"YOU KNOW --YOU KNOW, IF YOU SENT ME A LETTER AND ASKED ME TO DO SOMETHING AND THE LETTER WAS SATISFACTORY, I'D PROBABLY EVEN SIGN OFF ON ONE OF YOUR LETTERS;"
FORMER CHIEF CORONER DR. JAMES YOUNG TO INQUIRY LAWYER MARK SANDLER;
On Friday, the Goudge Inquiry was rocked by another stunning disclosure.
Dr. James Young, the former Chief Coroner, acknowledged that he had sent a letter drafted by Dr. Charles Smith's lawyers (McCarthy Tetrault) in support of Dr. Smith to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario.
The College was investigating three complaints against Dr. Smith at the time - connection with the Jenna, Nicholas and Amber cases.
Dr. Young sent the letter drafted by Smith's lawyers to the College's chief investigator on April 10, 2002 - without changing a single word.
The letter contained a line which read, "To the best of my knowledge, at no time time did Dr. Smith act in bad faith or with the intent to obstruct or hinder these coroner's investigations."
However, Dr. Young had previously testified that he had been informed by Deputy Chief Coroner, Dr. James Cairns, that Smith had retained in his possession a hair found in the area of Baby Jenna's vulva - and that he had the hair, which pointed to the fact that Jenna may have been sexually assaulted, with him when testifying at Jenna's mother's preliminary hearing;
Dr. Young had told the Inquiry: "Well, he (Dr. Cairns) told me about the existence of the hair that -- that Dr. Smith had told him that the hair had been taken; that the hair had been offered to a police officer, and that the police officer had refused to take it as an exhibit; that he had held onto the hair; that at one (1) point he had even gone to court with it in his pocket, and no one had asked him anything about it. He'd taken it home, and for some reason he was choosing to disclose the existence of the hair at this point in time."
Pressed by Commission lawyer Mark Sandler as to whether Young considered that it was "appropriate" for him to state that to the best of his knowledge Dr. Smith had not at any time acted in bad faith or with intent to hinder or obstruct, Doctor Young responded that he had not sufficiently "parsed" the draft letter.
The following examination ensued:
Did you feel it appropriate to adopt the
letter that had been provided to you in this form without
having parsed so very carefully what it was that -- that
was being said, especially when you knew that the College
would be placing reliance upon this?
DR. JAMES YOUNG: I -- I read the letter,
it didn't -- nothing struck me as being beyond -- what I
should say, I -- in retrospect I completely agree with
That statement is -- should have caught my
attention, didn't catch my attention. The fact I signed
it, I -- I read it, I -- what I read I -- I accepted and
I -- I sent it. I...
Dr. Young also explained that he didn't have enough time to parse every word pf the letter drafter by McCarthy's because," I -- you know, a letter
like this I look at, I consider it, I think about it, but
I -- I don't have the -- the leisure to -- to parse every
word or to think through to that depth."
"I -- I looked at it, it was asking me to
do something that seemed reasonable at the time, and I
did it. And I -- I missed that one reference, but I -- I
-- you know, if I thought there was a problem, I wouldn't
have signed it," he said.
Young also agreed with Sandler that the law firm had made it clear that he was free to make any changes in the letter, to edit it, and to state his opinions as he believed them to be.
Asked point blank by Sandler whether, from his perspective as Chief Coroner, he had any concerns "about simply adopting the letter that had been provided by McCarthy's and submitting it to the College of Physicians and Surgeons?", Young had this to say:
"No, I don't think it -- the letter, when I read it, covered the issues. It -- I
had no particular problem with the letter. I -- you know, I didn't take the time to -- to rewrite it. You know -- you know, if you sent me a letter and asked me to do something and the letter was satisfactory, I'd
probably even sign off on one of your letters."
Let's pause here.
We are not talking about the omission of a shade or a nuance that is a tiny, relatively unimportant part of the narrative.
We are talking about a dark, curly, male-type public hair which was found in two and a half-year old Baby Jenna's vulva area - a hair which has taken on more and more importance as the inquiry progresses.
