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Response to Goudge

October 4, 2008 permalink

Ontario is reacting to the Goudge report. The Toronto Star, in an article copied below, reports that 200 cases will be reexamined. But any child protection cases more than a few years old cannot be remediated, since lost childhood cannot be restored. Here are some of our comments on the Goudge report:

  • Judge Goudge's criticism of shaken baby syndrome should mark the end of that junk science theory, at least in Ontario.
  • Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy was not mentioned by Goudge, and is still alive in Ontario.
  • Most of the recommendations are for changes within the coroner's office, or within the crown prosecutor's office. Their detail suggests that they were written by the bureaucracies themselves and copied by Goudge. We are skeptical of whether giving more resources to these agencies can really repair the problems.
  • In recommendation 99, judge Goudge slams the use of the phrase "consistent with." An expert witness can use it to suggest events to a jury for which there is no evidence at all.
  • Judge Goudge was limited by his position from suggesting more comprehensive reforms, such as not taking children from parents on mere accusation of a crime, or endng the moral panic surrounding child abuse.



Another 200 cases to be probed

Attorney General promises action as Goudge fears other mistakes likely

The commissioner who probed mistakes in 20 child-death investigations is concerned that wrongful convictions may have occurred in other cases and is urging the province to take a second look at myriad child deaths dating back 20 years.

Justice Stephen Goudge yesterday noted that medical opinion has changed in the areas of shaken baby syndrome and pediatric head injuries. Deaths once considered criminally suspicious may now be viewed otherwise, he noted.

Within hours of the report's release, Attorney General Chris Bentley promised that more than 200 past child-death investigations would be re-examined.

"The significant evolution in pediatric forensic pathology related to shaken baby syndrome and pediatric head injuries warrants a review of certain past cases because of the concern that, in light of the change in knowledge, there may have been convictions that should now be seen as miscarriages of justice," Goudge wrote in his final report.

During public hearings at the inquiry, Ontario's chief pathologist Michael Pollanen said a review of 142 infant deaths attributed to "shaken baby syndrome" between 1986 and 2006 is warranted. While the syndrome is still hotly debated in medical circles, new research shows that some children once thought to have died from being shaken in fact suffered head injuries from accidents and short falls, Pollanen said.

The chief pathologist said the province should consider undertaking a probe similar to Britain's Goldsmith review, which looked at past cases after a mother was wrongly convicted for killing two babies.

Ontario's $8.3 million Inquiry into Pediatric Forensic Pathology was sparked by errors pathologist Dr. Charles Smith made in 20 child-death investigations. In many of the cases, parents or caregivers were charged with criminal offences that "bear a significant social stigma," Goudge noted.

Twelve of the cases resulted in findings of guilt and incarceration of individuals. In some cases siblings of deceased children were removed from their homes and placed in foster care or put up for permanent adoption.

It was only at the inquiry that potential problems in other cases were brought to public light.

Smith issued a statement following the release of the report, stating that he had participated "in good faith" with the inquiry. He said he "remains optimistic" that Goudge's report will have a positive impact on the practice of pediatric forensic pathology.

In his four-volume report, Goudge made a total of 169 recommendations to restore the public's shaken confidence in pediatric forensic pathology.

One of the recommendations was a continuation of a review of Smith's older homicide cases that were not part of the inquiry.

The 200 cases Bentley said would be re-examined are presumably ones raised at the inquiry, all of which involved criminally suspicious deaths and homicides of children. Pathologists other than Smith worked on some of these cases.

At a Queen's Park news conference, Public Safety Commissioner Rick Bartolucci apologized to Smith's victims.

"I sincerely apologize on behalf of governments of Ontario, both past and present, to each and every individual who has suffered as a result of Dr. Charles Smith's work," he said.

Government officials said a "framework" would be developed for compensation.

Many of Goudge's recommendations touched on better training and accreditation of pathologists and additional funding for the forensic pathology system. Astonishingly, Smith was viewed as one of the nation's leading experts in pediatric forensic pathology and was often called upon by the courts as an expert in the field. Yet he didn't have formal forensic pathology training and he "lacked basic knowledge" about the field, Goudge said.

The commissioner said the profession of forensic pathology needs to be beefed up with better education, more recruitment and more funding. Victims of the flawed-pathology debacle are calling for a criminal investigation into the conduct of Smith and his two former superiors in the Ontario coroner's office – Dr. James Young and Dr. Jim Cairns – with a view to laying criminal charges.

All three should be prosecuted for obstruction of justice, said William Mullins-Johnson, who was wrongly convicted for the rape and murder of his niece, crimes for which he spent 12 years in jail.

"They invented a crime here," he told reporters. "They just basically took it out of the air and said, `Let's get him.'"

Brenda Waudby, who was wrongly charged with the murder of her 21-month-old daughter, agreed.

"I believe Dr. Smith has his own issues," Waudby added. "Am I angry at him? No. I'm angry at the whole system. Not just Dr. Smith."

Source: Toronto Star