New Brunswick

Prison ombudsman may release report into Ashley Smith's death

Canada's federal prison ombudsman might release his report about a New Brunswick teen's suicide in an Ontario prison now that the guards have unveiled their own report blaming prison policies.

Canada's federal prison ombudsman might release his report about a New Brunswick teen's suicide in an Ontario prison now that the guards have unveiled their own report blaming prison policies.

Howard Sapers finished his report into 19-year-old Ashley Smith's death and submitted it to the minister of justice and Corrections Canada in June but did not release the report out of concern it could jeopardize the right to a fair trial for the guards involved.

Sapers said now that the guards union has released so many facts about what happened, he's talking to his lawyers to see which parts of his report he can make public.

The union representing Canadian prison guards is calling for a public inquiry into Smith's death. Its own report, released last week, concludes that guards were prevented from doing their jobs in the case "every step of the way."

Smith died on Oct. 19, 2007, at the Grand Valley Institution for Women in Kitchener, Ont.

Three former guards and a supervisor were charged with criminal negligence.

No surprises in guards' report: ombudsman

The report released by the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers last week says prison management and policies dictated how guards responded to Smith's almost-daily incidents of self-choking.

Sapers said he may differ on some points or conclusions but there were no surprises in the union's report.

"There was nothing certainly nothing in the report that we had not discovered in our own investigation into Ashley Smith's death," Sapers said.

Although the correctional investigator is trying to limit his public comments so as not to jeopardize the trial, he did say working conditions at the Kitchener institution were unique.

"I can tell you that I was not surprised by reading the union's conclusion around confusion and around the uncertainty of what the union staff were under because we have seen that for ourselves," he said.

During a press conference last week, union president Pierre Mallette said local and senior Correctional Service of Canada managers "were more concerned about public relations than what was happening inside our institutions for women."

A history of self-harm

Smith, originally from Moncton, spent years in the youth correctional system and had an established history of violence and self-harm.

The union claims guards were told not to intervene whenever Smith appeared to be harming herself, unless she stopped breathing.

Smith had been serving a sentence of six years and one month for offences committed as a young offender, including assault with a weapon and assaulting a peace officer.

In June, New Brunswick's ombudsman issued his own report that focused exclusively on Smith's treatment while she was in the province. Bernard Richard called for significant changes to how the justice system handles young people with mental health problems after his investigation into Smith's death.

Richard said the case highlights the need to change practices, particularly to divert youth with mental illnesses and behavioural problems away from the justice system by boosting services and foster care.