Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Getting the truth, finally, on Ashley Smith

  • Print

How much more do Canadians need to know about the death of Ashley Smith, who choked the life out of herself as prison guards in Kitchener, Ont., watched but did nothing?

For interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae, the answer is a great deal more. In fact, he feels so strongly about the issue he's demanding the federal government hold a wide-ranging, national public inquiry to get to the bottom of her tragedy.

Anyone familiar with the details of Smith's death at the Grand Valley Institution for Women and how she suffered for years in provincial and federal correctional systems will share Rae's thirst for justice and positive change.

But anyone who knows how much time and energy have already been committed to uncovering the wrongs done to this unfortunate teenager will conclude Rae's call for a public inquiry is premature -- and quite possibly unnecessary.

Ever since Smith died on Oct. 19, 2007, various governments and public agencies have been in reaction mode. Waterloo regional police quickly investigated to determine whether laws had been broken. While they charged four former Grand Valley prison guards with criminal negligence, those charges were eventually dropped. Yet the quest for truth continued.

Within days of Smith's death, Bernard Richard, the ombudsman and child youth advocate for New Brunswick, launched an investigation that focused on her incarceration in two of the province's correctional facilities over three years. Eight experts joined him on the investigative team which in 2008 published the Ashley Smith Report. That document concluded with 25 recommendations for changing how New Brunswick handles young people who become involved in the youth justice system.

One of Richard's starting points was his understanding Smith had been haunted by mental illness and severe behavioural disorders. It's no wonder, then, that he pleaded for improving how the correctional system handles people who have mental-health problems.

Similar work at the same time was being done by Howard Sapers, Canada's correctional investigator. In June 2008, he published his report on Smith, titled A Preventable Death. It exposed the inadequate mental-health resources that existed in federal prisons and strongly advocated drastic change.

Sapers followed this up just last month with an annual report that renewed his call for the prison system to do a better job of helping inmates who have mental-health problems. He said an alarming increase in the incidence of self-injury among female and male prisoners should be treated through mental-health services -- not as an issue of security. Furthermore, he again urged a ban on the placement of mentally ill inmates and those at risk of self-harm or suicide in segregation. That echoed one of Richard's main recommendations from four years ago.

And there's even more to come. Early next year, an Ontario coroner's inquest will begin hearings into Smith's death. Already, the scope of this inquest has been expanded beyond what such a probe would normally consider.

It will take many months and millions of dollars for this coroner's inquest to complete its task. When it is through, its findings, conclusions and recommendations should be reviewed along with the findings, conclusions and recommendations of all these other reports. If there are still gaps in the public's understanding of Smith's death and the conditions in Canadian prisons, it will be time for the kind of public inquiry Rae wants.

In all probability, we won't need another government inquiry to tell us what to do. We will simply need to act as the coroner -- and all the other investigators to date -- have advised.

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 15, 2012 A17

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes


  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.


Make text: Larger | Smaller


Jets Preview: Little is back, Pavelec in net for tonight's game

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • A nesting goose sits on the roof of GoodLife Fitness at 143 Nature Way near Kenaston as the morning sun comes up Wednesday morning- See Bryksa’s Goose a Day Photo- Day 07- Web crop-May 09, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
  • MIKE.DEAL@FREEPRESS.MB.CA 100615 - Tuesday, June 15th, 2010 The Mane Attraction - Lions are back at the Assiniboine Park Zoo. Xerxes a 3-year-old male African Lion rests in the shade of a tree in his new enclosure at the old Giant Panda building.  MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

View More Gallery Photos


Should NDP MLAs sign the "pledge of solidarity"?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google