Saturday, October 21, 2017

Motherisk: Toronto Star/CBC Collaboration: The Current: Anna Maria Tremonti: Full transcript; Motherisk investigation reveals concerns over 'unreliable tests long before lab shut down."..."JOHN CHIPMAN: We’re working on a story about Motherisk. VOICE 1: Sorry, I’ve got no comment. SUSAN ORMISTON: No comment from a former lab manager of the Motherisk Lab. Motherisk operated out of Toronto's prestigious Hospital for Sick Children. And it had an important job to do, analyze hair samples to help child protection workers know whether parents had been abusing alcohol and drugs. It was a powerful tool but not in the end a reliable one. Its tests were determined by a judge to be inadequate but not before some mothers and fathers had their children permanently taken away."

PUBLISHER'S NOTE: The Current,  a  national news and current  affairs show broadcast on CBC Radio One hosted by Anna Maria Tremonti  represents the best of CBC investigative journalism. Its  hard-hitting episodes are deep, probing and informative. The CBC played an important role over the years in the reporting of former doctor Charles Smith - the namesake of this Blog - particularly a  2008 "Fifth Estate" television  exposé called 'Diagnosis Murder.'  Investigative journalist and documentarian  John Chipman is an ideal choice  for the Current  story. He is the author of "Death in the family" - a moving portrayal of several of Charles Smith's victims - and by extension, victims of  The Hospital for Sick Children, which helped cover up his Smith's, failed to learn from the experience, and therefore enabled  the tainted  Motherisk lab to flourish within its walls.

Harold Levy: Publisher; The Charles Smith Blog.


STORY:  Motherisk investigation reveals concerns over 'unreliable tests long before lab shut down,"with Anna Maria Tremonti, broadcast on 'The Current' on October 20, 2017. Listen Live

The Current
Full Episode for October 20, 2017 - The Current

00:00 01:08:42


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[Sound: door knock]
JOHN CHIPMAN: Hi my name is John Chipman, I’m a journalist with CBC.
VOICE 1: Yes.
JOHN CHIPMAN: We’re working on a story about Motherisk.
VOICE 1: Sorry, I’ve got no comment.
SUSAN ORMISTON: No comment from a former lab manager of the Motherisk Lab. Motherisk operated out of Toronto's prestigious Hospital for Sick Children. And it had an important job to do, analyze hair samples to help child protection workers know whether parents had been abusing alcohol and drugs. It was a powerful tool but not in the end a reliable one. Its tests were determined by a judge to be inadequate but not before some mothers and fathers had their children permanently taken away.
VOICE 1: I was now tagged I'm a cocaine addict. [chuckles] I'm on drugs. I'm a big druggie and I'm a liar and you can't shake that. There was no other test that I could take that would make anyone listen.
SO: The painful human toll of unreliable Motherisk Lab results. A special investigation tainted tests broken families in a moment. And then, it's now the law of the land in Quebec, Bill 62 bans facial coverings for anyone giving or receiving public services in the province. How do Quebec’s Muslim women feel about that?
WOMAN 1: Why is it that every few days they raise this issue? Either it’s the hijab or it’s the niqab or it’s the burkini or the burqa.
SO: We’ll convene a panel of Muslim women from Quebec to discuss the new law. And some of what they have to say may surprise you. That's in an hour. I'm Susan Ormiston and this is the Friday edition of The Current.
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Motherisk investigation reveals concerns over 'unreliable' tests long before lab shut down

Guest: John Chipman

The Current
Motherisk investigation reveals concerns over 'unreliable' tests long before lab shut down

00:00 38:26

SUSAN ORMISTON: When we think of wrongful convictions, we tend to measure the injustice in terms of the number of years lost behind bars. Romeo Fillion, 31 years. David Milgaard, 22 years. Tammy Markert, 12 years.
JOHN CHIPMAN: It’s right there in the name wrongful conviction. Incarceration equals injustice. You need a conviction for it to be wrongful.
SO: That's The Current’s producer John Chipman. Hi.
SO: So you've been investigating an entirely different kind of injustice that doesn't involve jail time or even a conviction?
JOHN CHIPMAN: That's right, but for the people involved it can be just as devastating. And I should say that this has been a joint investigation involving CBC TV’s The Fifth Estate and the Toronto Star that we're calling tainted tests, broken families. We've been looking at child protection cases.
SO: Now those are governed by family courts not criminal courts.
JOHN CHIPMAN: That's right. Our team was looking specifically at drug tests used in child protection cases done by one specific lab. It was called Motherisk and it was located at Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children. Now it turned out that Motherisk’s hair strand drug testing wasn't up to the legal standards it was supposed to be.
VOICE 1: They need to be right. They don't need to be right just in criminal law, they need to be right in family law. And a lot of people did not see family law as forensic work. They just oh well if it's probably so then fair enough. Well that isn't good enough. Losing your child is the capital punishment of child protection law. You need to have these test results done right.
