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Ashley Smith was 19 when she choked herself with a strip of cloth at the Grand Valley Institution for Women in Kitchener, Ont.
Ashley Smith was 19 when she choked herself with a strip of cloth at the Grand Valley Institution for Women in Kitchener, Ont.

Public can view Ashley Smith surveillance videos, coroner rules Add to ...

Federal prison authorities are going to court to try to stop release of jailhouse video of a teen who died in her cell.

Their announcement came minutes after the coroner presiding over an inquest into the death of a troubled teenager said the public can see surveillance video of her.

Prison authorities had tried to keep the videos of a dying Ashley Smith and other materials from public view but the coroner refused to put a publication ban on the videos of Ashley Smith.

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The decision by Correctional Service Canada threatens to stall the long-delayed inquest still longer.

Presiding coroner Dr. John Carlisle said the public’s right to know was too important to ignore  and says he won’t seal the materials.

Earlier, a lawyer for Correctional Service Canada argued the tapes had not yet been entered as evidence.

Allowing the public to see the materials ahead of time, he said, could undermine the process.

Lawyers for Ms. Smith’s family and media outlets called that position absurd.

They argued the inquest had begun even though no jury has been seated, and the public has a right to know what materials are in play.

Ms. Smith, 19, choked herself to death in her cell in Kitchener, Ont., five years ago after repeated bouts of self-harm.

“There will be no sealing order,” Dr. Carlisle ruled Tuesday.

Speculation about possible harm was not enough to order the secrecy, he said.

The issue around the videos came to the fore because a handful of doctors — backed by Correctional Service Canada — are challenging the scope of the inquest

They argue Dr. Carlisle’s authority ends at the Ontario border.

Ms. Smith’s family — backed by the province’s child advocate, prisoner advocates and prison guards — argues the inquest must examine her treatment in institutions outside Ontario.

Among other things Ms. Smith spent her final year in solitary confinement, shunted 17 times among nine different prisons in five provinces with little treatment for her mental illness.

The videos the family wants to use to argue the inquest should be broad — as Dr. Carlisle wants — include one of Ms. Smith dying in her cell previously broadcast by CBC Television’s The Fifth Estate.

“There can be no more striking piece of evidence than the death video,” said Julian Falconer, who speaks for Ms. Smith’s family.

Videos also show Ms. Smith being physically restrained for hours at a time, at one point, strapped to a gurney in a wet security gown.

They also show staff at the Joliette Institution in Montreal giving her intravenous drugs without her consent. On one occasion, guards in riot gear surrounded the handcuffed Ms. Smith as she was injected.

Kim Pate, executive director of the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies, has called the videos “shocking and disturbing.”

Dr. Carlisle said last month it was essential to delve into how authorities dealt with Smith, including when she was imprisoned outside Ontario.

Lawyer Joel Robichaud, who speaks for Correctional Service Canada, pushed for a “temporary” sealing order until Dr. Carlisle ruled with the jury sitting whether the tapes would be admissible as evidence.

The material has the potential to “inflame the public” and subvert the inquest, Mr. Robichaud said.

Mr. Falconer savaged that position as “dead wrong,” noting of the nine parties at the inquest, only Corrections favoured a publication ban.

Media lawyer Paul Schabas also urged Dr. Carlisle to reject any secrecy, calling the ban request “utterly untenable,” and one that strikes at the very heart of the open-court principle.

The ruling paved the way for Dr. Carlisle to begin hearing arguments on scope and jurisdiction but Mr. Robichaud said he wanted time to ponder his next steps, prompting brief adjournment.

He had been set to summon three out-of-province psychiatrists who treated her — Jeffrey Penn, of Truro, N.S., Renee Fugere, of Montreal, and Olajide Adelugba, of Saskatoon.

However, two psychiatrists and a general practitioner in Ontario — Loys Ligate, Carolyn Rogers and Sam Swaminath — backed by Correctional Service Canada balked at the summonses.

The inquest under Dr. Carlisle, slated to start hearing evidence in January, is the second one into Smith’s death. The first was aborted last year when the presiding coroner, Dr. Bonita Porter, retired after months of acrimonious legal battles.

 

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