POLITICS

Oft-delayed inquest into death of troubled teen inmate to start anew

08/29/2012 11:20 EDT | Updated 10/29/2012 05:12 EDT
TORONTO - The inquest into the death of a young woman in an Ontario prison is set to start anew after facing numerous delays.

Coroner Dr. Bert Lauwers said Wednesday that there will be a hearing in Toronto on Sept. 20 for those who wish to apply for standing at the inquest into the death of Ashley Smith.

Smith, a 19-year-old from Moncton, N.B., choked herself to death with a strip of cloth at the Grand Valley Institution for Women in Kitchener, Ont., in 2007 while guards looked on.

The troubled teen was transferred between facilities 17 times during the last 11 months of her life, spending much of her time in segregation units.

Inquest proceedings began in May 2011 but have been fraught with delays, including the retirement of the coroner originally appointed to preside over the case.

There had already been six days of inquest hearings during which the jury heard from two witnesses, heard motions and watched videos.

Then, the case's original coroner, Dr. Bonita Porter, abruptly announced the proceedings would adjourn because she planned to retire in November.

The inquest was handed to Dr. John Carlisle, who resumed the proceedings on Sept. 12.

But the case was quickly adjourned again when the Smith family submitted a motion challenging Carlisle's jurisdiction to pick up on an inquest after it had started under someone else.

Julian Falconer, the lawyer for Smith's family, had argued that restarting the inquest would mean Carlisle wouldn't have to grapple with ruling on issues on which Porter had heard evidence.

Carlisle agreed to close the inquest and start anew. He said that restarting the proceedings would avoid time lost in resolving questions surrounding his stepping in and what should happen with evidence entered prior to his taking over.

Smith was first sent to prison at 13 for throwing crab apples at a postal worker but her time behind bars ballooned with a number of in-custody incidents.

The inquest heard she frequently tied various material around her neck and sometimes banged her head or cut herself, but wasn't trying to hurt herself intentionally — rather after being kept in isolation much of the time, she did it for the stimulation.