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Coroner Cover-Up

June 25, 2011 permalink

Ontario's coroner's inquests resemble a cover-up more than public disclosure. The Toronto Star details the wrangling to keep facts secret in the deaths of Ashley Smith and a youth known only as G. A. Even the Star recognizes the cynicism of claiming that secrecy is to protect the privacy of a dead child.



No place for secrecy in teen suicide inquests

Ashley Smith
Ashley Smith shown in a coroner's video.

Flawed inquests into the suicides of two teenagers, both while in custody in Ontario, are doing little to assure the public that necessary light will be shed on these tragedies.

A high-profile examination of Ashley Smith’s 2007 death by hanging has been put off until Sept. 12. This after a series of controversies, including whether key video evidence should be shown, and a coroner’s ruling threatening lawyers with contempt on sharing exhibits with the media. Smith, a 19-year-old with a history of mental illness, strangled herself in a Kitchener prison while jail guards watched.

At a separate inquest, provincial lawyers are trying to keep a lid on circumstances surrounding the death of a 17-year-old boy in custody at the Syl Apps Youth Centre in Oakville. Identified only as G.A, the youth hanged himself with a shoelace in 2008.

That hearing began on June 8, but lawyers for the attorney general and the Ministry of Children and Youth Services are working to block a Toronto Star request to view documents in the case. They even objected to disclosing a court order explaining why the public shouldn’t see this material.

On Monday, presiding coroner Dirk Huyer said the Star was entitled to see that order, with the teen’s name blacked out. But provincial lawyers asked for two days to consult on possible further legal action. The official explanation for secrecy is that young people in trouble with the law, like G.A., are entitled to confidentiality under the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

In other words, lawyers in Ontario’s bureaucracy want to keep details secret after a boy died in provincial care — on grounds that they’re protecting, not the bureaucracy, but the dead boy’s privacy.

Ontarians have every right to wonder what, in the name of mercy, is going on here? The Ashley Smith inquest began last month but jurors have scarcely heard any evidence. Presiding coroner Bonita Porter’s decision to exclude some prison videos was declared an error in Divisional Court; prison guards want their on-screen faces blurred and, just last week, the coroner unexpectedly proposed webcasting the inquest. Now, it’s put off until September.

In light of this litany of delay and reversal, one would think provincial lawyers involved in the G.A. hearing would hesitate to burden yet another inquest into a teen suicide with questionable wrangling. Of course, one would be wrong.

The purpose of an inquest is to fully uncover what led to a person’s death so that similar tragedies can be avoided. But that demands a fair and open process. It’s hard to see how this task will be accomplished unless these two inquests do better. The worst outcome of all would be if Ashley Smith and G.A. died in vain.

Source: Toronto Star

The word supercilious has been in the news recently. It properly applies not to Conrad Black, but to Toronto CAS worker Laurie Stringer whose reader comment in the Star slams people who complain about CAS as: "addicts and/or suffering from serious mental health issues".

Yes, fixcas is addicted to facts, not stereotypes. And this time we feel justified in exchanging insults. As someone who cannot spell consistently (Marin, Morin) and composes your penultimate sentence incorrectly with the opposite of its intended meaning, you are an example of the semi-literate staffing of children's aid.



This is in response to Andre Marin’s perpetual grumbling about not having been bestowed with the authority to investigate complaints against Children’s Aid Societies. As an employee of an Ontario CAS (not a social worker or involved directly with families — those employees are infinitely kinder than I am), I would gladly grant him that privilege (though I don’t purport to speak for anyone but myself).

Should Mr. Marin be awarded this authority, he may be surprised to see what he is in for. Does he honestly believe that there is a real problem with CAS staff neglecting and abusing children and threatening their parents? Does he not understand that the population serviced by CAS is the most marginalized and that almost no one is involved with a CAS voluntarily?

Of the 2,500-plus complaints received by Mr. Morin every year, I would guess that many are from parents who are addicts and/or suffering from serious mental health issues, as that is a large part of the population that is serviced by the CAS and a particularly large portion who launch complaints.

Mr. Morin, if you succeed, this responsibility that you so covet will take up 99.9 per cent of your time. You will be investigating unwarranted complaints by hostile parents whose children were removed from their care with court oversight for reasons that are everyone else’s fault but their own.

So, good luck to you.

Laurie Stringer, Toronto

Source: Toronto Star