JOHN CHIPMAN: That was retired Justice Susan Lang. In 2014, the Ontario government asked her to do an independent review of Motherisk and she found a raft of problems with how it was conducting its hair testing.
SUSAN LANG: They were totally inadequate and unreliable. They were used for purposes that they were never designed to be used. And there is no question that parents lost their children and children lost their parents.
SO: Children were taken from their parents because of faulty drug tests?
JOHN CHIPMAN: Yes, but there are often other factors the court would consider. And that's not to say that drugs hadn't been a part of parents lives. Often they were. But one important question is whether parents stopped using them. Take Heather, that's not her real name. The courts prohibit naming anyone involved in a child protection hearing. In 2006, Heather was a single mother in a small Ontario town. She was working multiple jobs to raise two sons. She was in a volatile sometimes violent relationship but she was getting by. That is until she got hurt at work.
HEATHER: It was a bad relationship and financially I was kind of in a bad spot. I was falling behind on my bills and stuff. I was on workmen's compensation, I was injured at work, and they cut my payments back so I was broke. [chuckles] I was broke. And I couldn't get social assistance. I was asking for help and there was really, I had nowhere to turn at that point.
JOHN CHIPMAN: That’s September in 2006, Heather she fainted while driving her boyfriend to work one morning and was rushed to hospital. Tests there revealed two things. First, she was pregnant. And the second, a blood test came back positive for what's called a cocaine metabolite, a byproduct of the drug that showed she had been taking it recently.
SO: So does that mean that she was doing cocaine when she was pregnant?
JOHN CHIPMAN: Yes it does. Now she didn't know she was pregnant but she had done cocaine four days earlier. It was at a party, she hadn’t been looking after her other children at the time. And Heather says as soon as she found out she was pregnant she immediately quit doing drugs. She didn't drink, she didn't smoke, she didn't do anything.
HEATHER: I was not using cocaine. People are going to say well you've used drugs before, and I have. Yes, I've done a lot of things. I've lived a full life. Was I doing those things with my kids? No absolutely not.
SO: OK. But that is sometimes hard to prove. So would she have admitted it if she had continued to use?
JOHN CHIPMAN: You're right, it is very hard to prove. Many parents probably wouldn't admit to something like that. And that's where the drug testing comes in. Phyllis Lovell is a supervisor with the Children's Aid Society in Ontario, not from the region where Heather lives, she never worked on her case. But Lovell says drug testing and specifically hair testing by Motherisk was a very useful tool for child protection workers.
PHYLLIS LOVELL: Looking at adult behaviours, looking at impact on children is a subjective assessment at best. The opportunity through a clinic like Motherisk to have science help us had tremendous appeal. The idea of matching science with human judgment with professional assessment had enormous appeal.
SO: It must be a tough job to really know when kids are in need of protection. So what kind of drug tests were child protection workers relying on?
JOHN CHIPMAN: Sometimes they were blood, sometimes they were hair, sometimes urine. In Heather's case, she did regular random urine tests throughout her pregnancy which all came back clean. But when her daughter Holly, which is also not her real name, when she was born in early 2007 she was still seized at the hospital.
SO: And why was that if Heather's urine tests were coming up clean?
JOHN CHIPMAN: Well, court documents state that the child was apprehended because Heather wouldn't sign a temporary care agreement. Her caseworker wanted the baby in foster care so Heather could go into drug treatment. Heather wouldn't sign the agreement so CAS seized the child.
SO: So why would her caseworker want her to go for drug treatment?
JOHN CHIPMAN: I'm not sure, the Children's Aid Society or CAS that handled Heather's case wouldn't answer our questions citing privacy concerns. Now Heather was living in a women's shelter when she gave birth. Her two sons were living with other family members. So officials they wanted to make sure that she could secure a proper housing. But her purported drug use was also a concern.
SO: And why weren't the urine tests enough?
JOHN CHIPMAN: Well urine tests are not irrefutable. Cocaine only remains in urine for three to four days after use. These were random tests but CAS was likely worried that Heather could be hiding drugs if she continued to use. So her caseworker turned to hair strand drug test, which is how Motherisk got involved.
SO: Testing for drugs in her hair.
JOHN CHIPMAN: That was Motherisk’s drug testing specialty. The lab was founded by a toxicologist named Dr. Gideon Koren in 1985. At that time it was a research lab and resource centre for doctors and mothers interested in drug safety during pregnancy. But by the early 1990s the lab had also moved into hair testing. Now Motherisk argued that hair tests were more reliable than urine or blood screens because drugs stay in your hair much longer, which makes the test harder to manipulate. In Heather's case, Motherisk tested Holly's hair at birth as well as her stool. Both came back clean.
SO: So Motherisk’s results were supporting Heather's claims that she had stopped using.
JOHN CHIPMAN: Yes but those results weren't the end of Heather's hair testing. And every single subsequent hair test she did came back positive for cocaine.
