Coroner will not narrow scope for inquest into Ashley Smith prison death

Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press

TORONTO – The coroner overseeing a probe of the prison death of Ashley Smith has rejected a motion to narrow the scope of the inquest.

Dr. John Carlisle says he will provide reasons for his decision at a later date.

Correctional Services and several doctors had argued the inquest should focus on Smith’s last week before her choking death in 2007 in a cell in Kitchener, Ont.

Her family argued the scope should be much broader, and fought successfully to have disturbing surveillance videos screened.

After that happened last month, Prime Minister Stephen Harper called Corrections treatment of Smith unacceptable.

He also ordered prison authorities to co-operate with the inquest.

As a sign of the new-found co-operation, four out-of-province doctors who had been fighting against summonses to testify agreed to give evidence voluntarily.

The inquest Tuesday also heard demands for Corrections to produce a full list of all relevant videos in its possession and turn over any it hadn’t already done so.

Smith, of Moncton, N.B., died at the age of 19 after wrapping a strip of cloth around her neck and choking herself as guards, who were ordered not to intervene, stood watch outside her cell.

The video screened at the last hearing showed guards duct-taping Smith and drugging her against her will.

Smith was first arrested at age 13 for assault and causing a disturbance. She continued to land in trouble for making harassing phone calls and pulling a fire alarm, and was first thrown in jail at 15 for throwing crab apples at a postal worker.

She wound up in the federal prison system in October 2006, where, during the last year of her life, she was transferred 17 times among nine different prisons in five provinces.

Most of her final year was in segregation due to repeated instances of self-harm and choking herself.

Liberal Leader Bob Rae has called for a federal public inquiry that would go beyond the particulars of Smith’s death to probe the inability of the prison system to deal properly with mentally-ill offenders.