Friday, September 5, 2008




Maurice Gagnon views expectations of the Goudge Inquiry deserve the utmost respect.

The ordeal of the Gagnon family at the hands of Dr. Charles Smith, The Chief Coroner's Office, and the Sudbury Police Service was addressed in a series on this Blog which appeared daily under the heading "Interrogation Of An Innocent Mother" between Jan. 7, 2008 and Jan. 14 2008.

Maurice Gagnon spent years at enormous personal and financial cost trying to convince government officials and bureaucrats to examine Smith and the harm that he was causing to his family and others - his pleas falling sadly on deaf ears.

But he never gave up - and the ultimate calling of the Goudge Inquiry by the Ontario Government is a tribute to his insistence.

His expectations are set out in an article by reporter Denis St. Pierre which ran in Thursday's Sudbury Star under the heading "Must never happen again: family; Report on disgraced pathologist due Oct. 1."

"Never again should an Ontario parent or caregiver be criminally prosecuted for child abuse solely on the evidence of a so-called medical expert, Sudbury's Maurice Gagnon says," the story begins;

"Gagnon and his family hope a judge from the province's highest court will make such a recommendation to the Ontario government in four weeks' time.

On Oct. 1, Justice Stephen Goudge of the Ontario Court of Appeal will release his final report from a public inquiry into the province's system of pediatric forensic pathology. The Goudge inquiry began in April 2007 and was triggered by numerous cases mishandled by disgraced pathologist Dr. Charles Smith.

Prior to the inquiry's launch, the provincial coroner's office found evidence of errors in 20 of 45 autopsies performed by Smith over a 10- year period. Thirteen of those cases resulted in criminal charges. Meanwhile, an internal review is continuing into Smith's earlier cases from 1981 to 1991.

The Goudge inquiry's mandate was to conduct a systemic review and assessment of policies, procedures, practices, accountability, oversight and other issues related to pediatric forensic pathology and its use in investigations and criminal proceedings from 1981 to 2001. The Liberal government directed the commissioner to make recommendations to address systemic failings and enhance public confidence in pediatric forensic pathology.

It was the faulty conclusions of Dr. Charles Smith that prompted police and child-welfare authorities to take action against Maurice Gagnon's daughter, Lianne, in 1997.

Contradicting other medical experts, Smith wrongly concluded in 1997 that the 1995 death of Lianne's 11-month-old son was the result of foul play, with the mother the likely suspect.

As in other cases mishandled by Smith, the pathologist's erroneous opinions led to a police investigation, accusations of murder and intervention of the Children's Aid Society. After months of fighting back by the Gagnon family, Smith's conclusions were discredited and the criminal investigation against Lianne was dropped.

Ultimately, the relentless crusade by Maurice Gagnon not only exonerated his daughter, it also helped expose Smith's catastrophic failings in other cases where caregivers were unjustly accused, even convicted and imprisoned.

Ideally, Gagnon said Wednesday, one of the commissioner's recommendations on Oct. 1 will aim to prevent more wrongful prosecutions based strictly on such evidence, Maurice Gagnon says.

"I don't know if (Goudge) will have the will to put it in there, but what I would like to see is that no one can be prosecuted on one expert's opinion alone, as the only piece of evidence," he said.

That's what Smith was doing. The only thing they had in those cases was his opinion -- nothing to support that opinion -- and the Crown would go ahead with a prosecution. So I'm hoping (Goudge) recommends that, if that's all you've got you can't prosecute; you've got to have some corroborating evidence."

Gagnon said he also would like the report to recommend that child welfare authorities avoid relying solely on such opinions in taking action against caregivers.

"I think the Children's Aid Society should fall under the same kind of guidelines, so if that's all you've got -- somebody's opinion -- that's not enough to go after somebody. You have to look into it a little more than that."

Gagnon said his family, which sat through part of the inquiry hearings in Toronto, also would like to see the commissioner voice an opinion, if not pass judgment, on the attitudes and veracity of some key witnesses, such as Smith and two of the province's former chief coroners who worked with Smith.

"It would be nice if the commissioner said something about that," he said. "I'm not sure how far he can go in making statements, but those are things I'd like for him to comment on."

Once the report is released, Gagnon added, the province's attorney general "should pursue criminal charges against Smith, or at least look at the possibility of doing that."

In April, of this year, Justice Goudge recommended the provincial government set up a process of compensation for victims of Smith's faulty work, as well as widen its review of child-death cases.

Premier Dalton McGuinty has said he would wait for the Goudge report before considering any expansion of the review into child deaths.

As for compensation for victims -- many of whom already have launched civil lawsuits against the province -- Gagnon said he expects the government will be willing to reach out-of-court settlements.

"We're hoping the government, since they've owned up to their responsibility in this thing already, that they will make offers rather than making us go through the courts and go through this stuff all over again," he said. "But I really don't think they'll force this into the courts."

Wishful thinking?