Prison ombudsman questions dropped charges in N.B. teen’s death


The federal investigator looking into the death of Ashley Smith says he wants to know more about why charges were dropped against four employees at the Grand Valley Institution for Women in Ontario earlier this week.

Former guards Karen Eves, Blaine Phibbs, Valentino Burnett and supervisor Travis McDonald had been charged with criminal negligence causing death in the Oct. 19, 2007, suicide of the 19-year-old Moncton woman.

In a Kitchener, Ont., courtroom on Monday, the Crown said new medical opinions found the four prison employees could not have reached Smith in time to save her life.

The decision to drop the charges came two-thirds of the way through a three-week preliminary hearing to decide if there was enough evidence to send the matter to trial.

Howard Sapers, Canada’s federal prison ombudsman, has done his own investigation for the federal government. While Sapers didn’t attend the preliminary hearing he’d like to know more about what came out.

“We’ll have to wait and see whether this means the end of all criminal investigations into Ashley Smith’s death or whether this closes this chapter and opens another,” Sapers said.

Sapers said he’d like to compare the Crown’s evidence to what he discovered.

He said Corrections Canada has had his recommendations on how to prevent similar deaths for more than five months and he hasn’t seen much action in that time.

“When I made those recommendations, they were presented with a certain urgency and I want to receive a full accounting from the service as to how much progress they’ve made,” the federal prison ombudsman said.

Sapers said he was going to give Corrections Canada enough time to respond to his report before making it public. Now, given everything that’s happened in this case, he’s trying to decide whether he should wait any longer.

“To this point, I’m not satisfied that the response has been fulsome,” Sapers said. “So I’m waiting for some additional movement on their part as well as some additional explanation on their part as to what they have done.”

Along with four other employees, the four accused were suspended after Smith’s death pending an internal investigation by Correctional Service Canada. Those charged were later fired, along with two managers.


Charges dropped against jail guards in death of N.B. woman


Charges of criminal negligence causing the death of Ashley Smith of Moncton have been dropped against three guards and one supervisor at the Grand Valley Institution for Women in Kitchener, Ont.

Smith, 19, had been in detention since she was 16 years old. She died on Oct. 19, 2007, of “self-initiated” asphyxiation.

In a Kitchener courtroom Monday, the Crown said new medical opinions found the four prison employees could not have reached Smith in time to save her life. Therefore, the charges were dropped.

The decision to drop the charges came two-thirds of the way through a three-week preliminary hearing to decide if there was enough evidence to send the matter to trial.

Jason Godin, the Ontario regional president of the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers, said the charges should never have been laid in the first place.

“We’re obviously extremely pleased with that decision. Like we’ve said since the very beginning, our members are guilty of absolutely nothing. They were put in a completely impossible situation,” he said.

The union said Smith had a history of self-mutilation and tried almost daily to choke herself.

Godin said Correctional Service Canada managers ordered guards to wait until Smith stopped breathing before trying to help her. He said he hopes this case will force the prison system to review how it treats women prisoners.

“We need to take a serious look at how federally sentenced women’s facilities are managed across the country. Clearly, in our minds, there needs to be major reforms,” Godin said.

The union said Smith spent most of her time in jail in segregation without access to programs.

Godin said he wants a public inquiry to prevent what happened to Smith from happening to other female prisoners. He also wants Correctional Service Canada to rehire the three guards who were fired after being charged in this case.

“They have to own up to their responsibility in this situation, and they have to do what’s right in terms of reinstating our members,” he said.

Former guards Karen Eves, Blaine Phibbs, Valentino Burnett and supervisor Travis McDonald were all charged with criminal negligence causing death.

Along with four other employees, they were suspended after Smith’s death pending an internal investigation by Correctional Service Canada. The four, along with two managers, were later fired.

Jeffrey Free Luers interviews Grant Barnes

Infoshop News

JL: You are currently serving a long prison sentence for arsons claimed on behalf of the Earth Liberation Front. What compelled you to take such actions?

GB: I had been aware of the ELF for some time, and as I became more aware of the severity of the most likely consequences of climate change I decided it was time for me to do my part and take responsibility. I think that property destruction is a useful component in a united front of tactics toward first, earth liberation, and ultimately towards the cultivation of a biocentric culture. It raises the economic and psychological costs of earth destruction, and when there is media coverage, as there usually is, it hows people on all sides of the struggle that the destroyers are vulnerable. I believe that property destruction is one of the things that the other species of the planet would do in their defense against extinction if they had the knowledge and ability to do so. Those who destroy the property of uncaring, irresponsible people act on behalf of these other species, which are our cousins.

