The Correctional Service of Canada is behaving as if it were a law unto itself, in denying records requested by Ashley Smith before her notorious jailhouse suicide, and by the Elizabeth Fry Society, on her behalf, after it. Its treatment of the late 19-year-old from New Brunswick was already a national disgrace, and the CSC seems to be doing its utmost to make matters even worse.
On Thursday, the Federal Court shredded the legal arguments offered by the correctional service - at taxpayer expense - and ordered that the records be turned over forthwith. A day later, the CSC said it would appeal the ruling. Shameful.
When she was alive, Ms. Smith was subjected to a Dickensian nightmare in Canada's prisons for women. She was a deeply disturbed 15-year-old who had committed minor offences; it was while in jail in New Brunswick that she committed more serious offences that would land her a federal term. There, she was confined in a solitary cell, 6 feet by 9 feet, for 11½ months (the upper limit is usually six weeks), without a book to read or a mattress to lie on. She did manage to request her records, as she was entitled to under the Privacy Act; the prison service refused. When she hung herself, several guards watched; they had been told for bureaucratic reasons not to intervene.
Now the CSC argues that, because she is dead, the files it refused to give her and Elizabeth Fry when she was alive no longer need to be turned over. Why? Because of a criminal investigation into the guards implicated in her death - an investigation that was not happening when she requested for the files, and that has long since ended (charges were dropped during a preliminary hearing). Mr. Justice Michael Kelen called the argument "ironic and illogical."
In whose interest is the CSC working? It is supposed to answer to Canadians. It reports to Public Safety Minister Vic Toews. Why, then, is it being permitted to fight an expensive and illogical legal battle whose purpose is to find a technicality behind which it can hide its records from the public?
The severely troubled Ms. Smith was treated without humanity when she was alive, and the CSC should be bending over backward now to act justly. Since it has no intention of doing so, Mr. Toews needs to make sure it does the right thing.