December was a very very busy time for feminism and women’s rights in Canada.
Within one week there were two massive decisions that could potentially affect lots of vulnerable and marginalized women in Canada.
On Thursday, December 19th the jurors in Ashley Smith’s coroner’s inquest found that her October 19, 2007 death in Grand Valley Institution for Women was a homicide.
Smith, 19, died six years ago after guards hesitated in rushing to remove a ligature the troubled young inmate had tied around her neck because of orders from senior management not to intervene as long as she was still breathing.
The jury made 104 recommendations Thursday, most of them dealing with ways the correctional system can provide better supports to female inmates. Among them:
- Thorough treatment plans must be created for women inmates who are assessed as having severe mental illness or histories of chronic self-injury.
- Such inmates must have the support of teams of professionals, including psychiatrists and psychologists, and have access to permanent peer-support programs.
- The federal government should create federally run treatment facilities dedicated to serving “high-risk, high needs” women inmates.
- Smith’s death should be taught as a case study for all federal corrections managers and staff.
Unfortunately, the jury’s recommendations are not binding and Correction Services Canada can ignore or implement them as they choose.
mandy hiscocks wrote a blog post about the Ashley Smith inquiry during her imprisonment at Vanier Centre for Women:
recently some people on my unit were discussing a newspaper article about the inquiry. this led to a conversation about the lack of proper care for people with physical and mental health needs here at Vanier, and the ways in which they’re often neglected and mistreated…
if you’re not familiar with the incarcerated female population, there’s one very important thing to know: the vast majority of inmates suffer from depression, trauma, and/or addiction, and many deal with illnesses such as schizophrenia and severe anxiety disorders. when you read about the conditions in jails and the way prisoners are treated it’s especially important to keep that in mind.
Ashley Smith needed help, and instead was treated brutally by people she couldn’t get away from — this is the situation for so many others as well.
On Friday, December 21st, the Supreme Court of Canada made a unanimous decision on the Bedford Case, deciding to repeal all laws around sex work in Canada.
“Parliament has the power to regulate against nuisances, but not at the cost of the health, safety and lives of prostitutes,” wrote Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin in the 9-0 decision that noted “it is not a crime in Canada to sell sex for money.”
Although engaging in sex work was not a crime in Canada, there were laws surrounding sex work – communicating, operating a bawdy house and living off the avails of prostitution – made sex workers marginalized and unsafe.
The Canadian government now has a year to reexamine the laws around sex work in Canada.
Activists are already busy imagining and planning for what communities with laws that actually make sex workers lives safer could look like. On January 24th, University of Toronto, Faculty of Law is hosting a public forum “After Bedford v. Canada: What next for regulating sex work in Canada?”. More info on their website.