Lawyers seek prison files on teenaged inmate who choked herself to death

OTTAWA - An advocacy group is taking the Harper government to court for withholding prison files on Ashley Smith, the teenaged inmate who choked herself to death in her jail cell.

OTTAWA - An advocacy group is taking the Harper government to court for withholding prison files on Ashley Smith, the teenaged inmate who choked herself to death in her jail cell.

Lawyers have filed an application in Federal Court seeking the release of personal records that Smith requested before her 2007 death.

Smith gave permission to the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies to apply on her behalf for her file under federal access-of-information laws. But the Correctional Service of Canada has refused to relinquish the documents.

The association's lawyers appealed to Canada's privacy watchdog, who ruled last month that the complaint was well-founded. However, the privacy commissioner opted not to pursue the case.

So inmate advocate Kim Pate, of the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies, is taking Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan and the correctional service to court to get the files.

"The (government) is wrong in concluding that (the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies) no longer has the consent of Ashley Smith to obtain her personal information and is wrong in denying access to the requested personal information," the court application says.

Lawyer Kris Klein, who is representing the association of Elizabeth Fry Societies, said Smith's prison files may shed light on the events surrounding her death.

"We don't know what was happening to Ashley while she was in prison. What we know is eventually she ended up dying and it's tragic," he said.

"Hopefully there's information in there that sheds light as to what was going on, what happened."

Van Loan's office was not immediately available to comment.

Smith slowly strangled herself with a strip of cloth she'd wrapped around her neck in an isolation cell at the Grand Valley Institution in Kitchener, Ont., on Oct. 19, 2007.

Seven guards watched before intervening as she turned purple, correctional investigator Howard Sapers reported in March.

They had been reprimanded in the past for entering Smith's cell too soon after noticing ligatures around her neck. The teen had taunted guards with fake suicide attempts in the past and had racked up 150 "security incidents" in 11 months in prison.

Her mother, Coralee Smith, has demanded that every corrections official responsible for what has been described as systematic law-breaking in her daughter's case be identified.

Van Loan has stressed that the Grand Valley warden, deputy warden, three guards and a manager were fired. Four more guards were suspended without pay for 60 days.

The Correctional Service of Canada has since stepped up intake assessments for an increasing number of mentally ill prisoners along with training for front-line staff.

 
 
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