For Immediate Release

ARCHIVED - Correctional Investigator Submits Final Report to Minister Stockwell Day on Death of Ms. Ashley Smith at Grand Valley Institution, Kitchener

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OTTAWA, June 24, 2008 - The Ombudsman for Canada's federal prison system, Mr. Howard Sapers, today submitted his final report to the Minister of Public Safety and the Commissioner of Corrections regarding his investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of Ms. Ashley Smith at Grand Valley Institution for Women. This report will not be available to the public at this time given the ongoing criminal investigation.

"My report discusses a litany of serious failures leading up to the tragic and, I believe, preventable death of Ms. Smith," said Mr. Sapers. During her brief period of incarceration in the federal correctional system, this young woman did not receive the care, treatment and support that Canadians expect from the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC). "This troubling case illustrates what can go wrong in federal Corrections, and I urge both the Minister and the Commissioner to immediately implement my recommendations aimed at preventing similar deaths," added Mr. Sapers.

The report makes 16 recommendations for improvements in the areas of:

  • Compliance with law and policy in correctional operations;
  • Responses to medical emergencies;
  • Use of force interventions;
  • Governance in women's corrections;
  • The CSC's inmate complaint and grievance procedures;
  • Offender transfer process;
  • Segregation policy and practice; and,
  • The delivery of health care, including mental health services.

One recommendation directed to the Minister is for the development of a National Strategy for Corrections that would ensure a better coordination among federal, provincial, and territorial correctional and mental health systems.

As detailed in the recent report of the New Brunswick Ombudsman and Child and Youth Advocate (www.gnb.ca/0073/index-e.asp), Ms. Smith was initially sent as a teenager to a provincial correctional facility for minor offenses, did not receive the help she desperately needed while in New Brunswick, and accumulated more offences while in custody. Ms. Smith was subsequently transferred to a penitentiary at age 18, and spent 11.5 months in federal custody - until she died on October 19, 2007. She had been moved 17 times, including 9 transfers between federal correctional institutions, and had been on segregation status her entire period of federal incarceration. She also had not received a comprehensive psychological assessment while in federal custody, and had not been given adequate mental health services. Furthermore, a correctional officer has been charged with physically assaulting Ms. Smith six months prior to her death.

"Ms. Smith's journey through the courts, correctional and health care systems started at age 13 and ended tragically at age 19. It is clear that none of these systems adequately responded to her needs. A concerted effort involving provincial/federal/territorial partners is required to ensure that cases like Ms. Smith's do not happen again," said Mr. Sapers. "As Ombudsman, what troubles me the most is that many of the failures observed in my investigation into the death of Ms. Smith had been the subject of previous recommendations by my Office, including recommendations and findings in previous annual reports and in the Deaths in Custody Study submitted to the Correctional Service well over a year ago," added Mr. Sapers.

The Correctional Investigator is mandated by an Act of Parliament to be an independent Ombudsman for federal offenders. This work includes ensuring that systemic areas of concern are identified and brought to the attention of those responsible for the operations of our federal correctional system. Past annual reports of the Office and its Deaths in Custody Study can be found at www.oci-bec.gc.ca.

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For further information:

Ivan Zinger, LL.B., Ph.D.
Director of Policy and Senior Counsel
Office of the Correctional Investigator
(613) 990-2690