Sunday, April 13, 2008

Part Seventeen: Closing Submissions; Affected Families Blast Former Chief Coroner's continued support of Dr. Charles Smith;



This Blog is currently focussing on the submissions filed by the "Affected Families Group" - a group of families who were directly affected by the systemic failings which occurred in pediatric forensic pathology in Ontario between 1991 and 2001;

The Group is represented by lawyers Peter Wardle (Wardle, Daley, Bernstein) and Julie M. Kirkpatrick;

Today's focus is on a section in which the group argues that former Chief Coroner Dr. James Young continued to support Dr. Smith - even after receiving evidence that raised serious questions as to his competence, veracity, and potential obstruction of justice.

"In fact, as time went on the Chief Coroner's Office learned information about Dr. Smith which should have triggered immediate consequences," the section, under the caption "Following the Discovery of the Hair, Dr. Young Continues to Support Dr. Smith," begins;

"In particular, beginning in November, 2001 Dr. Cairns became involved in the Jenna case, where as a result of Det. Charmley’s reinvestigation the hair was rediscovered," it continues;

"Following Dr. Cairns meeting with Dr. Smith and his wife, he knew that Dr. Smith’s explanation about his discovery of the hair made no sense and was likely false.

Prior to April 10, 2002, Dr. Young was briefed by Dr. Cairns on what he had learned.

He acknowledged in his evidence that this issue raised serious questions.

Those included Dr. Smith’s competence, veracity, and potential obstruction of justice.

And yet, the Chief Coroner's Office took no steps whatsoever as a result of this information (except that of Dr. Cairns notifying the Registrar of the College of Physicians and Surgeons Of Ontario of his concerns).

Dr. Smith continued to sit on the Pediatric Death Review Committee and Death Under 2committees. Furthermore, he continued to be the nominal head of the Ontario Pediatric Forensic Pathology Unit.

As a result, for a lengthy period Dr. Smith continued, at least in theory, to be responsible for the review of autopsy reports of other Hospital for Sick Children pathologists in criminally suspicious child death cases, while at the same time being prevented from doing such autopsies himself!

Further, inexplicably, on April 10, 2002, knowing of the information which had emerged in the Jenna case, Dr. Young wrote a letter of support for Dr. Smith to the College.

That letter is carefully crafted (by Dr. Smith’s counsel!), and does not actually defend the correctness of Dr. Smith’s findings in the three cases under review by the College Complaints Committee.

However, it signals in unambiguous terms that the Chief Coroner of Ontario was supporting his pathologist.

According to the letter:

0: Dr. Smith was “qualified” to undertake the work requested in each case;

0: At no time did Dr. Smith act in bad faith or with the intent of obstructing or hindering the coroner’s investigation in each case;

0: For Nicholas and Amber the conclusions he reached fell within the “range of reasonable expectations”;

0: With respect to Amber, in which Dr. Young was directly involved, he was “completely satisfied” that Dr. Smith’s conclusions met the standard expected;

0: Dr. Young had investigated Mr. Gagnon’s allegations and had not found any professional misconduct, and Dr. Smith’s opinion “fell within a range of acceptable opinions”;

0: Dr. Young was not willing to comment on Dr. Smith’s involvement in Jenna, because of the ongoing criminal investigation.

Dr. Young was unable to explain why he wrote this letter, given the circumstances at the time.

He acknowledged with the benefit of hindsight that the Chief Coroner's Office should have stopped Dr. Smith from doing anything after it found out about his conduct in regard to the hair.

Dr. Young’s failure to act may have had collateral consequences.

As outlined earlier, a few months later Dr. Smith was interviewed by the chair of the panel of assessors appointed by the Complaints Committee.

He gave arguably misleading information about his ongoing work in connection with the Ontario Pediatric Forensic Pathology Unit, which he still at least theoretically headed.

Arguably, had Dr. Smith’s position been taken away in April 2002 the College would have investigated those cases further.

As late as November, 2002 Dr. Young was still supporting Dr. Smith; he wrote a letter on his behalf to the Northumberland Ontario Provincial Police after the traffic stop incident.

When Dr. McLellan became acting chief coroner in July 2002 he did not agree that Dr. Smith should continue as Director of the Ontario Pediatric Forensic Pathology Unit;

Dr. Young refused to take the position away from him, but on Dr. McLellan’s insistence, agreed to assume responsibility for all matters relating to Dr. Smith.

It was only in October 2003, in the context of ongoing concerns about cases which were continuing to receive media attention, and in the context of the decision of Justice Trafford in the Athena case, that Chief Coroner's Office demonstrated any real concerns about Dr. Smith continuing to conduct coroner’s autopsies(although Dr. McLellan had continued to express his concern since his appointment as acting Chief Coroner).

At that time, Dr. Smith was forced to resign from his committee work.

Finally, in April 2004 he was forced to resign as head of the Ontario Pediatric Forensic Pathology Unit after Dr. McLellan became Chief Coroner."