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Coroner misread law in excluding prison videos from Ashley Smith inquest, court rules

Ontario coroner Dr. Bonnie Porter misread the law by refusing to obtain prison videos which show teenager Ashley Smith being forcibly injected with powerful drugs at Quebec's Joliette Institution and being duct-taped to her seat while she was flown between institutions.

Dr. Porter made the ruling shortly before she began presiding at an inquest into Ms. Smith's death this week.

The four forcible druggings and the duct-tape incident all occurred in the months immediately preceding the 19-year-old's death on Oct. 19 2007 at the Grand Valley women's prison in Kitchener.

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Lawyers for Ms. Smith's family, the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth and the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies argue that this brutal treatment of the mentally ill teen severely affected her state of mind.

Though Ms. Smith died after tying a ligature around her own neck, the lawyers believe she never intended to kill herself, that her death was an accident, and that she had learned through painful experience that prison guards would rush in to save her.

The unanimous ruling from Ontario's Divisional Court was released Thursday and quashed Dr. Porter's ruling and orders her to re-consider it.

"This is a very important day for the Smith family," family lawyer Julian Falconer told reporters outside the inquest courts.

He read aloud from the decision, where the judges said "it is difficult to understand why the coroner would conclude that the videos are irrelevant" and where they said Dr. Porter had "unreasonably restricted the examination of potentially relevant evidence."

The effect of the decision - it means more videos will be shown to the jury, and more witnesses called - likely will lengthen the inquest, already expected to run between six and nine months.

Mr. Falconer had a furious response to that.

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"It took a long time to torture Ashley Smith," he snapped. "It may well take a long time to tell the truth."

But the young woman deserves nothing less, he said.

Ms. Smith's family has had to fight every step along the way for a full hearing, with Mr. Falconer repeating seeking judicial relief. In fact, he said, "it's a sad situation how exhausting this has been for Coralee Smith (Ashley's mother), how difficult a journey this has been."

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