Ashley Smith's mother sees no accountability for daughter's death
Coralee Smith testifies in probe into New Brunswick teen's death in federal prison in Ontario
The Canadian Press
Posted: Feb 21, 2013 7:54 AM ET
Last Updated: Feb 22, 2013 6:37 AM ET
The mother of a Canadian teenager who choked to death in her prison cell fought back back tears as she recalled how years of segregation appeared to diminish her daughter.
In a harrowing account of the last time she saw her daughter alive, Coralee Smith described her shock at Ashley's appearance during the visit in the summer of 2007.
"Oh, mom, my skin is all loose," Ashley told Smith through the Plexiglas screen that separated them.
"She was not a 19-year-old girl at that point; she was aged," an emotional Smith told an inquest jury. "She was a lot smaller."
Four guards at the Nova Institution for Women in Truro, N.S., had brought Ashley into the interview room, her mom recounted.
She was in handcuffs, shackles and dressed in a security gown aimed at preventing suicides. Her hair looked dirty.
Ashley had difficulty seeing out of it an injured eye — damage apparently from choking by tying ligatures around her neck.
"When you come home, we'll take you to an optometrist," Smith told her daughter.
Smith, 65, of Moncton, N.B., who travelled extensively to visit her daughter, said she never knew about Ashley's self-harming behaviour or lengthy segregation stints.
Asked what they talked about, Smith said "coming home."
At the end of the visit, Smith put her hand to the screen but Ashley — an afraid-of-the-dark homebody who normally liked to hold hands — appeared reluctant to follow suit.
"I watched them take her down the hall," Smith said. "It was the last time I saw Ashley alive."
A few months later, after yet another prison transfer, Ashley choked to death at the Grand Valley Institution in Kitchener, Ont. Guards, ordered not to intervene, stood by and watched
Five years on, Smith said, no one has been held responsible and nothing has changed for prisoners with mental-health issues.
"I still see no accountability. Ashley died on the floor. There was no help for her," Smith testified.
"Ladies and gentlemen, this was Canada. Inmates are allowed to take their own lives and, I say, with assistance because they stood around."
Outside coroner's court, Smith read a brief statement.
She said she had come voluntarily to testify, and challenged Don Head, commissioner of Correctional Service of Canada, and others in charge to do likewise.
"There are many more Ashleys out there," Smith said.
"There are other troubled youths and adults being tortured and being treated like they are not human beings — in Canada, today."
'She didn't commit suicide'
The inquest has heard how Ashley showed increasingly aberrant behaviour, including frequently choking herself.
Her daughter even asked her, in the days before she died, what a mother would think if her child committed suicide, Smith testified.
Still, Smith said she is convinced Ashley never meant to choke herself to death.
"I knew she didn't commit suicide," Smith said, fighting back tears. "Ashley was coming home."
Smith said a family should not have to fight for five years to get a thorough airing of what went so tragically wrong with her daughter, who spent most of the last three years of her life in segregation.
"We've only come to an inquest. There should have been an inquiry," she said.
"Who gives such orders? No one has stood up. The guards were there and they were hands on. Who passes the orders down?"
Smith noted the inquest only got going in earnest after Prime Minister Stephen Harper denounced Correctional Service of Canada for obstructing the hearings.
"What family would ever get the attention of the prime minister?" she said. "We chased it. So many people can't do that."
Smith suggested the need for a formalized intermediary, who could deal with concerns. She also pressed for better communications between prison authorities and inmates' relatives given her ignorance of what Ashley was going through.
Once she drove 14 hours from Moncton to Montreal to visit Ashley, but her daughter cancelled at the last minute — because she didn't want her mom to see her handcuffed and shackled.
Having missed calls from Ashley over a few days, Smith said she was carrying her phone at home with her on Oct. 19, 2007, in expectation of another call from her daughter.
A van pulled up.
"Two strangers met me at the end of the driveway. I had a feeling they were some religious group or the Salvation Army," Smith said.
"Are you Ashley Smith's mother?"
"Yes, I'm just waiting for a phone call."
"I'm sorry, I have to tell you that she passed away."
Mom won't accept Ashley's treatment
A distraught Smith called Eric Broadbent, a correctional manager at the prison where Ashley died.
Broadbent, who once promised Smith he would take good care of Ashley, was among managers who later berated guards for going into her cell to remove ligatures from her neck.
"I just couldn't believe: This was a man who said he'd take care of her," Smith said, who found out from media reports how Ashley had died.
The inquest has previously heard that Ashley, adopted as a three-day-old, was obsessed with her parentage, believing that her sister was in fact her biological mother.
Presiding coroner Dr. John Carlisle shut down a juror who asked Smith to elaborate on the issue.
Outside court, Smith said: "We are her family. We are not perfect. But we will never accept that Ashley should have been treated in this manner."
The inquest resumes Monday. The warden of Nova is scheduled to testify.
Latest Toronto News Headlines
- Toronto councillors say Ford scandal not over
- One Toronto city councillor says he doesn't believe Rob Ford and that the mayor should resign. And a top Ford supporter says he doubts the scandal is over. more »
- Big-time lobbyists attended pricey Mammoliti bash
- Two of the most powerful lobbyists at city hall attended a $5,000-a-table fundraising soirée involving Coun. Giorgio Mammoliti, CBC News has learned, raising questions about whether all three people followed municipal rules governing their conduct. more »
- Veteran Blue Jays reliever Darren Oliver goes on DL
- The Toronto Blue Jays have placed left-handed reliever Darren Oliver on the 15-day disabled list with a left shoulder strain, while lefty J.A. Happ has also been moved to the 60-day disabled list as he recovers from injuries after taking a ball in the head during a game earlier this month. more »
- Torontonians speak out on Rob Ford controversy
- Ford needs to speak up on allegations surrounding a video purporting to show the mayor smoking crack cocaine, say people asked on the streets of Toronto. more »
Top News Headlines
- Royal Bank pledges not to outsource jobs for cash savings
- Royal Bank has promised it will never outsource a Canadian job to a foreign worker solely to save money. more »
- Washington police blame bridge collapse on Alberta trucker
- Washington State police say an Alberta trucker was responsible for hitting a steel beam precipitating a bridge collapse on one of the busiest routes in the American northwest. more »
- Man accused of killing child in patio crash granted bail
- Emotions ran high in a packed Edmonton courthouse Friday as Richard Suter, accused of causing a crash into a restaurant patio that killed a young boy, was granted bail. more »
- Canada ranks 3rd last in paid vacations
- Canada ranks third last among economically advanced countries in the amount of paid vacation time it guarantees its workers, a new U.S. study indicates. more »
- Executive committee calls on Ford to address crack video allegations
- Rob Ford fired chief of staff for telling mayor to 'get help'
- Toronto Mayor Rob Ford denies using crack cocaine
- Alleged Ford crack video seller not responding to calls
- Toronto Mayor Rob Ford fires chief of staff
- Texting during movie lands complainant in trouble
- Giorgio Mammoliti faces questions over $5,000-a-table event
- 15 teens on school hiking trip found after night in wilderness
- Jimmy Kimmel, Jon Stewart crack jokes about Rob Ford