Ashley Smith inquest adjourned for day due to sick witness

A coroner's inquest into the Ontario prison death of Moncton, N.B., teenager Ashley Smith has been adjourned for the day due to a sick witness.

Former prison warden Brinda Wilson-Demuth was slated to testify Tuesday about Moncton teen's death

A coroner's inquest into the Ontario prison death of Moncton, N.B., teenager Ashley Smith has been adjourned for the day due to a sick witness.

Brinda Wilson-Demuth, who was a warden at the Grand Valley Institution in Kitchener in 2007, the year Smith died, was scheduled to take the stand on Tuesday. However, Wilson-Demuth was ill Tuesday, forcing the delay in proceedings.

Smith, 19, died on October 2007 after she tied a piece of cloth around her neck while guards stood outside her cell door and watched.

The inquest has heard previous testimony from guards who said senior managers had ordered them to stay out of Smith's cell as long as she was breathing, because they believed the teen was simply acting out.

Wilson-Demuth was the warden during part of 2007, but was promoted in the late spring of that year to the highest position in the women's directorate of the federal prison service in Ottawa.

On Monday, the prison's current deputy warden told the inquest she was unaware of any orders for guards not to intervene with Smith.

Nicki Smith was acting deputy warden at the time when the practice of waiting until the teen stopped breathing before entering her cell is alleged to have started.

There were three incidents one day where guards waited four, nine and 14 minutes before intervening, the inquest heard.

That same day, a guard wrote in the prison logbook that she spoke with Nicki Smith about her concerns about the policy.

Nicki Smith testified she doesn't remember any of that and has no idea where such allegations are coming from.

The warden was also asked about statements she made during a 2008 investigation by Correctional Service of Canada.

In an email, she had told investigators that the then warden had asked her and other staff to change their report about the troubled teenager.

Instead of talking about attempted suicides, they were told to refer to "behavioural concerns," and use of force incidents were to be described instead as "offering guidance," because those terms were less likely to raise the alarm at national headquarters, she had said.

Again, Nicki Smith said she had no recollection of saying such things.

The inquest, which began on Jan. 14 and resumed on Sept. 9 after a 10-week break, has given a glimpse into the troubled teen’s time in the prison system before her death.

Smith was incarcerated for the first time at age 15. In the last year of her life, she was transferred 17 times among nine institutions in five provinces.