Prime Minister Stephen Harper said he was “horrified” by newly released surveillance videos of Ashley Smith, a 19-year-old teen who committed suicide during her incarceration in an Ontario prison, CTV News reports.
Ashley choked herself to death at the Grand Valley Institution in Kitchener, Ont. in October 2007. The Moncton, N.B. teen was jailed at age 15 for throwing crab apples at someone and for various incidents when in custody. Ashley had mental health issues such as disruptive and self-harming behaviors.
Sources say correctional officers used force such as strapping Ashley to a gurney, applying restraints, and tranquillizing her in 109 incidents on 60 hours of surveillance tape.
Approximately 43 minutes of the footage was recently released at a coroner’s inquest in Toronto.
“Obviously there’s information that’s come to light that is completely unacceptable to the way Corrections Canada is supposed to do business,” Harper said in the House of Commons on Nov 1. Harper added that the government will be looking into the additional investments needed in the government’s corrections policies.
The Opposition accused the government of trying to block the coroner’s investigation. “In the coroner’s inquest that is now underway the federal government has consistently taken the position that the jurisdiction of the coroner has to be restricted, that they can’t look at videos,” Liberal Leader Bob Rae said in the House of Commons.
Harper responded by saying that the government will not interfere in the legal proceedings.
The lawyer representing the Smith family, Julian Falconer, said that the footage of Ashley’s death shows the reality of life of prisoners with mental illness and that the Corrections Service of Canada is not prepared to deal with the mentally ill.
An investigation by the Office of the Correctional Investigator in 2008 reported numerous system failures in the corrections system such as:
- missing opportunities to diagnose and treat her mental illness
- forcing Ashley to spend extensive time in isolation
- transferring her numerous times to various jails
- using unneccessary restraints such as duct tape
- not responding to the medical emergency caused when she wrapped a ligature tightly around her neck
Four correctional officers were charged with “cause death by criminal negligence.”
The coroner’s inquest has been adjourned until November 13.
Mental health services urgently needed in Canadian penitentiaries