Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae is calling for a public inquiry to get to the root of the tragedy that befell Ashley Smith, the troubled teen who choked to death in her prison cell as guards stood watch.
And he wants the inquiry to go beyond the particulars of Ms. Smith’s death to expose the general inability of the prison system to cope with mentally ill offenders.
Mr. Rae made the call Thursday after concluding the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper won’t on its own reveal everything it knows about the Smith case.
He expressed frustration that the Conservative government has not responded to his repeated questions as to whether more videos exist documenting the mistreatment of Ms. Smith and other mentally ill offenders.
Since the release last week of two disturbing videos showing Ms. Smith being restrained with duct tape and injected with powerful anti-psychotic drugs against her will, the government has said it has ordered corrections officials to co-operate fully with a coroner’s inquest into Ms. Smith’s death.
That’s sufficient to ensure the inquest will get to the bottom of the tragedy, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews suggested Thursday.
“This matter is being dealt with in a public forum and in a fully transparent way,” he told the House of Commons.
But Mr. Rae said that’s not enough, since the inquest is only empowered to look into the last 12 months of Ms. Smith’s five years in custody.
“The government must have other videos of Ashley Smith in its possession. It’s inconceivable that it would only have two and none others. It must have some that relate to all her period in prison,” Mr. Rae said later outside the Commons.
“And secondly, it defies logic to think that they only have two videos of one patient or one client of the system.”
Based on calls and letters received by Liberals, Mr. Rae said there are evidently numerous other cases in which mentally ill offenders have been mistreated.
“And I’m saying if [corrections officials] kept video evidence with respect to how they treated Ashley Smith, they must be sitting on a ton of other evidence.”
NDP public safety critic Randall Garrison pointed out that correctional investigator Howard Sapers and his staff reviewed more than 60 hours of video tapes regarding Ms. Smith’s treatment while in custody before making recommendations two years ago aimed at preventing another similar tragedy.
Among other things, Mr. Sapers recommended that the correctional service update and publicize a mental health strategy.
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