Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

Prison service finally agrees to release file of teen who killed herself

The federal prison service has dropped its bid to conceal the personal files of a teen inmate who killed herself. The move means an advocacy group won't have to wage another round in its costly court fight to obtain the records of Ashley Smith.

Ms. Smith was 19 when she choked herself to death with a strip of cloth at the Grand Valley Institution in Kitchener, Ont., in October of 2007.

She had requested access to her personal prison records, authorizing their release to the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies.

Story continues below advertisement

Ms. Smith had alleged poor treatment by the Correctional Service, including assault, lack of psychiatric care and frequent transfers between prisons and treatment facilities across Canada.

Prison ombudsman Howard Sapers, the correctional investigator, found she was moved 17 times in just 11 months. He harshly criticized the prison service for failing to give Ms. Smith proper care and protection and has pressed it to make changes to prevent similar tragedies.

Elizabeth Fry executive director Kim Pate wants to see Ms. Smith's 291-page file to see what lessons could be learned from it.

Federal Court Justice Michael Kelen found in April that the Correctional Service had broken the law by failing to release Ms. Smith's records while she was alive. The prison service announced it would appeal the decision, but later quietly abandoned the challenge.

A spokesman for Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, the cabinet member responsible for corrections, declined to comment Monday on the reasons, citing a lawsuit by Ms. Smith's family that is still before the courts.

Ms. Smith's records are to be disclosed to the Elizabeth Fry societies by Sept. 17. They include police and court files, correctional treatment plans, incident reports, psychological reports and transfer orders.

A Federal Court order issued Monday makes it clear the files will include material from the last few months of her life as well as earlier records.

Story continues below advertisement

"In many respects, getting this last piece of information is important because without it you couldn't paint the full picture," said lawyer Kris Klein, who represented the societies in court. "You only had an incomplete picture of what had happened to her."

The Privacy Act allows individuals to request information about them held by federal agencies, including the Correctional Service.

Privacy requests are supposed to be answered within 30 days, but the prison service took a 30-day extension. It missed that deadline, and the request had gone unanswered when Ms. Smith committed suicide - 123 days after her initial application.

The Correctional Service told the court such delays "happen all the time."

The Canadian Press

Report an error
Comments are closed

We have closed comments on this story for legal reasons. For more information on our commenting policies and how our community-based moderation works, please read our Community Guidelines and our Terms and Conditions.