HEATHER: I was now tagged I'm a cocaine addict. [chuckles] I'm on drugs. I'm a big druggie and I'm a liar, a liar and a drug addict. And you can't shake that.
SO: So what did she do?
JOHN CHIPMAN: Heather was at a loss. I mean, she strenuously maintained that she wasn't using anymore. She continued doing urine screens and they continued to come back negative. But those results were now being trumped by these positive hair drug tests. And after the third one CAS amended its protection application for Holley. The agency was now seeking crown wardship so she could be adopted.
HEATHER: You're fighting a losing battle and there's nothing you can do. Now I’m going to cry. Sorry. [sniffling] It would have been easier if I were an actual drug addict and then I could have quit. But when you've got a false test there was nothing I could do. There was no other test that I could take that would make anyone listen.
JOHN CHIPMAN: And the stakes kept rising. In the spring of 2008, Heather gave birth to another baby girl who we’ll call Grace. She too was apprehended at the hospital. Heather was given a single day with her newborn before they took her away.
HEATHER: One day and then she went to NICKU, [crying] because children, newborns that are taken away from their mothers don't do well. She had to stay in the hospital a little bit longer because she wasn't doing well. They need their moms when they're that little, especially when it's affecting their health. You remove a newborn from their mother at birth and you are placing that child at risk.
SO: That's tough, tough to listen to. And again, was the reason her purported drug use?
JOHN CHIPMAN: Yes drug tests had continued throughout this pregnancy as well for Heather. Joey Gareri, Motherisk's lab manager at the time, testified as an expert witness, explaining the results in court. Heather she said she couldn't believe what she was hearing.
HEATHER: His theories were outlandish. At one point he had accused me of using cocaine to get through labour and childbirth. I had been in the hospital for a few days. I had a complicated pregnancy. I had extensive medical treatment. So where does that come from? I'm using cocaine to get through delivery? Did the nurse serve it up for me or what? Like, his theories were way off the wall. Absolutely off the wall. But yeah they took everything he said. And as far as they were concerned it was fact.
JOHN CHIPMAN: Heather couldn't figure out why the tests kept coming back positive. She was so upset by it that she had an emotional breakdown at one point and cut back on her visits with the girls.
SO: So she stopped seeing the girls?
JOHN CHIPMAN: For a couple weeks. When she tried to start the visits up again, it was CAS that put her access on hold. Heather said her caseworker suggested they just wait for the judge's final ruling on whether she would get them back.
SO: So what did the judge decide in the end?
JOHN CHIPMAN: So in April 2009 Holly had just turned two-years-old and Grace was almost one. The judge made her final ruling. Both girls were made crown wards with no access to their mother. They would be adopted off to separate families.
SO: Hm. What were the judge's reasons?
JOHN CHIPMAN: The main reason was the hair tests. But the judge also cited Heather's breakdown and her recent lack of contact with Holly and Grace. It was a sign, she said, that Heather was placing her own emotional needs over theirs. She did praise Heather for other things, she had ended her abusive relationship with the girl's father. And the judge had no doubt that she could provide appropriate housing for them. But in the end, the judge said that she couldn't return them to Heather because of her continued drug use. She said the hair tests showed Heather was either using cocaine, accidentally ingesting cocaine, or regularly in an environment where large amounts of cocaine were being produced. It was time to get the girls permanent homes.
HEATHER: It changed my life. I mean, two other families that wanted kids got them. Cost me mine. [crying] Something that people don't realize or the courts don't realize, it didn’t just change my life it changed all the people around my life. I don't talk to family members in the same way as, you know, we used to. You don't go to friends events anymore because I don't fit in anymore. My kids are gone and they still have theirs. It's a different life. It's not the same one as what it was.
SO: Well it's obviously devastating for Heather, but in the end how do we know for sure John that these tests were wrong?
JOHN CHIPMAN: We don't know and we can't know, which is another thing that infuriates Heather. Justice Susan Lang, who reviewed Motherisk for the Ontario government, she didn't review individual cases and she could only say that the labs results in their totality were unreliable and inadequate. She didn't say they were wrong because she couldn't.
SUSAN LANG: You can't go to the individual files and find out whether or not it was properly done, because there were a number of problems with the way they were doing it. But the very very basic one is that The Hospital for Sick Children in this particular lab it did not have standard operating procedures. There was nowhere written down how they did the test. And unless you can follow how the test was done step by step you can't tell whether that particular test result was reliable, even retrospectively.
SO: If Justice Lang wasn't able to look at individual test results, then how did she come to the conclusion that these hair tests were unreliable?
JOHN CHIPMAN: Justice Lang looked at the big picture and she found a raft of problems with how Motherisk was doing its tests. I mean her report is 366 pages long, but she raised two fundamental issues. Her report looked at the lab's procedures between 2005 and 2015. And before 2010, Motherisk was only using a single preliminary screening test to determine all its results, it only rarely did a second more rigorous confirmation test. Justice Lang said Motherisk was the only lab in the world that was using a preliminary screening test in the way that it was.
