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Doctor Smith Resigns

September 12, 2005 permalink

In June we reported on the case of pathologist Dr Charles Smith who seemed to treat every death of a child as a homicide. He left his position at the Hospital for Sick Children in July, but the resignation was undisclosed until now.



Embattled pathologist no longer at Sick Kids

Dr. Charles Smith, a pediatric forensic pathologist whose work is being reviewed by the coroner's office, has resigned from his post at the Hospital for Sick Children.

Once considered Ontario's leading expert on pediatric forensics, Dr. Smith has been surrounded by controversy in recent years.

In 2003, he was removed from the five-person team that conducts autopsies for the coroner's office after judges and medical authorities criticized his methods and conclusions. He continued to work as a pathologist at the hospital, earning a salary of $290,000 last year. But earlier this year officials discovered that evidence crucial to criminal cases had gone missing in his office.

A hospital spokeswoman gave no reason for his departure, but said he resigned in July. No announcement was made.

In June, Chief Coroner Barry McLellan launched a review into 40 homicide and suspicious-death cases handled by Dr. Smith since 1991. It was to be conducted by a panel of independent experts and was expected to examine whether Dr. Smith's autopsies and consultation reports in a number of sensitive cases were reliable. At the time, Dr. McLellan said the review was necessary to maintain public confidence in the coroner's office.

The review was sparked by an internal audit into the keeping of evidence and tissue slides in the specialized forensic pathology unit at the Hospital for Sick Children. That audit of the 70 cases handled by the unit since it opened in 1991 uncovered a few instances in which microscope slides and tissue samples had been misplaced.

In 2002, a senior Crown official asked Ontario prosecutors to look at their files to find cases where the credibility or reliability of Dr. Smith was called into question. They identified 25 such cases.

Lawyers from the Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted have been calling for a public inquiry into Dr. Smith's work. In June, Cindy Wasser of AIDWYC said, "He's not just any doctor. He's a forensic pathologist who gives evidence in homicides, the most serious offence in the Criminal Code. People's lives were involved, not to mention the grief of losing a baby, a child, an infant . . . none of those people have closure."

In 1998, three-year-old Tyrell Salmon died in Toronto. As a result of Dr. Smith's conclusions, Maureen Laidley, the girlfriend of Tyrell's father, was charged with murder. The charge was later withdrawn after three other pathologists said the bump on the child's head was caused by a fall against a coffee table.

In the case of Amber S., a local coroner concluded that the 16-month-old girl died from a fall. Dr. Smith ordered that her body be exhumed and came to the conclusion that her 12-year-old babysitter had killed the girl by shaking. She was charged with the crime. But when it went to trial, 18 other pathologists questioned Dr. Smith's methods. The babysitter was acquitted and the judge suggested that Dr. Smith had tunnel vision.

Source: Globe and Mail