An advocate for female prisoners says Ashley Smith's human rights were violated before her death in an Ontario prison more than five years ago.

Kim Pate, the executive director of the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies, said her group has filed a complaint to the United Nations on behalf of all federally sentenced women, especially those with mental health issues and Indigenous women.

She said the inquest into the teen's death reveals that Smith's behaviour was disruptive and annoying, but it didn't justify the punitive use of force, physical restraints and forcible injections used by correctional workers.

"It became really the only way for her to get any kind of attention or human contact was to do something more and more dangerous to herself or to be irritating to staff or to try and engage staff,’ said Pate.

"We know now that staff were being told, 'ignore her, don't respond to her, don't talk to her.' I mean, not a big surprise that she started to do more and more outrageous things to get their attention."

She said Smith, like many prisoners, didn't know what was happening to her was wrong.

"We had some idea of that when she was alive when she asked us to intervene in a couple of situations where she had been assaulted and as we asked more questions it became clear that there was more than just the allegations of assault that were wrong. But she had no idea that how she was being treated was not appropriate," Pate said.

Smith was first incarcerated at age 15. She was 19 when she died at the Grand Valley Institution for Women in October 2007, after she tied a piece of cloth around her neck while guards, who were ordered not to intervene, stood outside her cell door and watched.

Pate said Smith needed mental health treatment, not punishment.

The inquest into her death continues this week in Toronto. Five correctional officers from the federal prison are expected to testify.

So far the Ontario coroner’s inquest has heard testimony from Smith's mother, several guards and a prison supervisor who said they were uncomfortable with orders to ignore Smith and not enter her cell to remove ligatures around her neck as long as she was breathing.

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story said the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies filed a human rights complaint on behalf of Ashley Smith. The organization made the complaint on behalf of all federally sentenced women, especially those with mental health issues and Indigenous women.
    Sep 13, 2013 3:12 AM AT