Coralee Smith believes that her daughter, Ashley, is finally at peace after a 10-year struggle during which she never gave up seeking justice for the emotionally troubled 19-year-old.
"There aren't even words to describe," Ms. Smith, 66, told The Globe and Mail Thursday in an interview from her Dartmouth home after hearing that a coroner's inquest jury has ruled that her daughter's death is a homicide.
"We are quite pleased. … We're more than pleased. There's got to be bigger words than that: We're elated, we're delighted, we're out of our mind, what a Christmas gift. What else can I say? I can't even say enough."
Ashley Smith strangled herself in her cell at the Grand Valley Institution in Kitchener, Ont., on Oct. 19, 2007. Guards, under orders from senior management against intervening as long as she was still breathing, waited too long to enter the cell and save her.
Ms. Smith decided against going to Toronto for the decision by the coroner's jury, feeling that she would be overwhelmed by the mob of media. "It's not that I gave up," she explained. "It's just that I had to have a break from it. This has been 10 years for us and that has been a long struggle."
Instead, she and her 43-year-old daughter and Ashley's sister (she asked not to be identified) watched the jury make its ruling together as it was streamed live on the Internet.
Sitting in separate chairs – Ms. Smith was drinking tea and her daughter was drinking coffee – they jumped up, shouted "hallelujah" when the ruling was read, slapped each other, cried and at times shushed each other so they could hear all of the 103 recommendations.
"I think a lot of people were surprised, but this is what we had hoped for," she said.
Ms. Smith says there is not one recommendation that stands out for her. "I can't pinpoint one. … It just covered everything we had hoped for."
A determined mother – Ms. Smith says her "you have to fight for your children. My girls meant the world to me" – she searched the country to find a lawyer to take on the case. It was through a friend in New Brunswick that she met Julian Falconer, and the two clicked.
She is hoping that his arguments – and the jury's recommendations – will help others. She says there are 20 other women in Canada living in similar conditions to her late daughter.
Ashley's troubles, she says, began at the New Brunswick Youth Centre where she ended up after throwing crab apples at a mail carrier. "That's where she started self-injuring," Ms. Smith said. "… She was treated as if it was behavioural and she was segregated for 27 months out of 36 months at the youth centre …"
She was shunted from institution to institution. Her mother said they tried to fight the transfers but were unsuccessful.
"I think she can finally be at peace," Ms. Smith says about her daughter with the "big brown eyes."
"I think we're all at peace. Ashley has been with us all along and I think now she's at peace."