Tuesday, September 30, 2008


A Canadian Press story published earlier today may give some insight into Justicre Stephen Goudge's report to be released at 12.00 noon tomorrow.

The story, by seasoned reporter Colin Perkel, appears under the heading, "Coroners, child forensic pathologist slammed in inquiry report."

"Ontario's former chief coroner James Young and his deputy Jim Cairns will face biting criticism Wednesday when a landmark inquiry reports on a flawed pediatric forensic pathology system that led to several wrongful prosecutions, The Canadian Press has learned," the story begins.

"Dr. Charles Smith, the once highly regarded but now disgraced former chief pediatric forensic pathologist in Ontario, also comes in for “severe” criticism at the hands of Justice Stephen Goudge, a source said," it continues.

"Judge Goudge's 1,000-page report – formally handed to the provincial government Tuesday – contains more than 160 recommendations aimed at preventing similar tragedies.

“The reforms are extensive and are aimed squarely at the accountability and oversight,” the source said.

“He uses individual cases to illustrate his recommendations.”

Those recommendations include setting up a committee to provide oversight of the chief coroner's office, along with ensuring forensic pathologists take better care in how they couch their opinions about wrongdoing.

Judge Goudge also wants to make the short-staffed forensics field more attractive by paying pathologists more money, along with setting up accredited university programs to train them.

Victims of child forensic pathology gone horribly wrong, along with forensic pathologists and those who oversee and regulate their work, will be scrutinizing the findings – and the response to them – closely.

“They're going to be very important to the death-investigation process in the province,” Peter Wardle, lawyer for five families affected by faulty pediatric forensic pathology, said Tuesday.

“It's going to be critical that the government act on those recommendations.”

Inquiry spokesman Peter Rehak said commission lawyers would only comment on Judge Goudge's report after its release. The government also said it would respond publicly Wednesday.

Questions about Dr. Smith's work are what prompted the judicial inquiry.

The provincial coroner's office found evidence of errors in 20 of 45 autopsies he did over a 10-year period starting in the early 1990s. Thirteen resulted in criminal charges.

William Mullins-Johnson, who was among those cases, spent 12 years in prison for the rape and murder of his four-year-old niece, whose death was later attributed to natural causes.

The cases, along with other heart-rending stories of wrongful prosecutions based on Dr. Smith's testimony, also raised a host of issues about the pathology system and the reliance of the courts on expert evidence.

Over months of testimony, the key players – Dr. Young, Dr. Cairns and Dr. Smith himself – offered apologies or shed tears over their roles in the forensics fiasco.

“Sir, I don't expect that you would forgive me,” Dr. Smith said to Mr. Mullins-Johnson, his voice catching and his eyes welling with tears. “I do want to make it very clear to you that I am profoundly sorry for the role that I played.”

The inquiry heard that Dr. Smith's failings included hanging on to crucial evidence, chronic tardiness, and the catastrophic misinterpretation of findings.

In one notorious case, he concluded a mother had stabbed her seven-year-old girl to death when it turned out to have been a dog mauling.

But Dr. Smith, who argued he was poorly trained and woefully ignorant of the workings of the justice system despite his star status, was also a victim of a broader system and woefully inadequate oversight, the report makes clear, the source said.

Under Dr. Young and Dr. Cairns, the coroner's office failed to monitor his work or act on repeated complaints about him, the inquiry heard.

“I was aware of the general concerns but I can't recall specifics,” Dr. Young testified after admitting he did not act on several opportunities to take a serious look at criticism of Dr. Smith.

“None of them stuck with me,” Dr. Young told the inquiry. “I regret it deeply but I can't go back and change history.”

Dr. Young, who took a hands-off approach to his job given demands of other duties, said he was “distant from the office.”

He, too, apologized for causing distress to those who were “wrongfully convicted (or) detained” or were forced to give up a child to the child-welfare authorities.

Similarly, his deputy found himself apologizing for defending Dr. Smith, who had developed a reputation as the country's pre-eminent child forensic pathologist.

No one dared question his work, Dr. Cairns testified.

It was only when the growing scandal threatened to overwhelming the coroner's office – more than a decade after the first alarm bells sounded – did Dr. Smith's bosses act to relieve him of his duties.

The forensics scandal has already prompted the provincial government to create a specialized “child homicide team” of senior prosecutors with expertise in child homicides.

Premier Dalton McGuinty has also promised to consider compensation for Dr. Smith's victims after Judge Goudge's report is made public."

Harold Levy...hlevy15@gmail.com;