home and then remanded back to the New Brunswick Youth Centre.
According to Correctional Investigator Howard Sapers, who investigated Ashley’s death in his report A Preventable Death, this was the missed opportunity. Sapers writes: “This discharge may have been premature and could possibly have been the key missed opportunity to assist this young girl and her family long before she entered the criminal justice system.”
At the age of 15, Ashley is sent to the New Brunswick Youth Centre (NBYC) for assault, trespassing and causing a disturbance. She is sentenced to a month. In a couple of weeks, Ashley had accumulated, over thirty recorded incidents ranging from refusing staff orders, becoming aggressive, and making threats of self-harm. Ashley was charged institutionally for this, and placed in restraints. She was often secured in the Therapeutic Quiet unit. This is segregation. Her stay at the NBYC was short but it would repeat itself over the next three years.
According to the Ombudsman’s report, for the next three years Ashley “pushed the staff of the youth centre to their limits”. She was the subject of several hundred incident reports ranging from refusing to hand over a hairbrush to suicide attempts, according to Richard, her time at the NYBC was “volatile and disturbing”.
Ashley spent most of her time in a segregation cell measuring 9 by 6 feet and 7.5 feet high. It was equipped with a sink/flush combination with a water fountain, a concrete slab with a mattress and bedding. According to the Ombudsman’s report, Ashley would try and hurt herself by tearing the mattress or bedding into pieces to tie around her neck. Her mattress and clothing were replaced with protective and indestructible material. She was kept in Therapeutic Quiet, or segregation, 23 hours a day. She was allowed one hour outside the cell for exercise and showering.
April 11, 2003
Ashley is removed from the Alternate school. School authorities state that they are unable to teach her because of power struggles with teachers, and not doing her school work.
July 28, 2003
Ashley appears before the Moncton Youth Court. She receives a sentence of six months deferred custody.
September 17, 2003
Ashley appears before the Moncton Youth Court for failing to return home the previous night. Ashley is charged with probation violation and she pleads guilty. Ashley is remanded to New Brunswick Youth Centre.
September 22, 2003
Youth Justice Conference members meet at Mental Heath Centre. Ashley’s case will be reviewed by regional youth treatment team on October 31, 2003.
Reports indicate that Ashley is responding to individual counseling. All community resources agree to continue to work with Ashley in the community. Youth worker recommends that her movements in the community be restricted as this will result in fewer criminal charges for behaviour issues.
September 26, 2003
Ashley appears in court at the Moncton Youth court. She receives a sentence of deferred custody with restrictions on her movements in the community. The conditions include not “to leave residence unless accompanied by a parent or an adult of the parents’ choice.”
October 1, 2003
Alternate school reduces Ashley’s schooling to half days.
October 21, 2003
While back at home on probation, Ashley throws some crabapples at a postal worker. She was told that the postal worker deliberately delivered the welfare cheques late. She is sentenced to fifteen days of open custody. She is placed in three foster homes, none of them worked out. Her last placement ended with Ashley locking herself in the bathroom with a broken light bulb and threatening self-harm. She is sentenced to fifteen days closed custody at the New Brunswick Youth Centre.
December 29, 2003
Ashley appears in the Moncton Youth Court. She is charged with waiving a steak knife on Main Street and would not give it to police. This is her first lengthy incarceration at the New Brunswick Youth Centre. She would be in and out of NBYC five times.
February 26, 2004
According to the Ombudsman Bernard Richard’s report The Ashley Smith Report, hours after she is released from the NBYC, Ashley pulls a fire alarm. Her guilty plea gets her an additional 75 days of secure custody. She continues to act out by spitting at guards and soon 75 days turns into several months in custody. She is finally released in February 10, 2005. Four days after being released she pulls another fire alarm and steals a CD from a local store. She is placed back in secure custody. Most of Ashley's criminal charges accumulate while she was in custody.
Ashley had more than 800 documented incidents in NBYC over three years. Ashley would act up or refuse to listen to staff. She would refuse to hand over a hairbrush, a pencil, or an eating utensil. This would land her in solitary confinement.
There are over 150 incident reports of Ashley trying to hurt herself within a span of three years. One incident report details her daily struggle: "staff members found bruises on Ashley's neck. She had constructed a noose and tied it to a ceiling vent in her cell. She told staff members that she was scared of receiving more charges that would prolong her sentence and therefore wanted to die.... then it was decided to move Ashley to a solitary cell..."
