Friday, October 10, 2008


Robert Howard's powerful column appeared in the Hamilton spectator on October 3, under the heading: "Monster's acts were allowed."

"Society vests immense power in many of its public institutions -- power that, misused, can become monstrous," Howard's column began.

"Such is the case with a critical part of Ontario's coroner system between 1981 and 2001. Judges and juries made -- and continue to make -- decisions based on the testimony of supposedly impartial experts such as government medical examiners," it continued.

"But, during that time, lives, reputations and relationships were damaged, shattered and destroyed by a monster -- an incompetent and arrogant man who wielded his power in a way since judged to have gone beyond mere unintentional mistakes.

Dr. Charles Smith was the star (and something of an international luminary) of Ontario's office of pediatric forensic pathology -- charged with the post-mortem examination of dead children.

He botched at least 20 child-death examinations, in at least 13 cases helping convict people of criminal offences that never happened.

William Mullins-Johnson served 12 years for a rape and murder that existed only in Smith's mind.

At least two mothers had surviving children taken from them because of Smith's testimony.

Much of the blame lies at Smith's feet: He was untrained, sloppy, negligent and convinced of his own infallibility.

His arrogance drove a self-mandated crusade to not just find but make justice for dead children.

But the comprehensive, scathing report this week by Justice Stephen Goudge makes it crystal clear Smith was permitted to act monstrously -- even after credible warnings -- by chief coroner of the time James Young and his deputy, Jim Cairns.

Goudge's most scathing criticisms were of Smith; the judge refused to accept the disgraced pathologist's claims that none of his mistakes were intentional.

But Goudge took dead-square aim at Young and Cairns, saying they did not merely fail to rein him in, but propped him up and protected him for most of a decade.

A trial judge issued a report ripping Smith's credibility in 1991, but Young said he took Smith's word the judge had recanted.

Young and Cairns sent letters, on separate occasions in 2002, defending Smith; Goudge said they were misleading, improper and exceeded the writers' expertise.
Through two decades, there was virtually no oversight.

The monster was loose, destroying lives, and the men in charge let it happen.

The College of Physicians and Surgeons has begun an investigation of Young and Cairns. That's appropriate.

So would be a police investigation whether criminal negligence charges are warranted.

The province has agreed to Goudge's call for a review of yet more baby-death cases.

It also has to implement new accountability and transparency procedures to restore public and judicial confidence in the vital office. Compensation will be expensive but necessary.

The ripples of Smith's monstrous crusade will last a lifetime.

As a society, we must learn from it so we don't ever see it repeated."