SO: The only lab in the world?
JOHN CHIPMAN: The only lab in the world, that's what she said. So this was the big problem number one. The second was that the lab was not accredited. Its results should have never been accepted in criminal or family court and none of its staff was certified to conduct or interpret drug tests that would be used in court.
SO: So what does that mean?
JOHN CHIPMAN: It means the lab needed forensic accreditation which it didn't have, nor did any of Motherisk leadership have any training or certification in forensic toxicology, which is what they needed to be conducting the hair tests and interpreting them in court. The potential for contamination was also a concern, along with chain of custody issues. Those problems along with many others is what made all of Motherisk’s hair tests unreliable and inadequate according to Justice Lang.
SO: So is there even such a thing as a reliable hair test?
JOHN CHIPMAN: Well it depends on who you ask. But there are definitely forensic toxicologists in Canada who believe so. But the tests they have to be done properly with all the necessary controls in place by properly trained specialists, none of which was happening at Motherisk according to Lang.
SO: So if this testing started in 1991, John, a long time ago, and the report from Justice Lang came out in 2015 was there really no one raising alarm bells earlier?
JOHN CHIPMAN: Well, parents like Heather did over and over and over again, but no one took them seriously because the hair tests made them look like they were liars and drug addicts or alcoholics. But there was someone else. As a part of our joint CBC Toronto Star investigation, we found a capital murder trial in Colorado that involved Motherisk. In that case, it’s evidence was thrown out over concerns about the lab's reliability.
SO: Hm. So when was that?
JOHN CHIPMAN: This was in 1993. 22 years before Justice Lang's final report. Julia Klein, Motherisk’s defacto lab manager at the time, testified at an admissibility hearing in this Colorado death penalty case. So the defense wanted to introduce a hair test that Motherisk had done on the accused but the judge wouldn't allow it. And in his decision he laid out many of the same deficiencies at the lab that Justice Lang uncovered more than two decades later. Eva Wilson was the special prosecutor on the case.
EVA WILSON: The judge denied the admissibility of the evidence. He found that it was not reliable. I really appreciated his analogy. This reminded him of someone shooting at a target with a bow and arrow. And that Ms. Klein shot the arrow, the arrow landed, and she then drew the bull's eye around the arrow. A big round circle to show it met its mark.
SO: OK we have to take a break for the news, but you're going to stick around to tell us more about this early case.
JOHN CHIPMAN: I will. And we'll meet another family affected by these tests, this time in Nova Scotia. Fred and Julie fought to keep custody of their children despite the results of drug tests from Motherisk. Julie remembers the last time she saw her son.
JULIE: We were in the office at the Department of Community Services. I had him in my arms and I remember he had his arms wrapped around my neck and he pulled in and he gave me a kiss. And before that he would never give me a kiss. His siblings would come to the visits and I’d say to him sometimes give so-and-so a kiss and he would go and he’d listen and he’d go give them a kiss. And I’d say give daddy a kiss and he'd give daddy. And I’d say give mommy a kiss and he’d go mm, because I think I drove him crazy I kissed him so much all the time. [laughs] And it was almost like he knew or something because he pulled in and gave me a kiss that day all on his own. Just melted my heart. There was a song I used to sing to him all the time. By Nazareth, Sunshine, I sang him that song. I’ll always remember it.
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SO: John Chipman is a producer on The Current. The CBC News is next. And then we'll hear more from John's investigation. Tainted tests, broken families. I'm Susan Ormiston And you're listening to the Friday edition of The Current.
SO: Hello, I'm Susan Ormiston and you're listening to the Friday edition of The Current.
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SO: Still to come, what do Muslim women in Quebec make of Bill 62? The new law barring anyone with a face covering from giving or receiving public services. Well, they don't all agree. I'll speak with three Muslim women from Quebec about the law, their experiences, and opinions in half an hour. But first, back to tainted tests, broken families.
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SO: Well before the news we were discussing hair tests done at the Motherisk Lab at Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children. And the impact that lab has had on child protection cases in some provinces. These tests supposedly measured drug and alcohol consumption, but they're now being described as inadequate and unreliable. However they were used as evidence when children were taken away from parents. If you want to go back and listen to part one of that story visit our website at John Chipman is a producer on the program and he's been looking into the controversy as part of a joint investigation with The Fifth Estate and the Toronto Star. He's still with me in our Toronto studio. Hello.
SO: So just before the break you were telling us about early warning signs about problems at the Motherisk lab that were raised at a murder trial in the United States. So tell us about that trial in Colorado.
JOHN CHIPMAN: That's right. So this was way back at the very beginning of Motherisk’s hair testing in 1993. The third or fourth adult hair test the lab ever did was on Allen Thomas Jr. who was on trial for murder in Colorado. Now, one of his defense team’s strategy was arguing that if Thomas was found guilty he was so high on cocaine at the time that he was incapable of committing premeditated murder, which is a requirement for the death penalty in Colorado. But the defense needed to prove that he was taking cocaine at the time so they hired Motherisk, which found that Thomas took 55 grams of cocaine per month around the time of the murder.
