Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Feds stop bid to limit probe of teen's death

Young woman choked fatally in prison cell

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OTTAWA -- Federal lawyers are standing down on their persistent efforts to limit the scope of the ongoing inquest into the death of Ashley Smith, a troubled teenager who choked to death in a cell five years ago.

Julian Falconer, the lawyer for Smith's family, said Justice Department lawyers have withdrawn submissions that had been seeking to restrict the scope of the inquest and its ability to issue summonses outside of Ontario.

"The Smith family and other parties have received the following statement from counsel for the Department of Justice: Canada is withdrawing its submissions regarding the scope of the inquest and the issuance of out-of-province summonses," Falconer said in an email.

The screening this week of one disturbing video that shows guards duct-taping Smith and drugging her against her will prompted Prime Minister Stephen Harper to criticize correctional authorities for unacceptable behaviour.

On Friday, Candice Bergen, parliamentary secretary to Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, told the House of Commons Correctional Service Canada had been ordered to stand down.

"What we've instructed CSC to do is co-operate fully with the coroner's inquest," said Bergen. "That was our instruction and that's what we expect them to do."

Government lawyers had been fighting to keep a series of videos involving Smith under wraps and to block scrutiny of what happened to Smith in prisons outside Ontario.

There are still hours of videos that remain unseen by the inquest, but Bergen offered no clues as to whether they will be released.

"We expect full co-operation," Bergen said in response to a direct question about the videos. "That's what we want to see.

"This has been a tragedy. What we've seen in the videos is completely unacceptable. Obviously, CSC is working to make changes but this is an important inquest so we want to see CSC co-operating fully with the coroner."

Smith choked to death as guards looked on in October 2007 at a prison in Kitchener, Ont. She spent the last year of her life in segregation, shunted among prisons in five provinces

Liberal MP Ralph Goodale said he hopes the government lawyers will now back away from trying to limit the investigation to the events in Ontario.

"The whole point here is that there was a pattern of behaviour, going on over a long period of time, some of it within federal jurisdiction, some of it within provincial jurisdiction, that led to some very dire consequences for this mentally ill young woman," he said.

"To say you can compartmentalize that as if it were some kind of constitutional conference is just absolutely ludicrous."

The investigation followed a plea by her family to the RCMP that Smith had been restrained and given antipsychotic and other drugs against her will without any legal or medical justification.

The RCMP, claiming it had no jurisdiction, passed the complaint to Quebec provincial police, who investigated three incidents in July 2007 at the federally run Joliette prison in Montreal.

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 3, 2012 A12

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