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Ashley Smith

No one intended Ashley Smith to die, least of all Ashley herself: report

Ashley Smith, 19, died Oct. 19, 2007 in at Grand Valley Institution for Women. A report states her death was accidental, not suicide.

Ashley Smith

TORONTO - The case of a troubled teenage inmate, Ashley Smith, thought to have killed herself in an isolation cell has taken an unexpected twist as an internal report now reveals the death was likely an accident.

Extracts from a Correctional Services Canada report filed in court show psychiatrist Margo Rivera concludes that "no one intended Ashley Smith to die, least of all Ashley Smith herself."

Smith died in an isolation cell at the Grand Valley Institution for Women in Kitchener in October 2007.

Until now, CSC has maintained the 19-year-old from Moncton, N.B. committed suicide through self-asphyxiation.

Smith had accused CSC of poor treatment, including assault, a lack of psychiatric care and frequent transfers between prisons and treatment facilities across Canada.

The lawyer for Ashley Smith's family says it was "simply shocking" that Correctional services had been sitting on an opinion from their own expert that concluded the 19-year-old wasn't suicidal.

"This is simply another example of actions by officials to hide the truth in the death of Ashley Smith," said lawyer Julian Falconer.

Ashley Smith

The extracts of Rivera's report appear in a draft amended statement of claim that is part of an $11-million civil lawsuit launched by Smith's family against the federal government.

The full December 2007 report, titled "It's Your Job to Save Me," has never been made public.

The extracts filed in court show Rivera concluded Smith's use of ligatures and other methods of self-harm did not constitute suicide attempts.

"I consider it highly likely that Ashley Smith's death was not a suicide, but rather an accident," Rivera writes.

The psychologist explains the harm Smith inflicted upon herself met her need for "increasing the level of stimulation in an environment that was lacking in even the most basic sensation and stimulation."

Court extracts show Rivera stating Smith became increasingly depressed after being transferred 17 times between prisons and other facilities. The transfers spanned four of the five regions of the Correctional Service of Canada.

Rivera also revealed that Smith repeatedly assured prison staff that she did not strangle herself to die. She writes that several prison staff remembered Smith saying "'I'm not going to die, because it's your job to save me.' "

Rivera concluded in the report that even though Smith harmed herself, the incidents should not be considered suicide attempts.

"In retrospect, this is a moving and painful expression of trust in the adults who were supposed to ensure her safety, and it was, unfortunately, not warranted," Rivera wrote.

Falconer said the extracts filed in court clearly highlighted the failures of the prison system Smith was forced to face.

"The failures of correctional officials to enter that cell and the directions they gave to guards to not enter that cell are directly related to this death."

The report will be entered as documentary evidence at a Toronto court on Monday as Smith's family seeks to widen the scope of a coroner's inquest into the teen's death.

Richard Macklin, lawyer for the office of Ontario's Children and Youth Advocate, said the report should be made admissible during the inquest.

"We need this kind of document to challenge their witnesses and anyone else who proposes suicide," he said.

The inquest is expected to start in January.

Falconer said the family made several attempts to acquire the report before it was finally obtained through civil litigation.

At one point, he said Smith's family was provided a 25 page document of which 24 pages were blacked out.

"Obviously the message to the family was the government was simply not going to tell the truth to the mother about what happened to her daughter and was going to take every step possible to withhold that information," Falconer said.

Ashley Smith was 15 when she was first jailed for throwing crab apples at a postal worker in New Brunswick. The troubled teen was transferred to a federal women's prison in 2006, and was moved 17 times until her death a year later.

The lawsuit being pursued by Smith's mother Coralee alleges federal corrections staff - from senior bureaucrats to prison guards - engaged in a "conspiracy" that endangered Smith's life by "unlawfully" segregating her for nearly a year and not taking proper action after she was declared a suicide risk.

Allegations in the lawsuit have not been proven in court.