Ashley Smith haunts Canada’s total peace of mind

For the second time, Canada is trying to investigate the death of Ashley Smith. The inquest starts today. The coroner leading the inquest says Smith’s death was a tragedy. The lawyer representing Smith’s family says it was a case of “absolute torturous circumstances.”

On October 19, 2007, 19-year-old Ashley Smith, an inmate at the Grand Valley Institution for Women, in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada, tied a rope around her neck and choked herself to death. Seven guards watched and actively did nothing as all this transpired.

Some called her death inhumane, while others hoped her death would haunt Canada. Now, more than five years later, it’s unclear that even the Canadian prison system feels particularly haunted by Ashley Smith’s death.

What has been clear from the start is the State’s attempt to shut down the investigation. From the beginning to today, the State has fought tooth and nail to bury any evidence of the event.

What emerged early today was evidence that “the State cares.” In the early days after the release of `shocking’ and `damning’ videos that showed how Ashley Smith died, Don Head, Commissioner of Correctional Service Canada, wrote to the guards to express his concern for their well-being. Did he communicate with Ashley Smith’s family? No. Did he speak with the Press or, in any other way, with the public? No. But he did write to the guards, to make sure they weren’t traumatized … by the public attention to their practices, that is.

This is reminiscent of the European police inspector who, during the Algerian national liberation struggle, went to the psychiatrist, Frantz Fanon, for help. The inspector complained that his work, torturing Algerians, was negatively impacting his home life. Part of the problem, according to the inspector, was that torturing was exhausting. He wanted the doctor to help him: “As he had no intention of giving up his job as a torturer (this would make no sense since he would then have to resign) he asked me in plain language to help him torture Algerian patriots without having a guilty conscience, without any behavioral problems, and with a total peace of mind.”

Are these men tortured by remorse? … The sick police agents were not tormented by their conscience. If they continue their professional practices outside their offices or their workshops—which happen to be torture rooms—it is because they are victims of overwork. “ They “manifest an exemplary loyalty to the system.”

Grand Valley Institution for Women is a prison for adult women. Weeks before being shunted into the adult prison system, Ashley Smith wrote in her journal, “If I die then I will never have to worry about upsetting my mom again.”

Ashley Smith rests in peace, and the system that killed her wants to get back to work, without having a guilty conscience, with a total peace of mind.

(Image Credit: The Toronto Star)

About Dan Moshenberg

Dan Moshenberg is an organizer educator who has worked with various social movements in the United States and South Africa. Find him on Twitter at @danwibg.