• 05/16/11 - - Corrections Canada seeks strict publication ban at Ashley Smith coroner's inquest

    - - Corrections Canada seeks strict publication ban at Ashley Smith coroner's inquest

    Linda Nguyen, Postmedia News: A sweeping publication ban should be placed on all evidence heard at the coroner's inquest into how 19-year-old Ashley Smith died in an Ontario prison, Corrections Canada argued Monday on the first day of the high-profile proceedings looking into the New Brunswick woman's death.

    Lawyer Joel Robichaud told Ontario deputy coroner Dr. Bonita Porter that the media should be prohibited from accessing and publishing any evidence released during the anticipated yearlong hearings until it is complete. The coroner also should instruct that the faces of guards who used excessive force on Smith in prison surveillance tapes be blurred for their safety.

    Smith died after she tied a ligature around her neck on Oct. 19, 2007 in a segregated cell at the Grand Valley Institution for Women in Kitchener, Ont.

    Some nine hours of video will be shown to the five-person jury at the inquest, including video showing the last hours of Smith's life while prison guards allegedly did not intervene until the young woman had stopped breathing. Some of the video allegedly also show Smith strapped for hours to a gurney, injected with drugs and denied tampons.

    An estimated 30,000 pages of documents and more than 100 witnesses were also expected to be used during the inquest.

    Julian Falconer, a lawyer for the Smith family, said this "11th hour" effort by the Correctional Service of Canada amounts to another attempt for the proceedings to be under a cloak of secrecy.

    "At the end of the day, if this is to be a public hearing, (CSC has) to be willing to fully air what they did to Ashley Smith," he said outside the coroner's courts in downtown Toronto.

    "This is all about them hiding from what they did to Ashley Smith . . . This is all about, at the end of the day, them denying responsibility."

    Falconer said the CSC should be an acronym for "conceal, suppress and contain."

    Lawyers representing a number of interested parties in these proceedings, including the media, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth and the Elizabeth Fry Societies all oppose the motion, arguing that it restricts the freedom of the press and forces the hearing to operate in an unfair manner.

    "It is unfair to the parties to proceed in such an unprecedented request," said lawyer Breese Davies, who is representing the female inmate advocacy group, the Elizabeth Fry Societies.

    Media lawyer Iris Fischer also opposed the blurring of the guards' faces in the "use of force" prison videos, citing that these public employees should not have had any expectation of privacy.

    Such a request should only be granted if there is a limit necessary based "on convincing evidence."

    "If something is disturbing and uncomfortable (it) doesn't mean the public should have restricted access to it," she said.

    The groups also argue that the media and the public should not be forced to complete a form with their personal information and intent to access the exhibits.

    Porter was expected to make an interim decision on the evidence that will be entered starting Tuesday at the inquest.

    A final decision will not be made until full arguments on the publication ban can be heard late this week or early next week.

    The young woman, who was incarcerated since the age of 15, was sent to prison for throwing crab apples at a postal worker in her hometown of Moncton, N.B. Her continued imprisonment was the result of racking up multiple charges while incarcerated.

    She was transferred 17 times to various institutions in the months leading up to her death, including spending 113 days at the Regional Psychiatric Centre in Saskatoon about six months before she died.

    Known as a teenager who did not follow prison rules, and who participated in numerous self-injurious behaviours for attention, Smith was kept for most of her time in federal custody restrained in a segregated cell.

    According to a number of psychiatric reports, Smith most likely suffered from mental issues but never received the adequate treatment while incarcerated. One report even suggests her death may have not been a suicide but an accident gone wrong.

    The high-profile inquest is expected to last up to nine months with a recess during the summer. It already has been delayed several times since it was originally slated to begin on Jan. 31.



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