March 6, 2004
New Brunswick Youth Centre staff alert probation services that Ashley has restricted her airway with the elastic band of her sweat shorts. She shoved a screw into her left nostril. She is sent to the hospital for medical treatment.
June 26, 2004
Another incident ends with Ashley being placed in a cocoon-like restraint. The incident report states: "Ashley was going through her regular routine of obstructing supervision checks by covering her cell window and camera with food, toilet paper, and blankets. She then refused staff directives to remove the items so they could make visual contact. After exhausting all other tactics... Ashley was placed in a restraint belt called the WRAP." Video footage shows Ashley being placed in the WRAP--a body bag that restricts her movements. A hockey helmet is placed on her head.
According to the New Brunswick Ombudsman in his report, even though the philosophy at the youth center aims at successfully reintegrating youths into their community, "the New Brunswick Youth Centre remains first and foremost a prison."
Another incident report dated September 2, 2005, details how guards enter her cell while she is on Therapeutic Quiet and remove several “unauthorized items” They confiscate pictures from her wall, several pieces of writing paper, a pencil, comforter, pillowcase, and a bed sheet. An hour later another incident report details how Ashley assaulted staff by throwing food and kicking an officer in the groin. The Miramichi Police are contacted.
April 11, 2005
Ashley is ordered by a judge to undergo an assessment at Restigouche Hospital. According to the Ombudsman’s report a psychiatrist at Restigouche Hospital determined that “Ms Smith clearly understands her responsibilities and their consequences and can control her actions when she chooses to.” She subsequently is given an extra 180 days in custody.
January 29, 2006
Ashley turns 18 years of age. She is warned by correctional officers that if she continues to act out she could get an adult sentence.
July 29, 2006
According to the New Brunswick Ombudsman’s report The Ashley Smith Report, the turning point in Ashley Smith’s life occurs when the Superintendent of the New Brunswick Youth Centre makes an application under the Youth Criminal Justice Act to have her transferred to an adult facility. Section 92 of the Act allows the provincial director of the youth correctional facility to apply to a youth court and request a transfer to a provincial adult facility when a youth turns 18.
Ashley's daily battle with staff at NBYC is wearing her down. In September 2006, Ashley’s journal reflects her desperation.
“If I die then I will never have to worry about upsetting my Mom again... It would have been nice today to stick my head in the lawn mower blade. F***, I really did have to hold back the urge. Maybe the next time I will give it a try.
Most people are scared to die. It can’t be any worse then living a life like mine. Being dead I think would just suit me fine. I wonder when the best time to do it would be. I’m not going to get locked because then I’m back on checks and they will expect me to act up then. I will call my Mom before bed and have one more chat. Somehow I have to let her know that none of this is her fault. I don’t know why I’m like I am but I know she didn’t do it to me. People say there is nothing wrong with me. Honestly I think they need to F***off because they don’t know what goes on in my head. When I use to try to hang myself I was just messing around trying to make them care and pay attention. Now it’s different. I want them to f***off and leave me alone. It’s no longer a joke. It kind of scares to think that they might catch me before it’s done and then I will be a vegetable for the rest of my life. That’s why the most important thing right now is to stay unlocked so they don’t think anything is up. It’s over.
Maybe I will use a brand new pair of socks. Fresh for me. No I don’t f***ing deserve a new pair of socks. I will use the old dirty ugly ones. Ha Ha that kind of explains me. Dirty and ugly. Two peas in a pot (sic). F*** THIS WORLD!!! Ha Ha. When [name omitted] told me she took me off fifteen minute checks I almost s**t myself. Can she help me anymore. I should ask her for a razor blade. Maybe she will give me that to. Joke of the day. Ashley Smith is no longer on checks. 12345 what the F*** is the point of being alive…. I can’t have another apartment visit because I’m f***ing DEAD! I want to die. I went to court yesterday and I though he was going to send me to adult! Time is running out. My chances are getting fewer and fewer. F***. I give up! I’m done trying."