SO: Oh that sounds like a very specific finding.
JOHN CHIPMAN: Well that is exactly what the prosecutor thought. Her name is Eva Wilson. Now, she was skeptical of hair testing in general but especially of what Motherisk claimed its tests could say.
EVA WILSON: My initial reaction was it was concocted. [chuckles] But, you know, not to say that it was impossible for hair to show that type of evidence, but in the manner in which they wanted to admit it which was to show a timeframe and to show the amount that had been used? That right away that felt like junk science.
JOHN CHIPMAN: So Wilson challenged the hair testing and a special hearing was called so the judge could decide if the evidence should be admitted. Looking back now, it's eerie how closely the issues raised in 1993 mirror the concerns that Justice Susan Lang would raise more than two decades later. She was a retired judge hired by the Ontario government to investigate Motherisk in 2015. So one of the core issues that she identified was that Motherisk was only using a preliminary screening test. The prosecutor in Colorado hammered away at that point repeatedly. Justice Lang said Motherisk didn't have the proper forensic accreditation to do tests relied upon in court. The Colorado prosecutor raised the exact same concern. The list, Susan, it just goes on and on.
SO: So did someone from Motherisk testify in Colorado?
JOHN CHIPMAN: Yes, so her name was Julia Klein, and she was managing the lab at the time.
SO: So what happened?
JOHN CHIPMAN: So the judge threw out Motherisk’s evidence, found it to be quote, “not competent evidence,” end quote. He also said it was outside generally accepted scientific practices of the time.
SO: Then what did Motherisk do with the judge's decision?
JOHN CHIPMAN: So I spoke with the defense lawyer who hired Klein to testify at the upcoming trial, and he said that he would have assumed the lab would have addressed the judge's concerns if it wanted to continue doing drug tests to be used in court.
SO: But Motherisk didn't?
JOHN CHIPMAN: Well, we don't know what if any tweaks Motherisk may have made its testing protocols but the judge's main concerns, that the lab was using a single preliminary screening test, that wasn't dealt with fully until 2010, 17 years later, when Motherisk finally introduced full scale secondary confirmation testing. Now, and that's not the end of the questions that this case in Colorado raises. It appears that Julia Klein's boss, Motherisk’s founding director Dr. Gideon Koren may have misled a Canadian court about what happened in Colorado.
SO: How so?
JOHN CHIPMAN: So I’m going to fast forward to another criminal trial in Toronto in 2009. And during a hearing to establish his credentials at that trial, Dr. Koren mentioned a case in Colorado. But he said Motherisk’s evidence was not only accepted but had an impact on the judgment.
SO: But I thought the evidence in the Colorado case that you've been talking about was not accepted, so was there another one where it was?
JOHN CHIPMAN: CBC and the Toronto Star did an exhaustive search through legal databases. We contacted a number of prosecutors and criminal defense lawyers throughout Colorado, but were unable to find another case in which Motherisk’s evidence was accepted at trial.
SO: Is there any explanation from Dr. Koren then?
JOHN CHIPMAN: Well we asked for one, he didn't respond. We asked Julia Klein, she was the lab manager who testified in Colorado, and she didn't respond. Daniel Brown was an appeal lawyer for the accused in that 2009 criminal trial in which Dr. Koren testified. We showed him the transcripts of Dr. Koren's testimony and the hearing in Colorado in 1993. And he said if Dr. Koren was speaking about the same Colorado case in which Motherisk’s evidence was thrown out, well police should investigate him.
DANIEL BROWN: I was completely shocked. Dr. Koren wasn't the doctor who testified in Colorado. But you would have thought that he would have been keenly aware of what had happened in the Colorado case. And it certainly warrants a perjury investigation.
JOHN CHIPMAN: Dr. Koren is already facing serious legal issues. There is at least 11 lawsuits, including a proposed class action. And in his statement of defense in the proposed class action, Dr. Koren denied the claims. He said that Motherisk’s hair tests were quote, “accurate and reliable for their intended purpose,” end quote. He also told Justice Lang's review that the term forensic was not mentioned by any judge, child protection lawyer, defense lawyer or Crown lawyer according to her report.
SO: John, how many tests was Motherisk actually doing?
JOHN CHIPMAN: Well it's impossible to know for sure because the lab didn't keep great records. But based on numbers released by The Hospital for Sick Children, a conservative estimate would be at least 35,000.
SO: 35,000 tests.
JOHN CHIPMAN: 35,000 tests. And this would have been since 1991 when Motherisk began. The lab charged its clients for these tests. We know that between January 2007 and March 2015, the lab's revenues topped 11 million dollars. So Motherisk was definitely a revenue earner for the hospital.
SO: And where were all of these hair samples coming from?
