New coroner to lead Ashley Smith inquest

A new coroner is taking over the inquest into the death of Ashley Smith, the New Brunswick teenager who died in an Ontario prison.

A new coroner is taking over the inquest into the death of Ashley Smith, the New Brunswick teenager who died in an Ontario prison.

The 19-year-old choked herself to death with a strip of cloth at the Grand Valley Institution in Kitchener, Ont., in October 2007 while prison guards watched.

The inquest into Ashley Smith's death has seen a number of legal disputes. ((Courtesy of Ashley Smith's family))

Andrew McCallum, Ontario's chief coroner, said Wednesday that John R. Carlisle has been appointed as presiding coroner for the inquest into Smith's death.

Carlisle is replacing Bonita Porter, who is set to retire in November.

The coroner's inquest into Smith's death started on May 16 and heard just three days of evidence before being adjourned, first indefinitely and then until September.

The chief coroner said Carlisle, a physician and lawyer, has "a strong medical and legal background that will serve the purpose of the inquest well as he examines the circumstances surrounding the tragic death of Ashley Smith."

Lawyers for the Smith family had been pressing Porter to make the inquest more open and accessible to the public. In May, a panel of judges found that Porter made a mistake by not reviewing and including videos recorded at Joliette Institution in Quebec just three months before Smith died. The videos show Smith receiving forced injections of medicine, among other things. 

Carlisle will take over as presiding coroner immediately. He will review and decide on "a number of legal and evidentiary issues linked to the inquiry," the statement said.

Smith was first sent to prison for throwing crab apples at a postal worker. That sentence had ballooned from days to years as time was added for numerous in-custody incidents.

The troubled teen was in federal custody for the last 11 months of her life and during that time was transferred between facilities 17 times. Much of her time was spent in segregation units.

With files from The Canadian Press and CBC's Dave Seglins