Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Human Failings And Dr. Smith: Good Questions Asked By The Sudbury Star About The Gagnon Case;

Several of this Blog's readers have drawn my attention to a probing editorial that appears in todays's Sudbury Star; (My thanks to them);

It runs under the heading: "Human Failings and Dr. Smith";

"Sudbury Star reporter Denis St. Pierre's exhaustive narrative Friday and Saturday of the nightmare that Lianne Gagnon and her family endured over the death of her 11-month-old son unveiled one astonishing development after another," the editorial begins.

"Just reading about what Gagnon and her family went through was draining. Imagine suffering as they did," it continues.

"There are lessons buried in all this - of oversight, and of human failing.

Dr. Charles Smith's story is now well known. Once an esteemed pediatric child pathologist who vigorously - even belligerently - pursued cases in a manner that was beyond his mandate, he has been thoroughly impugned as an incompetent, under-trained doctor who ignored facts, bullied investigators and lied under oath.

He left a trail of persecuted innocents in his wake, sending some people to jail - a Sault Ste Marie man for 12 years - and subjecting Sudbury's Gagnon family to a dreadful experience.

A panel of outside experts concluded Smith made errors in 20 of 45 criminal investigations into suspicious child deaths from 1991 to 2001.

Gagnon's 11-month-old son Nicholas died in December 1995. She has always maintained he hit his head on a table and stopped breathing shortly thereafter.

The case was reviewed by a pathologist and a coroner and was investigated by the local police, but no charges were laid.

Eighteen months later, in came Smith.

He concluded - incorrectly - that the child had multiple injuries and that Gagnon likely killed her son.

Gagnon, then a 21-year-old Laurentian University student, was subjected to a grueling interrogation by local police, her conversations with intimate friends were eavesdropped twice and her son's body was disinterred.

Despite all this, police concluded after a second six-month investigation that there was no case for criminal charges.

Yet Smith went ahead and contacted the Children's Aid Society, telling officials he was "99-per cent sure" Gagnon killed her son.

The CAS then decided to take custody of Gagnon's second child.

No one can imagine the anguish the Gagnon family went through, dealing with the death of a child and the merciless legal pursuit that followed.

Smith now says he was simply incompetent, tearfully offering apologies to his victims during an inquiry last week.

The police say they were led down the wrong path by a respected pathologist.

But the only real innocent one here is Gagnon.

The lessons involved include the medical community, police and child-welfare authorities. How did Smith, without training in pediatric forensic pathology, achieve virtual star status in that field?

How were his mistakes missed for a decade?

The medical community must become better accustomed to scrutinizing their own.

Even the Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons didn't stop Smith's carnage.

Why were the Sudbury police so quick to ignore the conclusions of the two initial doctors and their own investigation on the presumption that Smith was so much better?

Do they grant anyone else infallibility status? Are the police subject to tunnel vision once they've made up their minds, the characteristic that is known to lead to wrongful convictions?

In Gagnon's case, though no charges were laid, lead investigator Insp. Bob Keetch, who was then a sergeant, testified the police chief at the time, Alex McCauley, was adamant that Gagnon was guilty even after the second investigation resulted in no charges. (McCauley has denied this.)"

These are all good questions;

Kudos to the Sudbury Star - and reporter Denis St. Pierre - for asking them.

See this Blog's series: Interrogation of an innocent mother: Parts one to fourteen; January, 2008.