Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Goudge Inquiry: Would You Call This "Appropriate Objectivity?"

Earlier this week, Inquiry lawyer Mark Sandler asked former Chief Coroner Dr. James Young if he believed the Chief Coroner's office had showed "appropriate objectivity" when evaluating the information coming forth about Dr. Charles Smith.

Sandler then rephrased his question to ask if, given the state of Dr. Young's current knowledge, "the Office failed to see the alarm bells or red flags concerning Dr. Smith because it was so invested with Dr. Smith and the work that he was doing with the Coroner's Office?"

Dr. Young took umbrage with this suggestion and responded by pointing the finger at unnamed defence lawyers, police officers and crown attorneys who, he alleged, had failed to provide him with feedback about Smith from the courts.

Young particularly singled out the defence bar, saying: "We weren't hearing from the Defence Bar," Young said. "The Defence Bar were planning an ambush in a different way and that's fine...But you know, we weren't getting phone calls saying we want a review of Charles Smith; it didn't happen."

Earlier this week Dr Young testified that he found Smith's attitude at several meetings held to discuss his future in 2002, because, "at this point in time, he was -- had a reason for everything and the reason was always someone else not doing
something, or letting -- letting him down, or not."

With respect, in this Blogster's humble view, by blaming unnamed crown attorneys, police officers, and defence lawyers, for his failure to remove Dr. Smith from performing medico-legal autopsies at a much earlier time, Dr, Young was playing the same diversion game.

Indeed, the Inquiry heard evidence that as Dr. Smith was the subject of national television and print attention and a detailed complaint submitted to him - which he acknowledges that he read (except for passages which, without reading, he felt he should not have read) - back in 1991;

The alarm bells don't get much louder then that.

The reality is that if the Chief Coroner's office had not given Dr. Smith "carte blanche" over two decades - it would not have been necessary for his successor, Dr. Barry McLellan to order the independent review of forty-one of those cases with its disturbing results.

To accuse defence lawyers of creating an ambush - presumably by attempting to defend clients like Bill Mullins-Johnson, Brenda Waudby and Sharon's mother who were wrongfully accused of murder because of Dr. Smith's opinions - is a particularly low blow.

There was no financial gain to be had in defending Dr. Smith's victims who were mainly poor and marginalized - and had nowhere near the resources of the state that was prosecuting him with their infallible expert witness

To blame prosecutors who were desperately waiting for Dr. Smith's reports - because no one in the Chief Coroner's office was ensuring that he deliver them on time - is equally unfair.

Police officers can rightfully be disturbed by Dr. Young's allegation that they were somehow at fault; They relied on the Chief Coroner's Office to supervise Dr. Smith and were terribly let down.

The evidence called at the Inquiry to date convinces me that the Office of the Chief Coroner was so much in the grip of Dr. Smith that it took a hands off attitude in spite of a litany of long overdue reports that had to be subpoenaed, failure to respond to phone calls from police officers and prosecutors, loss of key forensic exhibits and worrisome court decisions.

Is that what you would call "appropriate objectivity"?

Harold Levy; hlevy15@gmail.com;