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Monday, November 12, 2007

Dr Charles Smith inquiry begins

Today is the into pediatric forensic pathology in Ontario, and by extension, Dr Charles Smith, the pathologist who stands accused of intentionally misrepresenting autopsy and medical test results on dead children and whose botched work was the impetus for the current inquiry.

The inquiry, led by Justice Stephen Goudge, is being held at the Ontario Court of Appeals. It's predicted to last about three months, with final recommendations to be submitted by Justice Goudge in April 2008. (The inquiry has , where you can watch a live video broadcast from the courtroom and read the transcript of the hearing.)

So far, the inquiry has published the (PDF). An excerpt from the paper by counsel Linda R Rothstein:

[...] our job is to critically scrutinize Dr. Smith’s work, but not to demonize him. Moreover, we cannot allow undue emphasis on his role to distract us from our systemic focus. As will become clear from the Overview Reports, in a number of the cases we will examine, Dr. Smith’s opinions were supported by others engaged in the complex and difficult task of pediatric death investigation.
Justice Goudge's opening statement is (PDF):
I emphasize again that this is a systemic inquiry. The examination of individual cases is important only as it helps identify systemic failings that must be addressed if public confidence in pediatric forensic pathology is to be restored and enhanced. This is reflected in the fact that the Commission is called the Inquiry into Pediatric Forensic Pathology in Ontario.
The systemic issues to which Justice Goudge and Ms Rothstein refer are enumerated in (PDF):
1. "ensuring that the highest quality pediatric forensic pathology is available to the criminal justice system"
2."how that pathology is fairly and effectively communicated to the criminal justice system"
3. how "the coroner, the hospital in which the pathology may be done, the police, the Crown, the defence, the child protection agencies and the families... can best assist in ensuring that sound pediatric forensic pathology is supplied to the criminal justice system
4. "to determine the best corrective measures that ought to be available... after the fact of inadequate pediatric forensic pathology"
The , read by lawyer Niels Ortved, has been published on The Globe and Mail's website:
As this inquiry commences and before any testimony is heard, Dr. Smith wishes to publicly acknowledge to the commission that in the 20 years that he performed autopsies at the direction of the Office of the Chief Coroner of Ontario, he made a number of mistakes for which he is truly sorry.

Dr. Smith sincerely regrets these mistakes and apologizes to all who may have been affected by his errors. Dr. Smith wishes to emphasize that any such mistakes were made honestly and without any intention to harm or obstruct the pediatric death investigations in which he was involved.

At all times, Dr. Smith endeavoured to use whatever knowledge and expertise he possessed to render accurate pathologic opinions. In retrospect, he understands that in some 20 cases which form the basis of this inquiry, his work, while to the best of his ability at the time, was simply not good enough in certain circumstances.

The inquiry is sure to be covered extensively in the media, not just in Ontario but nationally as well. In this morning's Globe and Mail, Kirk Makin asks, "" Mr Makin also unearths that a Maclean's reporter conducted with Dr Smith in 2001 in which he admits to interfering with judges and lawyers.

Toronto's CityNews of some of the cases where Dr Smith's conclusions have been either overturned or questioned.

The Toronto Star discusses the case's focus on , which treated suspects as though they had to prove their own innocence rather than the method embodied by the traditional 'innocent until proven guilty' dictum.

Former Star reporter Harold Levy is and prepping for a book on Dr Smith.

I wrote , in NRM.


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