Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

Ashley Smith inquest to have wide scope despite doctors’ objections, coroner rules

Ashley Smith is shown surrounded by guard at Joliette Institution in Joliette, Que., on July 26, 2007 in this image made from video. The haunting protests of a now dead teenager filled a coroner's courtroom Wednesday as surveillance videos were screened showing the troubled inmate repeatedly tranquilized against her will or being threatened with having her face duct-taped.

Handout/The Canadian Press

An inquest into the prison death of a disturbed teenager will be broadly based despite objections raised by several doctors who treated her, the presiding coroner formally ruled on Friday.

The three Ontario doctors, supported by the federal government, argued the inquest should focus only on the last days of Ashley Smith's life at the Grand Valley Institution in Kitchener, Ont., five years ago.

They argued Dr. John Carlisle's authority extended only to the Ontario border, and that he was barred from examining how federal prisons are run.

Story continues below advertisement

Ms. Smith's family, backed by other parties, wanted Dr. Carlisle to examine much more, including how Ms. Smith was treated at other prisons in other provinces long before her death.

"The challenge to the scope on constitutional grounds is anticipatory and premature," Dr. Carlisle ruled.

"I am aware of the limits imposed by the constitutional cases and will respect them."

Ms. Smith, 19, of Moncton, N.B., choked to death in October, 2007 as guards essentially stood by. She spent most of her last year in solitary confinement exhibiting self-harming behaviours, and had been shunted 17 times among nine prisons in five provinces.

After shocking surveillance video of Ms. Smith was shown, correctional authorities withdrew their objections, and four out-of-province doctors agreed to appear as witnesses voluntarily.

Dr. Carlisle said he wanted to make his ruling anyway.

"I am being asked in the motion to consider a matter of jurisdiction, which cannot be acquired by consent or acquiescence," Carlisle wrote.

Story continues below advertisement

"I should thus consider all the arguments to determine if I have jurisdiction lest there be any doubt about the sufficiency of the opportunity to be fully heard by all parties."

Dr. Carlisle did make one minor change to the proposed scope of the probe to meet the objections raised.

Essentially, he made it clear he was mindful of the jurisdictional pitfalls, and wanted to be explicit he would not allow an unlimited examination of Correctional Service Canada.

"Smith happened to die in CSC care. By necessity, the inquest will inquire into the actions of CSC employees in their care of Ashley Smith while she was in its custody," he said.

"That is quite different from inquiring into the management of CSC."

As a result, among other things, the scope will look at the "challenges of providing mental health care to Ashley Smith" rather than to female inmates in general, Dr. Carlisle decided.

Story continues below advertisement

Overall, the inquest will delve into seven areas, among them the impact of prolonged and continuous segregation on Ms. Smith and the role of repeated transfers in light of her deteriorating mental health.

The inquest is slated to start hearing evidence in January.

Report an error
As of December 20, 2017, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this resolved by the end of January 2018. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to