After the last few posts, I’ve decided to put up a political/social thought post. If you’re easily offended by politically incorrect opinions, than I recommend not reading this post.
Suffice to say, I’m disgusted by yesterday’s ruling on Ashely Smith’s death by the coroner’s inquest jury. I had been keeping an eye on this story since watching the The Fifth Estate’s program on this case, ‘Out of Control’ which aired Junuary 8, 2010. This is the second episode on the subject. The second was called ‘Behind the Wall’, and aired November 12, 2010. Before reading the rest of this post, I recommend clicking the previous links and watching the full episodes.
Finished watching? If you felt that The Fifth Estate was not reporting this story fairly, you’re not alone. Kirk LaPointe of the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers (UCCO) issued a complaint to the CBC’s ombudsman after ‘Behind the Wall’ aired. You can read the complaint here. If you don’t have the time or patience to read the entire thing, here’s an except which says it all.
…This ideological bias effectively obscures the fact that front-line security staff may also suffer from the confusion of roles that may arise in treatment centres. Not once does the program pay attention to the overwhelming difficulties posed by violent mentally ill offenders; this could have been done by making room in the final cut of the program to interviewees that offer a more balanced analysis of the situation. Interveners such as Star Phoenix reporter Betty Ann Adam could, and certainly should, have been given a voice on the actual program. Rather, Ms. Adam was confined to a sidebar on The Fifth Estate website, perhaps because she did not serve the show’s predetermined conclusions…
It is clear that Hana Gartner and her team were not interest in honestly reporting the facts. They had a narrative they wished to push and they were not going to allow any inconvenient facts to get in the way. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that The Fifth Estate has found itself in legal trouble from time to time. That is the problem with this case and with advocacy journalism. The whole Ashley Smith fiasco, despite the facts of the case, is distorted by this politically-driven media. Now that that’s out of the way, let me get to the heart of this post.
The basic facts of the case are as follows: Ashley Smith, 19-years-old, died from self-strangulation at the Regional Psychiatric Centre (RPC) in Saskatoon on October 19, 2007. Ashley was originally sentenced to a 30-day sentence for assaulting a postal worker while on probation for previous offenses. That 30-day sentence later became a 4-year sentence after numerous assaults on correctional officers with makeshift weapons (ex: shards of glass which she hid on and inside herself) and her own feces. Ashley was transferred a total of 17 times since various facilities were ill-equipped to handle her. These are not facts which are up for debate, but the vast majority of reports I’ve read on this are dishonest in that they don’t mentioned her assaults on prison officials. This fact is important to understand why she died.
Ashley death, as stated above, was the result of self-strangulation. The question many are asking is why didn’t prison officials act quickly to save her life. As stated in the programs linked above, she would strangled herself in order to lure correctional officers into her prison cell so that she could attack them. Ashley had done this so frequently that prison officials decided, rightly or wrongly, that the best way of dealing with her when this occurred was to wait till she passed out, then go into her cell and revive her. As horrible as that sounds, it is not murder. Let’s not forget why Ashley was willing to strangle herself. I can’t imagine how any facility could deal with someone, mentally ill or not, who behaves in such a way. It sounds to me that the coroner’s inquest was more concerned with appearances than with the facts of the case. There could be hundreds of hours of footage showing Ashley being subdued by a team of correctional officers, but, as upsetting as they would be, that doesn’t change the fact that these drastic steps were taken because she was a dangerous inmate.
When one considers the coverage this case has received, it is no wonder that the coroner’s inquest would rule Ashley’s death a homicide. The media is more than willing to blame everything, not only her death, but her behaviour on the Canadian prison system. Ashley’s mental illness was not the fault of the Correctional Services Canada. In fact, considering her behaviour prior to being incarcerated, I’d like to know what steps her parents were taking to help her. Why didn’t they step in and stop Ashley when she told them that she was going to assault a postal worker? Why didn’t The Fifth Estate address the issue of their questionable parenting? By the time Ashley was first incarcerated, it was already too late to help her.
In the end, it is clear what is going to follow the ruling from the coroner’s inquest. I’d imagine that prison officials will be fired, law suits will be settled, empty promises made and, ultimately, this case will be forgotten. After is said and done, the media will pat itself on the back for “fighting the good fight” and move onto the next story they can sensationalize. No one will remember why Ashley Smith was originally locked up or what she did to correctional officers during her incarceration. It was already decided by a politically-driven media that she was an innocent victim. The narrative is paramount and the facts are secondary.