Ashley Smith Case & Mental Health in Canadian Prisons


A video shows a teenage Ashley Smith heavily restrained on a prison transfer flight, her face covered with 2 hoods - they call them spit hoods - and later scenes of her surrounded by guards in gas masks and riot gear that prompted federal officials to stop their efforts to restrain the scope of an inquest that resumes this week. The questions in the death of Ashley Smith have raised wider issues. Today as part of our project, Line in the Sand:The Dilemmas that Define Us, we look at the intersection of mental illness and our criminal justice system.

Ashley Smith Case & Mental Health in Canadian Prisons - Correctional Investigator for Canada

Ashley Smith is one of the most tragic inmates to live and die inside the Canadian prison system. Public Safety Minister Vic Toews and NDP leader Tom Mulcair can't even agree on whether she was perpetrator or victim.

Ashley Smith was a seriously troubled 19 year old. Her legal troubles began when she was 14 and threw crabapples at a mail carrier. She was shuttled among 17 prisons and treatment centres and experienced a miserable life inside. She was tasered, pepper sprayed, strip searched and occasionally denied basic toiletries and bedding.

In 2007, she strangled herself at the Grand Valley Institution for Women in Kitchener while prison guards watched. Three guards and one manager were charged and a wrongful death lawsuit was launched. The charges were eventually dropped, the lawsuit settled, but a coroner's inquest continues. The inquest hearings resume tomorrow with a wider mandate after the federal government announced it would not oppose allowing evidence collected from outside Ontario.

Julian Falconer has represented Ashley Smith's family since the first charges against Corrections Canada were leveled five years ago. We aired a clip.

Many people believe Ashley Smith did not need to die in prison -- including Correctional Investigator Howard Sapers. A Preventable Death is the name of the report he wrote for the federal government. Ottawa supports many of his recommendations in principle -- but opposition leaders want more. They want Mr. Saper's recommendations made into law. Howard Sapers joined us by phone.

Ashley Smith Case & Mental Health in Canadian Prisons - Parliamentary Secretary to Public Safety Minister

The responsibility for Corrections Canada and for response to the Sapers report falls to the Minster of Public Safety, Vic Toews. Candice Bergen is the parliamentary secretary to the Public Safety Minister. She joined us on the line from Winkler, Manitoba.

Ashley Smith Case & Mental Health in Canadian Prisons - Panel

The inquest into the death of Ashley Smith resumes tomorrow. She was 19 when she strangled herself in front of several prison guards. During her time inside Canada's prisons, she was tasered, duct taped, pepper sprayed and strip-searched.

We continue our discussion on whether the mentally ill get the support they need in Canada's prisons -- and whether prison is really the best place for them. We were joined by two guests with lots of experience behind the high walls.

Lee Chapelle spent 21 years in and out of prison for a series of property crimes and finally, possession of a firearm. He has been out since 2009 and he is now President of Canadian Prison Consulting Inc.., a company that provides advice to new inmates and their families. Lee Chapelle was in Ottawa.

And Kim Pate is the Executive Director of The Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies. She was also in Ottawa.

This segment was produced by The Current's Gord Westmacott, Sujata Berry and Jessica DeMello.

Other segment from today's show:

Trail Blazer Journalist Zubeida Mustafa

Comments are closed.