JL: How did you first get into activism?

GB I helped with an info-shop in Denver (now closed) and Food Not Bombs, and I
worked for the Rape Assistance and Awareness Program.

JL: You are serving your sentence in maximum security. What has that been like?

GB: One challenge has been racism. I’m white, and most of the people I talk
to are not, and this has led to some confrontations with racists. My friends
back me up though, so when problems arrive we respond and that keeps me safe
enough. They deserve the better part of the credit for that.

Otherwise, the hardest thing is the isolation; I’m a social person and
community is very important to me, so everyday it takes a conscious effort to
adapt to spending most of my time alone (most of the time I’m not allowed to
leave the cell). However, I stay productive by studying for my degree and
working out, and I’ve made strong progress in both areas. I occasionally have
the opportunity to return correspondence and that is one of my favorite things
to do.

JL: When you first decided to get involved in eco-defense did you think you
would end up in prison? If so, how did you prepare yourself for that

GB: I knew I could go down and I strove not to. At various times in my life I
had read prison memoirs like Soul On Ice by Black Panther Eldridge Cleaver and
Soledad Brother by George Jackson, and some more recent accounts of prison
life, including a web file entitled How To Survive In Prison. It contains some
good information, for instance on the importance of respect, but I think I
would have picked up on that sort of thing whether or not I had read anything
on it. Probably the best way somebody could prepare would be to stay in good
physical shape.

JL: How has your support been? How can people get involved?

GB: The Lucy Parsons Project sent two books last year, which are outstanding to
have as good reading material is hard to get here. Earth First! Journal kindly
gave me a free prisoner subscription, and I also got an issue apiece from Green
Anarchy and Bite Back, all of which I considered notable on the outside and
appreciate having in here. I am especially thankful that Earth First! Journal
and Green Anarchy have listed my address. I’ve got several letters and
postcards wishing me well, and recently I’ve begun corresponding with several
people. It would be outstanding to hear from others.

The best thing people can do is send information on intentional communities,
mutual aid networks, and similar formations I might contribute to when I am
released. One of the most frustrating things about being inside is having few
outlets to give to others, but I want to lay a solid foundation for such
community that I can build on when my time here is done. Creating community
takes a great deal of work, and I know it’s necessary to spend time to
understand, among other things, a potential member’s level of commitment and
the extent of the common ground shared with existing members. I want to start
that dialogue, because the kind of life I want to live on the outside is one
spent as much as possible in spaces of liberation from patriarchy,
exploitation, anthropocentrism, racism, and all other symptoms of the present
alienating civilization. To that end I am most interested in more primitive

Also, I find that in general pictures are more natural expressions than words,
and it means a lot to me to see photos along with peoples’ writings.
Regardless, it is always special to receive a letter or postcard from anyone
who feels concern for the earth and joy for life.

JL: Are you working on projects while locked up?

GB: I’m finishing my degree in cultural anthropology; I was a student when I
was arrested. Reading about a range of cultures has been provocative. It has
shown me to some extent how much is being lost with the extinction of so many
sustainable, primitive ways of life–knowledge we need now more than ever. I
also keep up with reports on climate change, and I am reading some books I had
not made time for on the outside, like Derrick Jensen’s Endgame.

JL: And now here’s your chance for a shameless wish list. Would you like
people to send any specific books or books on particular subjects? Are there
any canteen items, like a radio or anything else, we can help you buy to make
your time easier?

GB: I don’t listen to the radio or watch TV, or buy snacks, and money is
qualitatively less valuable to me than heartfelt correspondence, but I would
certainly appreciate funds for mailing supplies, and for beans and oats, as the
vegan food here is very limited. One luxury I do love is music and receiving
some of that would be a treat.

One of the subjects I most want to better understand is the difference between
primitive and complex cultures. I would be very grateful for any
well-researched reading material at the undergrad level on this topic. Much of
what is listed in Green Anarchy is of interest, for instance.

“Grant Barnes is serving a 12 year prison sentence for the arson of SUVs.
From his prison cell he watches the birds that have made their nest within the
razor wire. A reflection of what is happening to our world.”
Write to: Grant Barnes, #137563, San Carlos Correctional Facility, PO Box 3,
Pueblo, CO 81002. Visit his new website at

Posted in ELF