We learned from a document contained in an "Overview Report" - reported earlier on this Blog - that Peterborough police were talking about laying criminal charges against Dr. Smith, presumably in connection with his retention of the hair - which was only found after the murder charge against Brenda Waudby, Jenna's mother, had been withdrawn.
It was ultimately retrieved by police from Smith's office at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto.
Waudby protested strenuously from the outset that Jenna had been murdered by J.D., the teenage babysitter had murdered her child - to no avail.
Had Smith disclosed the existence of the hair - instead of concealing it from the police, the police would have conducted a sexual assault investigation from the outset, and so many years would not have passed before J.D. was ultimately arrested and pleaded guilty to manslaughter in Jenna's death.
Smith himself had admitted to Dr. Cairns - and Dr. Cairns reported to Dr. Young - that he had the hair with him in his pocket when he was testifying for the prosecution against Waudby at her preliminary hearing.
This raises questions as to whether he may have perjured himself in connection with his testimony at the time that suggested he was unaware of the existence of the hair.
That hair could have exonerated Brenda Waudby.
Even if his account was true - that the police officer refused to take it - he would have been obligated to pursue this with the police department or the Chief Coroner's office.
If the police wouldn't accept it - as he told the College of Physicians and Surgeons, why didn't he submit it to the forensic laboratory for testing?
So many questions which raise disturbing concerns about Dr. Smith's credibility, competence and integrity.
All of this makes me wonder why Dr. Young would have sent any letter to the College supporting Dr. Smith - who was not even his employee - let alone a letter which said, "To the best of my knowledge, at no time time did Dr. Smith act in bad faith or with the intent to obstruct or hinder these coroner's investigations."
It also makes me wonder why, armed with this disturbing knowledge, Dr. Young would have not immediately removed Dr. Smith from the roster for performing autopsies in criminal cases - and from his positions on the province's pediatric death review committees.
I am also intrigued by Dr. Young's explanation that he was unaware that the above line, which he says he now deeply regrets, because he did not sufficiently "parse" the letter drafted for him by Smith's lawyers.
Dr. Young has been questioned in depth about his evidence that he was unaware of a 1991 decision by Judge Patrick Dunn in a Timmins case - where Dunn raised grave doubts about Smith's objectivity.
Commissioner Goudge heard evidence that the Dunn decision had been discussed in a nationally broadcast TV documentary, and a feature article in MacLeans, and a complaint submitted to him by Maurice Gagnon, Nicholas' grandfather.
Dr. Young testified that he was unaware of either the documentary or the MacLean's story - saying there was no system in the Coroner's office for monitoring the media and keeping on top of developments in criminal cases.
Young acknowledged in his testimony that he informed Mr. Gagnon in writing that, "I had read the complaint and considered the complaint."
But he went on to say, "I have absolutely no memory of having read
this part, and I suspect strongly that the reason is that
I probably didn't read that part."
"And the reason that I wouldn't read that
part, I -- I believe, is that a complaint about a coroner
is a complaint about a particular case," Young continued.
. "It's not a complaint that you can start quoting all kinds of other
cases. We've -- we've had many, many experiences."
I will leave it up to thee reader's of the Charles Smith Blog to determine the reasonableness of Dr. Young's explanations of the failure to notice important key portions of documents in both situations referred to above.
Lastly, some systemic issues.
Although Commissioner Goudge is not permitted to find fault, some very serious systemic issues are raised by Dr. Young's forwarding the letter drafted by Dr. Smith's lawyers to College's Chief Investigator;
Here are just a few of them:
Was it proper for Dr. Young, as Chief Coroner, to send any letter on behalf of Dr. Smith to the College in relation to the three complaints - especially since the three complainants would have no way of replying to them, and he was receiving similar complaints in his capacity as chief coroner?
Was there a risk that the College might have been influenced by the fact that the weight of the Coroner's office was being brought in support of Dr. Smith?
Did the very fact that Dr. Young would send such a letter to the College suggest he felt there was a cosy relationship between the two institutions - rather than clearly demarcated lines of independence from each other?
We know now that Dr. Young played an active role behind the scenes in contesting the College's jurisdiction to hear complaints and Coroner's and Pathologists; Was this appropriate for the province's chief coroner?
More grist for Commissioner Goudge's mill.
Harold Levy; firstname.lastname@example.org;
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