Statement on the Ashley Smith Inquest: Mental Illness in Prison by David Langtry, Acting Chief Commissioner, Canadian Human Rights Commission
OTTAWA, May 13 /CNW/ - On Monday, May 16th, a coroner's inquest into the death of Ashley Smith is due to begin in Toronto. This case raises serious issues regarding the treatment of the mentally ill in Canada's correctional system.
Ashley Smith was first incarcerated at the age of 13 after throwing a crab apple at a postal worker. It is possible that she ended up in jail primarily because of mental illness.
After her death in a correctional facility, the Correctional Investigator of Canada found that Ms. Smith's mental health needs were never accommodated by Correctional Services Canada. Instead of leading to rehabilitation, Ashley Smith's incarceration led to a worsening of her condition. The Investigator has also reported that Ms. Smith's experience was not unique.
The Canadian Human Rights Commission has identified the treatment of people with mental illness in Canada's correctional facilities as a pressing human rights issue.
Mental illness is a disability. In Canada, people with disabilities have a right to be accommodated when they receive services from the government.
Offenders with mental illness often do not get public sympathy, in part because of the stigma associated with their condition. Yet while offenders lose many rights as a consequence of their actions, they remain human beings. Human beings have human rights.
The case of Ashley Smith challenges Canadians to reflect on fundamental principles of justice and human rights that affect all of us, not just the mentally ill. It is important that these issues are fully explored in public, through informed discussion and debate.
The Canadian Human Rights Commission will be closely following this and other similar cases to drive awareness of these issues and urge that they be addressed in policy, and in practice.For further information:
or to request an interview:
Director, Communications Branch
Canadian Human Rights Commission