Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Smith Accused Of "Uncivilized" Conduct For Bringing 11-Year-Old Son to Exhumation Of 11-Month-Old Baby Boy;



On June 25, 1997, Dr. Charles Smith brought his 11-year-old son to the exhumation of Maurice Gagnon's 11-month-old grandson Nicholas who had died suddenly about nineteen months earlier after bumping his head while playing under a table.

This behaviour understandably disturbed Gagnon, who filed a complaint against Smith with the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario.

The letter, dated October 5, 1999, reads as follows:

Dear Sir/Madam.

I wish to register a complaint against one Dr. Charles Randal Smith for conduct unbecoming a civilized human being, let alone a member of the medical profession.

Dr. Smith is the Director of the Ontario Pediatric Pathology Unit located at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto.

He is also a member of the Pediatric Review Committee of the Office of the Chief Coroner.

My grandson, Nicholas Gagnon, my daughter's only child, died suddenly on November 30, 1995,

On the recommendation of Dr. Smith, and under an order signed by the Attorney General of Ontario, Nicholas was disinterred on June 25, 1997.

We had been assured that the disinterment would occur at daybreak, between 5.30 and 6.30 a.m., to avoid curiosity seekers and to minimize the impact on the family.

However, to accommodate Dr. Smith, the disinterment took place at high noon, in the presence of on-lookers and the child's grieving mother.

Had protocol been followed, my daughter would have been spared this devastation.

In what I can only assume to be unprecedented in the annals of civility, Dr. Smith brought his young son to the grave site to witness the exhumation, no doubt for the boy's entertainment.

Not only did Dr. Smith, the man responsible for the disinterment, trivialize the desecration of our baby's grave, he contemptuously mocked my daughter and the memory of her son, by flaunting his "live" son while cavalierly digging up her "dead" son.

What manner of a man can be so callous, so cruel, so oblivious to the consequences of his actions?

At the very least, my daughter, this family, are deserving of an apology for such an insensitive display by this member of the medical profession...Thank you for your consideration...

The College refused to deal with Gagnon's complaint saying that it did not have jurisdiction over a physician acting under the authority of the Coroner's Act - a legal position later rejected by Ontario's Health Professions Review Board. (See earlier posting:...)

The College did, however, forward the letter to Chief Coroner Dr. James Young, who explained in a letter to Gagnon dated March 9, 1999, (five months after Gagnon forwarded his complaint to the College) that, "Dr. Smith drive to Sudbury on the evening of the 24th of June leaving home after 9.00 p.m."

"His wife was concerned that he may fall asleep at the wheel because he had worked a long day and arranged that his 11-year-old son would accompany him to lessen the possibility of that happening."

Young also explained that the delay in commencement of the exhumation was caused because of the late arrival of Regional Coroner "and had nothing to do with Dr. Smith at all..."

"It is the policy of the Office of the Chief Coroner that only authorized personnel attend a disinterment and it was not appropriate for Dr. Smith's son to be there," Young continued.

"He could have either stayed at the police station or in Dr. Smith's car."

Young went on to indicate that, "Dr. Smith has been appraised of our concerns and is sorry if any of his actions offended your family.

It was certainly not his intention to be insensitive or to offend anyone's feelings.

Dr. (Jim) Cairns (Deputy Chief Coroner) has indicated to me that during a telephone conversation with him that you indicated an apology would resolve this matter.

The office of the Chief Coroner apologizes for any pain or anguish that Dr. Smith's son's presence at the disinterment may have caused your family.

Dr. Smith has expressed his regrets to me and is sorry for any of his actions which contributed to the misunderstanding of the events.

I will ensure that this does not happen again in the future....I hope this letter resolves this issue to your satisfaction...

There is no question that the Chief Coroner gave Mr. Gagnon exactly what he had sought on behalf of his daughter and his family - an apology.

I am, however, puzzled by the reference to a "misunderstanding" as Young clearly acknowledges that Smith's son was present at the exhumation.

And I am deeply concerned with the bizarre incident said about Dr. Smith's judgment and his character.

The exhumation of a child is an extremely personal and distressing matter to the family - especially in the circumstances where Nicholas had been resting for so long.

If anyone should have known this it was Doctor Charles Smith.

And what about Smith's son?

As Dr Young noted, Smith had alternatives: He could have left his son at the police station or in his car;

Surely any father would have to think about what kind of effect the digging up of the remains of a baby in the mournful setting of the cemetary would have on his young son.

I can't understand this incident would not have sent alarm bells about Smith ringing through the corridors of the Chief Coroner's office.

Harold Levy;