JOHN CHIPMAN: The lab was doing tests on people from all over the country. From Ontario, BC, Quebec, PEI, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia, which is where Fred and Julie live. This is the next family that I want to introduce you to. Again, we're not using their real names but they too were affected by Motherisk. They met in 2003.
FRED: And I was out painting the house one day and they walked by and whistled.
JULIE: I fell in love with him right away. That was a part about him that reminded me of my grandfather. My grandfather was a nurturer. He liked to cook. He’d like to do things around the house. He had some of those characteristics.
JOHN CHIPMAN: But their relationship it darkened as time went on. Julie drank a lot, they both dabbled in cocaine, tempers sometimes flared. They hurt each other emotionally and at times physically. They broke up they got back together, then they had a daughter together. Concerned about her well-being, CAS, which is the Children's Aid Society, that was monitoring the family. They seized the child, first temporarily then permanently.
SO: Mm. How did that affect them?
JOHN CHIPMAN: That last drove Julie into an even darker place.
JULIE: I turned to the bottle pretty hard. I tried my hardest to stay sober but I just couldn't do it. I was severely anguished and the bottle was my only way that I knew how to cope. It just numbed the pain. I didn't have to think about it. So yeah, I went totally downhill after that.
SO: Mm. So she admits to going downhill and what did that mean for their relationship?
JOHN CHIPMAN: Well it continued but it was still troubled. They had another daughter in 2010, we'll call her Jessie. She was apprehended at birth. Julie and Fred they worked to clean up their lives in hopes of getting her back and they began to make some progress.
SO: How do we know that?
JOHN CHIPMAN: Court documents show that they were attending anger management and counseling, they were making access visits on time. They kept a clean and stable home. The court found them to be loving, nurturing, and kind parents. But substance abuse remained a real concern. Julie continued to drink heavily. Fred was still using cocaine occasionally. He remembers when it finally really hit him that if he didn't clean up his act completely he was going to lose Jessie forever as well.
FRED: We had a visit and at the end of the visit when we were walking out my daughter came up and grabbed me by the hand and said Daddy can I come home? And I broke down in tears and I said that was enough for me.
JOHN CHIPMAN: Now at this point his daughter Jessie was three but they’d also had another child, a baby boy we’re calling Jonathan. He was a year and a half at this point and he was also in temporary care.
SO: So at this point if I understand, Fred is vowing to change. So what did he do?
JOHN CHIPMAN: Well he decided to do whatever it took to get the two children back. He would give up his friends, become a hermit if he had to. And if Julie couldn't get her life in order with him he would do it on his own.
FRED: I had nothing to do with nobody. And I changed my whole life, my whole being, I had nobody around. I'm staying home, I'm not going nowhere. I'm going to do what I have to do to make sure these children are not put into care.
SO: John, Fred says he's changing. What about Julie?
JOHN CHIPMAN: Well Fred and Julie say their relationship shifted at this point. The romance ended, they weren't a couple anymore but they remained close. If Jessie and Jonathan were returned, Fred would be their primary caregiver. Julie would be involved, but legally they would be his alone. Still, Children's Aid wanted both of them to do hair strand drug tests to track their sobriety.
FRED: And that was fine with me, I wasn't doing nothing so why should I be concerned?
JOHN CHIPMAN: Well the results however showed otherwise. Motherisk did nine drug tests on Fred's hair. Some showed exposure to cocaine, some showed consumption, some nothing at all. And this is all while Fred maintained he was absolutely clean. Joey Gareri, the same Motherisk official who testified in Heather's case in Ontario testified in Fred's case in Nova Scotia too.
FRED: He used to say things that were just astonishing. I'm thinking to myself this guy here there's something definitely wrong.
JULIE: I felt like he was always inconsistent. Sometimes it was traces, sometimes it was large amounts, sometimes it was this, sometimes it was that.
FRED: And the arrogance. Like it’s nothing, like he was ordering an ice cream, right? Or what I want on my pizza, like it just ridiculous.
JULIE: I figured we were going to lose them because of him. And that’s exactly what happened.
SO: They lost both their children?
JOHN CHIPMAN: No, no not at this point. Fred and Julie's younger son Jonathan was moving through the courts first. He was a toddler as his final hearing approached in May 2014. So he would either be returned to Fred or he would be made a ward of the state ready for adoption. Fred's last hair test had come back clean but the judge said not enough. She also felt Julie's continued involvement in Fred's life posed a protection issue. The judge ordered Jonathan into the permanent care of the ministry for eventual adoption.
SO: And what about their daughter Jessie I think it was. What happened to her?
JOHN CHIPMAN: Well her case was still before the courts, so Fred really wanted to try to refute Motherisk’s findings. He had found a facility in Ohio called Omega Laboratories. It had forensic accreditation to do the same hair strand drug testing. And so a hair sample was sent.
FRED: I had enough. I'm tired of being humiliated. I'm not going down looking like something I'm not. Everybody was worried that oh it might come back, and I said I’m not worried. I know what's coming back. Clean of everything. And lo and behold that's what happened. That was the changing point.
