Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Back in action: Catch-up (5): Tamara Broomfield; Ontario; Conviction and seven year jail sentence for allegedly giving her 2-year-old son a near lethal dose overturned by Ontario Court of Appeal because of the faulty hair drug science that sealed her fate; Trial evidence of prominent Hospital for Sick Children researcher Gideon Koren comes under fire - as does the Motherisk program at the famed hospital of which he is founder and director. Her lawyer, Daniel Brown, says "Everyone should be concerned that faulty science helped convict (her)...Scientific evidence is often complicated and cloaked in a belief that reputable and experienced doctors providing expert evidence in court can’t be wrong,”

PUBLISHER'S NOTE: Six years after Judge Stephen Goudge issued his report into the flawed child death investigations conducted by former Hospital for Sick Children pathologist Charles Smith, the Toronto hospital is under the spotlight once again. This time it's in connection with its Motherisk program - which was set up at the hospital to provide help to conduct research, and provide counselling to mother's on reproductive risk or safety of drugs, chemicals and maternal disease in pregnancy. But a recent Ontario Court of Appeal decision - and the decision of prosecutors not to proceed with a new trial against Tamara Broomfield who had been been convicted of giving her 2-year-old son a near lethal dose of cocaine based on hair analysis conducted by Motherisk raise the possibility that shoddy scientific techniques could have  wrongly sent other women to prison be sending other women to prison or caused the  loss of their children to child welfare authorities.  Whether the Broomfield case was an  exception can only be known after a thorough, independent  investigation is conducted of  all hair drug  tests conducted by Motherisk in child protection and criminal cases. Public confidence in the administration of justice in Ontario - and in the Hospital for Sick Children - is once again at risk. 

Harold Levy. Publisher. The Charles Smith Blog.

STORY: "'Crack mom' conviction tossed out. Prominent Toronto doctor's findings tossed after challenge by expert," by reporters Rachel Mendleson and Marci Chown Oved, published by the Toronto Star on November 1, 2014.

GIST: "When Tamara Broomfield was convicted in 2009 of giving her 2-year-old son, Malique, a near lethal dose of cocaine, she was branded Toronto’s “crack mom.” Based largely on evidence presented by a prominent Toronto toxicologist, the judge found that, for more than a year, Broomfield had regularly fed her baby doses equivalent to those recorded in adult addicts. She was sentenced to seven years in jail. Malique, who had a heart attack and almost died from a cocaine overdose in 2005, suffered permanent brain damage and behavioural problems.
In October, the court of appeal overturned the cocaine convictions after fresh evidence cast doubt on the science that all but sealed Broomfield’s fate. Gideon Koren, founder and director of the Motherisk program at the Hospital for Sick Children, delivered the findings that are now in question. Toronto criminal defence lawyer Daniel Brown, who tried to get the trial judge to reopen Broomfield’s case in 2010 to re-examine the medical evidence, said “everyone should be concerned that faulty science helped convict (her).” “Scientific evidence is often complicated and cloaked in a belief that reputable and experienced doctors providing expert evidence in court can’t be wrong,” he said. “The public too easily accepts these experts at face value. As the Broomfield case shows, this can result in a miscarriage of justice when the science underlying the opinion is faulty.”........Broomfield was released on bail last year after the Crown cross-examined the expert witness who cast doubt on Koren’s findings. Craig Chatterton, deputy chief toxicologist in the office of the chief medical examiner in Edmonton, challenged the methods used to prepare Malique’s hair sample that Motherisk analyzed as well as the methodology used to analyze it. Chatterton also questioned “the validity of the results as given in evidence at trial,” the appeal court decision states. In a 2012 report filed in court, Chatterton wrote, “It is not possible to determine whether Malique Broomfield had ingested (or been exposed to) cocaine over an extended time period, based on the results of the immunoassay analysis conducted by Motherisk Laboratory.”......... Although the court of appeal ordered that the Crown make Koren available for cross-examination, the Crown instead agreed that Chatterton’s findings should be admitted as fresh evidence and that the cocaine convictions should be quashed.".........About a week after the apparent cocaine overdose, a sample of Malique’s hair was analyzed by Koren and his team at Motherisk, which he said found “extremely high” levels of cocaine and its byproduct. In December 2005, Motherisk did a segmented analysis of Malique’s hair, which Koren said showed chronic exposure to cocaine each month for 15 months in levels that, for an adult, would indicate “a very severe addiction and drug dependence,” the court documents state. The highest levels of cocaine were recorded in early 2005. However, as the appeal court observed in its decision, the question of whether Malique showed “any behavioural signs consistent with chronic exposure to significant amounts of cocaine” before the overdose was “a live controversy” at trial. At trial, the defence argued that because Motherisk’s tests consumed the entire hair sample, there was no chance for an independent assessment, but Justice Tamarin Dunnet was not swayed. “Dr. Koren’s evidence was vigorously challenged and on occasion, his demeanour was abrupt and defensive,” Dunnet wrote in her decision. “Nevertheless, the salient points were unshaken on cross-examination. His evidence was credible and compelling.” In his response to Chatterton’s evidence, Koren defended his findings, which he said have been accepted by experts in the field and a leading scientific pediatric journal. “Acute, one time exposure to cocaine, cannot explain the hair test results,” he wrote in a 2013 letter filed in court. “All evidence indicate at very high medical probability that the toddler was exposed to cocaine chronically as part of an extreme case of chronic abuse and neglect.”.........In 2003, Koren was reprimanded and fined $2,500 by the Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons for writing anonymous, harassing letters to colleagues during a heated fight over research by another doctor. A panel described his actions as “childish, vindictive and dishonest.” “Ironically for this accomplished research scientist, it was only when confronted with irrefutable scientific evidence of his guilt did he admit that he was the perpetrator,” the panel found.........Koren’s resumé in the court file is 147 pages long. According to the SickKids website, he has trained pediatricians from more than 40 countries and published over 1,400 peer-reviewed papers in the area of pediatric pharmacology.
The entire story can be found at:


See also The Toronto Star article on lawyers concerns over the reliability of Motherisk drug testing at Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children:  "Toronto lawyers who regularly handle child protection cases involving hair-strand analysis from the Hospital for Sick Children say more information is needed about the reliability of the testing after a court of appeal tossed the 2009 cocaine convictions of a Toronto mother. Lawyer Tammy Law said the Motherisk program at Sick Kids is the go-to place for hair-strand analysis in family law cases where drug use is in question. She wants “to be reassured” the laboratory’s testing can be trusted, she said. “The stakes are so high,” said Law. “To potentially lose your kid, for fairness’ sake, it has to be accurate … You have to have faith in the result. If we don’t believe it, we have a huge problem.”
Sick Kids did not respond to a request on Tuesday for a comprehensive list of cases that have relied on the type of hair-sample analysis performed in the case of Toronto mother Tamara Broomfield, or say whether Motherisk is still using this technique. Motherisk’s hair-strand drug tests are routinely submitted as evidence in courts across the province “almost without question,” according to Anthony Macri, a former lawyer for the Children’s Aid Society of Toronto who now runs a family law firm. In the face of the appeal court decision, Macri said it is “incumbent” on the government to determine the “standard of reliability.
“It shouldn’t just be a question floating in the air. It shouldn’t just be up to lawyers like me to challenge it in every court for the next 20 years,” he said. “The government needs to get ahead of this ball.” Several Toronto criminal defence lawyers are calling for a review of the cases that relied on Motherisk’s hair-strand analysis. The concerns come after fresh scientific evidence prompted a court of appeal to overturn Broomfield’s 2009 cocaine convictions for giving her 2-year-old son, Malique, a near-lethal dose of the drug in 2005."



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The Toronto Star, my previous employer for more than twenty incredible years, has put considerable effort into exposing the harm caused by Dr. Charles Smith and his protectors - and into pushing for reform of Ontario's forensic pediatric pathology system. The Star has a "topic" section which focuses on recent stories related to Dr. Charles Smith. It can be found at:


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Harold Levy: Publisher; The Charles Smith Blog;