TORONTO - Federal correctional authorities are trying to stop public disclosure of videos and documents during a fight over the scope of an Ontario inquest into the prison death of a deeply troubled teen five years ago.
The motion to seal the materials — which a lawyer for the family of Ashley Smith called a "pure and simple state coverup" — threatens to further delay the already long-delayed probe.
"This is a classic example of the method of doing business by Correctional Service of Canada," Julian Falconer, the Smith family lawyer, said Monday.
"Their first instinct is to seal up and hide from public view."
Smith, 19, choked to death Oct. 19, 2007, in the Grand Valley Institution in Kitchener, Ont., after repeated bouts of self-harm. She had spent much of her final year in solitary confinement being shunted from one prison to another.
The inquest under Dr. John Carlisle, slated to begin early in the new year, is actually the second one into Smith's death. The first was aborted last year when the presiding coroner, Dr. Benita Porter, announced her retirement after months of acrimony and bruising legal battles.
Those battles included a challenge to release of graphic jailhouse videos, which, among other things, show Smith being forcibly restrained and injected with anti-psychotic drugs in a Quebec prison.
Carlisle has said the probe needs to look at areas including the role of her mental-health care and how authorities managed her.
In its new motion, Correctional Service argues for sealing the video and other materials, which have been filed as part of a battle over Carlisle's ability to have doctors from outside Ontario testify at the inquest.
Keeping the materials under wraps — at least until they are presented to the coroner's jury — is needed to "protect the integrity" of the inquest and prevent a "serious risk" to the administration of justice, the motion argues.
Falconer accused the government of trying to prevent the public airing of an "indefensible" position — that the inquest should exclude Smith's experiences in prisons outside Ontario.
"If the information that we're arguing about were public, it would render their position absurd," Falconer said.
In May last year, an Ontario court ruled the events shown in the videos likely had affected Smith's state of mind and were therefore relevant to the inquest.
Falconer said CSC had learned nothing from that legal fight, and said the new motion shows "CSC is an institution out of control."
A call to Don Head, commissioner of Correctional Service of Canada, seeking comment was referred to media relations, which did not immediately respond.
Backed by Correctional Service, two psychiatrists and a general practitioner in Ontario — Loys Ligate, Carolyn Rogers and Sam Swaminath — are arguing Carlisle's jurisdiction ends at the provincial border.
At a hearing late last month, Falconer said the jurisdictional objection was in fact from three out-of-province psychiatrists who treated Smith — Jeffrey Penn, of Truro, N.S., Renee Fugere, of Montreal, and Olajide Adelugba, of Saskatoon.
Carlisle wants to issue summonses to them to testify.
The coroner has set Oct. 23 to hear oral arguments about the scope and jurisdiction.