JOHN CHIPMAN: Now as Jessie’s custody hearing in Nova Scotia was unfolding, questions began to surface about Motherisk in Ontario. Justice Susan Lang had just been appointed to investigate Motherisk, and a month before the judge's decision The Hospital for Sick Children, they shut down Motherisk’s hair testing program altogether. So on May 12th, 2015, the judge, this is the same one who made Jonathan a ward of the state a year earlier, returned Jessie to Fred. He would have sole custody with Julie getting supervised access.
SO: So did the controversy that was brewing up in Ontario have anything to do with that court decision?
JOHN CHIPMAN: In her ruling the judge said she was not influenced by the concerns being raised about Motherisk. Instead she said she felt Fred had cleaned up his life. Julie had entered rehab, and I should mention that actually she's been clean since she entered rehab, this was a little over three years ago, and because of that she was no longer protection concern. And while Motherisk’s hair tests showed Fred continued to use or be exposed to cocaine, the judge felt the levels were so low she ruled he was effectively clean.
SO: So he got his daughter back.
JOHN CHIPMAN: It was a victory. But to Fred it only felt like half of one. Jonathan their other child was still gone. And Fred wanted to get him back too.
FRED: When I got custody of my daughter, and during the trial of my daughter, I said would you just please make sure that you do not do nothing with my son until you find out the outcome of this trial here with my daughter, because I don't want to see them split up.
JOHN CHIPMAN: But five weeks after Fred brought Jessie back home he lost his son Jonathan forever when his adoption was finalized.
FRED: That's my son and that's my daughter. They're not together when they should be together. Every day I think about that, every day I think about what my daughter is going through. It's torn me apart.
JULIE: It’s very heartbreaking. I worry about my daughter. I know she misses him every day. During the nights when she says her prayers, she’ll ask God to hurry up and let him come back home. She doesn't understand, the only way that she can describe it, I overheard her tell her friends one day that they were both kidnapped and she got away but he didn't.
SO: John Chipman is with me in the studio, he's a producer on The Current. And his story is called tainted tests, broken families and it's a joint investigation with The Fifth Estate and the Toronto Star. John is there nothing they can do?
JOHN CHIPMAN: Well adoption laws in Nova Scotia are similar to legislation all across Canada. The basic rule is the same. Once an adoption is finalized it's virtually impossible to reopen. All decisions are made in the best interests of the child and the feeling is that taking a child out of a safe and nurturing adoptive family would be traumatic and upsetting for the child regardless of the reason. We asked the Nova Scotia government about Jonathan's adoption but officials wouldn't comment. Nova Scotia has announced that it will be doing an internal review of cases involving Motherisk, although the details are still being worked out. And what are other provinces doing? BC, PEI, and New Brunswick are doing similar internal reviews. Quebec won't say what it's doing if anything, and Ontario established the independent Motherisk Commission, which is selectively reviewing some of the cases in that province.
SO: How many cases were there in Ontario?
JOHN CHIPMAN: Justice Lang said there were roughly 16,000 individuals who were tested in Ontario between 2005 and 2015. Earlier than that, it's really hard to say since Motherisk did not keep good records. The commission is focusing on the most serious cases, the crown wardship no access decisions. It hasn't finished its review yet, it's due in January, but all told it will review somewhere between 1,150 and 1,200 cases.
SO: So 1,200 out of what 16,000?
JOHN CHIPMAN: 16,000 yeah. It’s focusing on the most serious decisions and it's reviewed 1,037 files to date. Of those it's determined that Motherisk played a significant factor in 50 decisions.
SO: 50 families.
JOHN CHIPMAN: 50 families, yeah. Lorne Glass is the commission's lead counsel and he says that doesn't mean that Motherisk wasn't a problem in the rest of them as well.
LORNE GLASS: Even in cases where there was not a substantial impact, those parents and those children and the extended families were affected. They were affected by the fact of having to go through the testing in the first place. Many people have told us about the loss of respect in the community, a loss of self-respect. All this testing of people's hair was not a good thing.
JOHN CHIPMAN: In cases where Motherisk was found to be a significant factor, the commission will help parents find a lawyer through legal aid. It's also offering counseling and alternative dispute resolution, that's basically mediation between birthparents and adoptive parents.
LORNE GLASS: We have six cases where we have families that are basically have been reunited. Some of them where parents are now at least getting some information about kids or getting to see kids. In some cases parents are getting access to children where the court order has been changed to provide for access. That's a good thing.
SO: It's only six cases though. So how do the parents involved in all the other ones feel?
JOHN CHIPMAN: Yeah, we start at 16,000 and we're down to six. So there are a lot of people who aren't all that happy right? I mean, take Heather who we spoke about earlier, she lost her two daughters. It's been almost a decade now.
HEATHER: It was determined that yes Motherisk was a key factor in my trial, but they've done nothing since then. There's been nothing, absolutely nothing.
