09/28/2012 06:11 EDT | Updated 11/28/2012 05:12 EST

Lawyer blasts challenge to teen's jail-death inquest as 'unseemly'

TORONTO - A challenge by three Ontario physicians to the scope of an inquest into the prison death of a troubled teenager is little more than an unseemly shell game orchestrated by three out-of-province doctors and their malpractice insurer, coroner's court heard Friday.

In an unusual late-day sitting, a lawyer for the family of Ashley Smith attacked the challenge as an abuse of process.

"There is something afoot that needs to be properly identified," Julian Falconer told the presiding coroner, Dr. John Carlisle. "Strings are being pulled by phantoms."

Ostensibly, two Ontario psychiatrists and a general practitioner — Loys Jane Ligate, Carolyn Jean Rogers and Dr. Sam Swaminath — are arguing Carlisle's jurisdiction ends at the provincial border.

They want that issue thrashed out before summonses go to three out-of-province psychiatrists, something that was due to happen next week.

Falconer heaped scorn on their challenge.

He noted the trio raised no objections when the coroner at the first aborted inquest into Smith's death made it clear two years ago that the probe would not be confined to Ontario.

He also said discussions on scope for the second inquest have been going on now for almost a year.

"It's inconceivable the in-province doctors suddenly had a crisis of conscience about jurisdictional issues," Falconer asserted.

In reality, he told the hearing, the real objections were coming from three psychiatrists who treated Smith — Jeffrey Penn, of Truro, N.S., Renee Fugere, of Montreal, and Olajide Adelugba, of Saskatoon — and the Canadian Medical Protective Association.

Smith, 19, of Moncton, N.B., spent the last 11 months of her life being shuttled from one prison to another in various parts of the country — much of it in solitary confinement.

She choked to death on a strip of cloth in her cell at the federal Grand Valley Institution for Women in Kitchener, Ont., in October 2007 after numerous episodes of self-harm. Her family says her death was accidental.

In her submissions calling for an adjournment in the long-delayed inquest, the lawyer for the Ontario doctors said she was acting as agent for lawyers who represent the three out-of-province psychiatrists who treated Smith.

None had the opportunity to consult properly over the issue of jurisdiction, McAuley said, adding that the issue had to be thrashed out before anything else could happen.

"To barrel ahead with the application for summonses may prove to be a waste of both public and private funds," Nancy McAuley said.

Carlisle seemed a bit confused about why the Ontario doctors were raising objections, but McAuley said they wanted a chance to make submissions on the scope of the inquest.

John McNair, a lawyer for a psychiatric hospital in St. Thomas, Ont., said the challenge was perfectly legitimate and suggested Falconer was out of line to make his allegations.

However, Richard Macklin, the lawyer for Ontario's child and youth advocate, said he also had "concerns about bona fides" of the challenge.

There have been "hundreds" of provincial inquests involving federal institutions, Macklin told Carlisle.

In a lengthy decision that preceded the challenge, Carlisle said the effects of long-term solitary confinement and Smith's repeated transfers _ 17 times in under a year _ are among issues that must be explored.

Smith suffered severe mental illness, was classified as suicidal, and repeatedly used ligatures in near-fatal self-strangulation.

The first inquest collapsed last year amid legal wrangling and the abrupt resignation of the coroner.

Among previously contested issues was the release of videotapes from a Quebec prison showing Smith being given injections without her consent and medical staff apparently threatening her with further injections.

The new hearing was slated to begin formal hearings Jan. 13, 2013.

"The family has instructed us to please, please get this process on the rails," Falconer said.

Carlisle put the hearing over until Oct. 23 to try to finalize the jurisdictional and scope questions.