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For helping Ashley Smith, ‘we always seemed to be criticized,’ prison supervisor says

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

Handou/The Canadian Pres

A prison supervisor is testifying at an inquest today that senior managers ordered him on seven occasions to "counsel" front-line guards about their dealings with Ashley Smith.

Travis McDonald tells the inquest into the teen's death that the reprimands were mostly about how guards at the prison had videotaped incidents.

That changed in late September 2007 – during Ms. Smith's second stay at the prison in Kitchener, Ont.

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Mr. McDonald says senior management criticized front-line officers for going into Smith's cell too quickly during an incident weeks earlier.

The incident, as had happened many times with the 19-year-old, involved her tying a ligature around her neck.

Ms. Smith choked to death in October 2007 as guards stood by and watched.

In early September, guards intervened when they discovered Ms. Smith with a ligature tied tightly around her neck. They used a noxious spray to subdue her.

Several weeks later, Mr. McDonald says, deputy warden Joanna Pauline called him on the carpet.

Guards had intervened too quickly, and as long as Ms. Smith was breathing, Mr. McDonald said he was told, officers were not to go into her segregation cell.

Mr. McDonald said he didn't question Ms. Pauline. "She's my supervisor. She's my deputy warden," McDonald said. "I took it at face value that she knew what she was talking about, so I didn't question it."

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Ms. Smith spent two stints at the Grand Valley Institution where she died – in the spring of 2007 and again that fall.

The inquest has heard how guards, who frequently intervened to save her when she turned blue, were initially praised for doing so.

But even then, senior management seemed to find fault with how front-line officers were dealing with the troubled and troublesome teen. "It seemed to be that we never got it right," Mr. McDonald said. "We always seemed to be criticized."

McDonald said he had little direct contact with Ms. Smith, 19, of Moncton, N.B., but he recalled one conversation with her before her first transfer out of Grand Valley.

They talked about her going to a different prison where she could start afresh as a "new person," he said.

"She gave a devilish type of giggle," Mr. McDonald said.

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Mr. McDonald and three front-line officers were charged with criminal negligence causing Smith's death.

The charges were dropped after the Crown discovered Correctional Service Canada failed to disclose critical material about the orders the accused were given.

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