[Excerpt, Ashley Smith journal entry (September 4, 2006) New Brunswick Youth Centre]
September 20, 2006
Ashley hires a lawyer to fight the transfer to an adult prison. In an affidavit Ashley states she can’t control her outbursts:
“Although I know that my record looks bad, I would never intentionally hurt anyone. I am really scared about the thought of going to an adult facility with dangerous people. It has occupied my mind for a long time. I have wanted to behave to ensure that I would not ever go to adult and was sure that I would succeed…”
September 28, 2006
Ashley expresses her fear about the pending court date in her diary. “I don’t know what to feel. I’m fucking scared about what’s going to happen. Sometimes I think it would just be easier to give up.”
She details in her diary nine new charges that are pending in September 2006.They include assault, breaking a window, and destroying the sprinkler in her cell.
A month before Ashley is transferred, she attempts to self-harm 16 times.
October 5, 2006
The case is heard by Judge LeMesurier of the Miramichi Youth Court. According to the Ombudsman’s report the judge “gave considerable weight to the testimony of her probation officer, and the Deputy Superintendent of the Saint John Regional Correctional Centre. Both testified that the transfer was in Ashley’s best interest. There were many programs available in the adult correctional institution that would help her including anger management. But according to the Ombudsman’s report it was never mentioned that in order for a woman at the SJRCC to be a part of these programs “she had to present an appropriate behaviour”.
According to the Ombudsman’s report Ashley is transferred to Saint John Regional Correctional Centre (SJRCC) the same day. She is put in segregation for most of the 26 days she is here. On her first day Ashley is segregated for refusing a strip search. She is threatened with being tasered. At SJRCC, she is threatened with the pepper spray twice. She is threatened with the use of the taser seven times in 27 days.
Institutional charges are laid on several occasions. For example, for covering her cell window and monitoring camera with paper, threatening to self-harm, obstructing her air way, refusing to return plastic utensils, destroying her institutional clothes and damaging her mattress or other institution property.
With more charges more days are added on to her sentence.
October 21, 2006
According to Ombudsman’s report, correctional officers are dispatched to the segregation unit. They find Ashley standing on her bed with two cups filled with an unidentified liquid. Several attempts at having her come down from her bed and empty the cups fail. Correctional officers enter her cell, hitting her with the shield, while four officers restrain Ashley on her bed, a fifth Correctional officer enters the cell and taser her. Ashley reacts by yelling: “If that was the taser, I’m going to do everything I can to get it every day.”
Incident reports at the adult prison detail how she spit, fought, and swore at guards. She is tasered, pepper-sprayed, put in solitary, and shackled. In one incident report Ashley refuses to be strip-searched, eight correctional officers hold her down while a nurse cuts her clothes off with scissors.
October 24, 2006
Ashley appears in adult court. She is given an adult sentence for criminal charges laid while she was still a youth at NBYC. She is given 348 days extra on top of her already 1,455 days. Because it is more than two years, she is ordered to serve the remainder of her sentence in a federal institution. When she returns from her court appearance she refuses the mandatory strip search. She is threatened with the use of a taser and pepper spray. She complies. In a matter of a few hours she is pepper sprayed and tasered.
October 31, 2006
Ashley Smith is involuntarily transferred to the Nova Institution for Women in Nova Scotia. This is a federal institution.
December 21, 2006
Ashley is sent to the Women’s Unit at CSC’s Prairie Regional Psychiatric Centre in Saskatoon in order to get treatment. She was sent there to get a clear diagnosis, and develop a treatment plan. She is moved from RPC for her own safety. A guard is charged with assault.
Ashley is voluntarily transferred to the Institut Philippe-Pinel de Montreal (Pinel) for treatment. Ashley withdraws from treatment at Pinel. According to Correctional Investigator Howard Sapers, this starts a long sequence of "highly inappropriate, unnecessary and unlawful transfers between CSC facilities."
May 21, 2007
Ashley is transferred to Grand Valley Institution, in Kitchener, Ontario.
June 27, 2007
Ashley is transferred to Joliette Institution in Quebec.
According to the Union of Canadian Correctional Officer’s report Rush to Judgment, the institution "never had an inmate so problematic as [inmate Smith] in the 10 year history of this institution.”
