NEWS

Ashley Smith was high profile case for CSC, inquest hears

09/25/2013 12:26 EDT | Updated 11/25/2013 05:12 EST
Ashley Smith was a high profile case for the Correctional Service of Canada, a coroner's inquest into the Moncton, N.B., teenager's prison death heard on Wednesday.

Joanna Pauline, a former deputy warden at the Grand Valley Institution in Kitchener, Ont., testified the commissioner had an active interest in Smith's file.

Smith, 19, died on October 2007 after she tied a piece of cloth around her neck while guards stood outside her cell door and looked on.

- Live stream of coroner's inquest

Previous witnesses have testified that Pauline was among the senior managers who ordered staff not to intervene when Smith would tie ligatures around her neck, as long as the troubled teenager was still breathing.

Pauline told the inquest she doesn't remember much about that period. There were long pauses in her testimony on Wednesday and her answers often trailed off as she tried to recall details.

But she said Smith was sent to the Grand Valley Institution because staff at other facilities were burning out trying to deal with her.

Smith was known to throw feces at staff, Pauline said. The teenager also managed to destroy a metal desk in her cell that was riveted to the floor, she said.

Pauline told the inquest that by the fall of 2007 she was being left out of any decision-making.

Other staff were being chosen to fill in as warden when the warden at the time was away, and other managers were no longer reporting to her, she said.

Pauline said she confronted the warden and was told that she was no more than an administrative assistant; that she had no vision and the warden was going to strengthen the management team.

Pauline was hired straight out of university in 1985, with a bachelor of arts degree in psychology from the University of Regina, and worked her way up through the ranks until 2002, when she was hired as deputy warden for the Grand Valley Institution.

Earlier this week, another senior manager testified she was unaware of any orders to officers to stay out of Smith's cell as long as she was still breathing.

Nicki Smith, who is the current deputy warden at the prison, said she has "no memory" of being asked directly by frontline staff for direction on the issue.

Brinda Wilson-Demuth, a former warden, managed to avoid testifying on Tuesday.

She was slated to testify all day, but is currently on medical leave and sources say her doctors advised she should not be subjected to the stress of cross-examination because her health is fragile.

Lawyers for the coroner and other parties with standing at the inquest, including the Smith family, decided not to question her at all, opting instead for documented evidence, such as emails to other staff, be entered into the court record.

The inquest, which began on Jan. 14 and resumed on Sept. 9 after a 10-week break, has given a glimpse into the troubled teen’s time in the prison system before her death.

Smith was incarcerated for the first time at age 15. In the last year of her life, she was transferred 17 times among nine institutions in five provinces.

MORE:cbcNews