JOHN CHIPMAN: The commission hasn't been able to do anything in her case to help her because the adoptive parents of her two daughters have not agreed to any contact or even information sharing. And the commission can't force them too, it's a voluntary process. Now, Heather is considering going back to court but that's a pretty daunting task too. I mean, there's little legal precedence for opening up contested adoptions, so it would likely be a long painful legal fight.
SO: Mhm, it would. What ever happened to the people who were in charge at Motherisk?
JOHN CHIPMAN: Julia Klein, she was the lab's first manager, she's the person that testified in Colorado, she left the hospital in 2005. According to Justice Lang's report the hospital fired her for cause after an investigation on an unrelated matter. She declined repeated requests for an interview, citing her failing health and ongoing litigation in which she's been named. So that's the first one. Joey Gareri, who succeeded Klein and testified in both the cases that we discussed today, he left the hospital last year. Now before leaving he told Justice Lang that he felt he shouldn't have been hired as Motherisk’s lab manager in 2005. It took him years to figure it out.
SO: He admitted that?
JOHN CHIPMAN: That's what he told Justice Lang, yes. Fred and Julie are suing the hospital, Dr. Koren and Joey Gareri. In a statement of defense, Sick Kids and Gareri argue that any losses or harm the couple may have suffered were caused entirely by their own actions. And Dr. Koren has denied all the claims against him in the various lawsuits in which he's been named. So we asked Joey Gareri several times for an interview as well, but he too declined citing the ongoing lawsuits. But we felt it was worth another effort so I went to his home in an east Toronto neighborhood. It was Wednesday afternoon.
[Sound: door knocking]
JOHN CHIPMAN: I remember walking up to the door, the television was really loud inside I could hear it right through the closed side door before he opened it.
JOHN CHIPMAN: Hi, my name is John Chapman I'm a journalist with CBC.
JOHN CHIPMAN: We’re working on a story about Motherisk.
JOEY GARERI: Sorry, I’ve got no comment.
JOHN CHIPMAN: You know, we've been talking with families some of the cases in which you testified.
JOEY GARERI: This is currently in litigation and my lawyers have returned your producer's request. I really don't appreciate you coming to my home.
JOHN CHIPMAN: But people just, they just want answers.
JOEY GARERI: I’m sorry it’s got to go through the legal system. I don't have any comment.
[Sound: door closing]
SO: So you didn't get much on the doorstep there from Joey Gareri.
JOHN CHIPMAN: No. No we didn't. And as for Motherisk’s founding director, his boss Dr. Gideon Koren, he quietly retired in 2015. In fact he left the country, he moved back to Israel. But Dr. Koren has continued to work in the field of maternal and prenatal health. He still speaks at international symposiums, Mark Kelly, one of the hosts at The Fifth Estate found him at a conference in the United Kingdom earlier this month. But he really didn't have any more to say than Joey Gareri did.
SO: And what about the families. How are they doing?
JOHN CHIPMAN: Heather is frustrated. She knows it's been years and she knows it's really realistically too late to get her daughters back. But she would still like to know how they're doing.
HEATHER: What I thought was going to happen that I would be told that they were safe, that I’d maybe not be able to be in their lives because I mean, they have gone through an adoption. [voice breaking] But at least our family would know that they're safe somewhere. Just let us know they're OK.
SO: Tough. What about Fred and Julie?
JOHN CHIPMAN: Well they actually, they do remain hopeful that they someday will be able to reunite their children. Julie knows what she will tell her son if given the opportunity.
JULIE: I'd like to say I’m your mom. And I love you. And I want you to be with me. I'm sorry for everything that happened. He was cherished. I want him to know that we love him very much. That's probably what I would tell him.
SO: Hm. That's hard huh?
JOHN CHIPMAN: It is very very hard for the people who have had to go through this definitely. Now I should mention too that, you know, I only featured two families this morning. But during our investigation we spoke to several others. We talked to a mother in British Columbia who lost her children years ago in another Motherisk case. And she had no idea about the issues at the lab. She cried after we told her, because she finally had an explanation or a possible explanation for these confounding test results. And we spoke to two daughters as well, like hearing from the perspective of children who've gone through this. We talked to two daughters who had been taken away from their mother. So if you'd like to hear more from those cases, listeners should check out the Toronto Star and The Fifth Estate. The Fifth Estate is airing tonight on CBC TV at 9:00.
SO: Well that's a long and important story. Thank you John.
JOHN CHIPMAN: Thanks Susan.
SO: John Chipman is a producer on The Current.
[Music: Extro]
PUBLISHER'S NOTE: I am monitoring this case/issue. Keep your eye on the Charles Smith Blog for reports on developments. 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: Information on "The Charles Smith Blog Award"- and its nomination process - can be found at: Please send any comments or information on other cases and issues of interest to the readers of this blog to: Harold Levy; Publisher; The Charles Smith Blog.