Ashley Smith Inquest

>> Friday, May 20, 2011

So - in addition to studying for my July comprehensive exam, I am keeping more than a little busy these days attending the Ashley Smith Inquest. It is, not surprisingly, being held in Toronto, which is, unfortunately, a good 2 hours away - by car - even more by bus.

I either take the van, or hubby drives me, as far as Barrie in the morning... then a 1.5 hour ride on the GO train, followed by - assuming I FIND the damn subway - a short hop up the Yonge St. line, and a short walk. So ... $30 + gas, and basically 3 hours each way travel time. Fun!

I have a research fellowship that will reimburse me for a fair bit of my travel and food costs - but the time is a huge issue, of course... but it has to be done.

I won't be able to attend every day - but I figure that attending as much as I can right now makes sense. Not only am I learning about what happened to Ashley Smith - but I am also learning about the Inquest process, and making connections with other attendees. So - hopefully - when I have to start missing days, I will be able to keep up with what I'm missing.

And - when I'm ready to actually get going on my dissertation proposal - I will have the contacts I need.

Clearly, it is worth the inconvenience - but oy! what a cost in emotional terms.

I am so freaking frustrated... and angry....and saddened... by the whole thing.

I am saddened that - no matter what is learned through the Inquest process - it is too late for Ashley and for her family.

I am saddened because at so many points unlong the way, Ashley could have - should have - been saved.

I am angry that any young, troubled person would be put through the things that Ashley was. In Canada!! It makes me anything but proud to be Canadian - not only that such behaviour happens - but that there is not a much bigger outcry.

Canadians, it seems, care far more about abused animals than people. How is that possible?

I am frustrated, too, that the Inquest process seems - at least to this point - so incredibly focussed on keeping things OUT of the public eye rather than on getting to the bottom of what happened.

It was a battle to get the coronor to expand the scope of the Inquest to cover the entire course of Ashley's stay in CSC custody - and even though that was - supposedly - successful, the reality is that to date, the coroner has shown no inclination to actually follow through and do so. Yesterday, the lawyers for the family, Elizabeth Fry Society, and the Advocate for Children and Youth were back in court asking that additional evidence be entered; the Divisional Court found that the coroner erred in her decision that videos relating to Ashley's treatment during transfers between prisons, and her time at facilities other than Grand Valley Institute for Women (where she died) were not relevant.

I am frustrated, too, at the course of the questioning so far. Each witness is questioned first of all by the coroner's lawyer - who is, it seems, intent on ignoring any of the real issues.

For example, so far we have seen several hours of video of Ashley's interactions with correctional officers - during which she continually is seen tying strips of cloth around her neck. His questions are focussed on their management of this behaviour - why did they go in, or not go in; remove it, or not remove it.

Hello...!? How about a few more questions about where the strips of cloth are coming from?

It was 'established' - supposedly - that the cloth did not come from GVI .... Ms. Sandeson, an acting manager at GVI suggested that she had 'hooped' the materials while in other facilities. "Maybe" while she was at the St. Thomas psychiatric facility....

'Hooping' refers to storing things in bodily cavities - in this case, the vagina...and "people don't understand" just how much stuff one can hide up there...

Give me a ******* BREAK. Clearly, there are limits to how much cloth can be stored within bodily cavities. Eventually - if supervision was somewhat vigilant - she should have run out of cloth.

She was not using narrow strings, but rather strips of cloth, in many cases about an inch wide - and in at least one of the videos that we saw this week, several feet long.

It seems obvious to me that she was being provided with plenty of opportunities to add to her supply of ligatures on an ongoing basis.

They have not yet mentioned glass from a broken television, which she also supposedly hooped in there - presumably we'll get to that - but for God's sake - how stupid do these people think we are?

The whole ligature process is a sick game played between Ashley and the officers - but it is, in my opinion, a game that both sides 'enjoy' and make possible. Christie Blatchford of the Globe and Mail described it as a "macabre dance" in her 19 May article, a very appropriate description.

Even without a body cavity search, which according to Ms. Sandeson, could not be conducted without a medical doctor, and which would require Ashley's consent (clearly not happening), this 'game' should not have been able to - allowed to - continue.

To focus on management of the incidents rather than on PREVENTION is ludicrous. Just ludicrous.

Even more ludicrous is the focus on reducing the number of use of force incidents (to avoid triggering external surveillance) ... this, it seems, is the direction given to correction officers...and resulted in them - however reluctantly - allowing Ashley to repeatedly harm, and eventually kill, herself.

I am looking forward to the cross-examination - especially by the lawyers for the three parties with standing I mentioned already - as they seem to be our only hope for ensuring that the jury - and Canadians - learn what really happened to Ashley Smith - and what has happened and continues to happen to other men and women in Canadian prisons.


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