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)

The agony of Savita Halappanavar

Savita Halappanavar

Savita Halappanavar

Savita Halappanavar died, or was killed, because an Irish hospital refused to perform a medically necessary abortion until they were absolutely positively sure the fetal heartbeat had stopped. The life of the mother was of no concern. Savita Halappanavar spent more than two days in agony, and died, or was killed, in agony.

The agony of Savita Halappanavar is a commonplace globally, according to the UN’s  The State of World Population 2012, released today. From Poland to Armenia to Uganda to Swaziland to India to Nicaragua to the United States, and all points between and beyond, pregnant women, women in childbirth, women die in agony, thanks to criminalization, stigma, public policy and more.

They die in agony like so many prisoners, begging for care, screaming for mercy. They receive neither. Why? What is a global culture of women-dying-in-agony? A little over 50 years ago, Frantz Fanon had an answer to that question: “Le colon oubliait singulièrement qu’il s’enrichissait de l’agonie de l’esclave.” “The colonist forgot strangely enough that he was getting rich on the agony of the slave. In fact what the colonist was saying to the colonized subject: “Work yourselves to death, but let me get rich!

The agony of Savita Halappanavar is part of the ongoing global crisis of the wretched and the damned: women. Slavery has not ended; it has simply changed clothes for the new season. Colonialism has not ended; it has moved the furniture around. The colonists continue to forget strangely enough and continue to enrich themselves on the agony of women.

(Photo credit 1: The Irish Times) (Photo Credit 2: The Journal)