Ashley Smith’s Fate: A New Form of Killing in the Name of the State

by Vins
Published: Updated:

According to Canada’s 1960 Bill of Rights, every Canadian citizen has basic rights to life, liberty, and security of person. The last of these, the individual’s “right to security” can be seen as an expansion of rights prohibiting the use of torture or any other punishment deemed as cruel or unusual. As Stuart J. Murray and Dave Holmes report for Truth-Out, it can also be implemented to hold the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) accountable when it violates prisoners’ rights. As Murray and Holmes report, in the case of Ashley Smith, a 19-year old, mentally ill inmate who committed suicide in October 2007, these rights appear to have been repeatedly violated by Correctional officers.

Smith was imprisoned at fifteen for throwing apples at a postal worker. During her imprisonment she suffered multiple cases of emotional and physical abuse. She was denied sanitary products and adequate toilet paper during her menstrual cycle, was regularly hooded and restrained, sometimes with duct tape, during no fewer than 17 transfers between nine different institutions. Furthermore, Smith spent most of her incarceration in isolation: Following each transfer, officials reset her seclusion sentence.

She was transferred repeatedly to hide the abuse she suffered and to extend the amount of time she could be kept in seclusion—treatment that worsened Smith’s mental condition. At no time was she given a psychological assessment. In brief, Ashley Smith was denied her basic human rights for four years, until she hung herself while under suicide watch.

In December 2013, the jury in the coroner’s inquest into Smith’s death determined the cause of her death as “ligature strangulation and positional asphyxia” by means of “homicide.”  Murray and Holmes conclude that Ashley Smith’s death, while under the authority of the Correctional Service of Canada, “demands that we face up to a new modality of killing in the name of the state.”

Source: Stuart J. Murray and Dave Holmes, “A New Form of Homicide in Canada’s Prisons: The Case of Ashley Smith,” Truth-out, March 10, 2014,

Student Researchers: Brittney Clark and Caylin Rose (Indian River State College)

Faculty Evaluator: Elliot D. Cohen (Indian River State College)