"She completely destroyed a cell that had never been specially prepared for her. In 10 years, never has any inmate caused as much damage. The desk in the cell had to be removed to stop her from gaining access to the cell camera, which had been destroyed and obscured several times. The wall coverings for cables, lights and electrical current had to be sealed. She ripped a piece of Velcro that held her window curtain in place and used it to choke herself. Even while menstruating, we couldn’t give her tampons because she would wrap the fibers around her neck. She would have to show us a used tampon in order to get another one. She succeeded in removing security screws from the cell furniture with her fingers, and used the screws for self harm.”
July 26, 2007
Ashley is transferred back to Nova Institution in Truro, Nova Scotia.
According to the Correctional Investigator’s report A Preventable Death, Ashley filed grievances at Nova. She grieved that:
- “Excessive force was used against her
- She wasn’t permitted writing paper or writing instruments.
- She wasn’t permitted sufficient toilet paper for hygiene purposes
- She was not permitted soap in her cell, was only given finger foods, and was only given a small piece of deodorant on her finger at a time
- While menstruating she was not permitted underwear or sufficient sanitary products to meet her hygiene needs.”
The fifth estate obtained a copy of Ashley’s grievance. Ashley writes “Since I’ve been at Nova Staff have only given me four squares of toilet paper at a time. When I asked the officers why this was being done they said they had been given directions by management.”
Ashley writes: “I would like an outside investigation to be done.”
August 31, 2007
Ashley is transferred back to Grand Valley Institution for Women in Kitchener, Ontario.
Hundred of officer statement/observation reports detail interventions with Ashley. Officers removed ligatures from her neck sometimes six or seven times a day. The choking became so severe facial blood vessels burst, leaving her face permanently discolored. She lost sight in one eye and suffered nosebleeds.
September 24, 2007
Ashley is visited by Kim Pate of the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies. Ashley wanted Pate to file a complaint on her behalf since she couldn’t have a pen or paper for security reasons. Ashley said in her complaint that she wanted to be let out of segregation and be taken to the hospital. Ashley writes:
“Staff say they think I still have glass and that I will use it to rip up my mattress and hurt myself. I am being held in seg without anything but a security/suicide gown. This violates my human and charter and CCRA rights. I am not even permitted to sign my own forms, so I asked Kim Pate to fill it out for me.”
Ashley also writes: “I continue to ask for a mattress and blanket and staff say “not at this time. I have been without even a blanket since Friday, Sept. 21/07 at about 8:00 p.m.”
Ashley asks for “Legal entitlement to basics, such as blanket, mattress, pen, hygiene products.”
The complaint is not read until after her death.
October 9, 2007
A Use-of-Force training session is held by Ken Allen at Grand Valley Institution. Sources told the fifth estate that it was to deal with the high use of force incidents with inmate Ashley Smith. Sources told the fifth estate that guards were instructed when Ashley was applying ligatures not to enter her cell if she is still breathing.
October 16, 2009
The fifth estate has learned that three days before her death Ashley asked to go to a psychiatric hospital. She told correctional staff that she would take medication and stop choking herself. There were no beds available at the hospital.
October 17, 2007
According to the Correctional Investigator’s report A Preventable Death, a few days before her death, an institutional psychologist recognized “that Ashley’s mental health had further deteriorated. She was allowed out of her cell for brief periods in an attempt to establish meaningful interaction with staff.”
October 18, 2007
According to the Correctional Investigator, Ashley was placed on 24-hour suicide watch under direct staff observation. There was confusion regarding Ashley’s risk for suicide.
October 19, 2007
A few hours before her death, Ashley told a correctional officer that she wanted to die.
Correctional officers discover Ashley with a ligature around her neck in the early morning of October 19. According to the Correctional Investigator “correctional staff failed to respond immediately to this medical emergency” . According to sources the guards were told repeatedly not to enter her cell if she was still breathing. At 6:57 a.m., a guard removes the ligature from her neck. She is still non responsive. By 7:10 a.m. correctional officers and a nurse perform CPR. Paramedics are called. By 8:10 a.m., Ashley is pronounced dead.
October 25, 2007
Guards are charged with criminal negligence causing death. They are Karen Eves, Valentino Burnett, and Blaine Phibbs. One manager Travis McDonald is also charged. The Warden and Deputy ward are fired.
December 9, 2008
All charges are dropped against the guards and the supervisor.
October 8, 2009
The family of Ashley Smith launches a lawsuit against the federal government for $11-million.