Dr. Charles Smith
Updated: Wed Apr. 25 2007 7:28:21 PM
TORONTO — Ontario's public inquiry into at least a dozen possible wrongful convictions in cases involving questionable pathology will be headed by an Appeal Court judge and assisted by a former coroner who inspired TV's 'Da Vinci's Inquest.'
The Ontario government's probe into the work of former Toronto pathologist Dr. Charles Smith will be led by Justice Stephen Goudge of the Ontario Court of Appeal, Attorney General Michael Bryant announced Wednesday.
"Justice Goudge will deliver a report with recommendations within a year from today, the goal of which is to enhance public confidence in pediatric forensic pathology," Bryant told the legislature.
"The commissioner's job is to get to the bottom of what happened and to make recommendations to prevent it from ever happening again."
The work will be aided by Senator Larry Campbell, a former chief coroner of British Columbia and former Vancouver mayor. Campbell, whose work was profiled in the CBC-TV series 'DaVinci's Inquest,' will chair an expert panel of scientists and medical professionals to help the inquiry.
The province called the inquiry after an expert panel questioned Smith's findings in 20 cases, 12 of which resulted in criminal convictions and one in a finding of not criminally responsible.
"Miscarriages of justice are tragedies for our justice system and for the individuals affected," said Bryant.
"If there has been any miscarriage of justice amongst the 13 convictions in which the chief coroner's review has identified problems with Dr. Smith's findings . . . I will and Crown attorneys will do everything in our power to set it right."
But Bryant said the issue of compensation for people who may have been wrongly convicted would be addressed separately.
"The decision by past governments was to separate off inquiry process from compensation issues," he said.
"In some cases, as with the Walkerton and also with (Maher) Arar, compensation issues were actually dealt with before the inquiry was finished, and that's certainly a possibility in this case as well."
The lawyer for Louise - who was recently granted the right to sue Smith as it was his evidence that helped put her behind bars for two years awaiting trial for her daughter's death - said Bryant should have addressed the issue of compensation.
"The inquest itself will not include anything about compensation, and I don't think he's saying anything to anybody except wait and see," Peter Wardle said.
"So that doesn't give anybody in my client's position any hope at all."
Smith initially determined Louise's seven-year-old daughter Sharon died of multiple stab wounds in 1997, but a later autopsy found the girls had been mauled by a pitbull.
Wardle said the overall terms of reference for the inquiry fell far short of what was expected.
"We were hoping for something much more wide-ranging that would look at the individual cases and would allow the commission to deal with issues of individual pain and suffering," he said.
"We are underwhelmed would be a good way of putting it."
Bryant defended the terms of reference, and said Justice Goudge would be able to look at individual cases during his inquiry.
"It's absolutely open to the commissioner to address particular cases . . . to get to the bottom of the facts in any way, shape or form that he sees fit," he said.
"What he doesn't have jurisdiction over is to void a conviction, to make a finding of a miscarriage of justice, to make a finding of a conviction or an acquittal."
Opposition Leader John Tory said the compensation issue must be addressed by the government.
"These people have suffered unspeakable injustice in their lives, and somebody has to deal out the compensation," said Tory.
"I don't know why it wouldn't have been appropriate to have it dealt with all in one place by one independent person."
NDP Leader Howard Hampton said the government should not force people who may have been wrongly convicted to sue in order to get compensation.
"There are all kinds of people who can't afford to access our courts in terms of civil remedies," said Hampton. "But most of all, I think what these people need is a mechanism whereby they can have their name cleared."
Bryant said the province had already taken steps to help some people who were jailed on evidence given by Dr. Smith.
The Crown agreed Tuesday to support a bail application for Marco Trotta of Oshawa, Ont., who was convicted of second-degree murder in 1998 for the death of his infant son.
Bryant also moved Tuesday to allow Sherry Sherrett of Trenton, Ont., who spent a year in prison for the 1996 death of her infant son, to appeal her conviction for infanticide to the Ontario Court of Appeal.
The inquiry will look into Smith's work between 1991 and 2001, but Bryant said the province's chief coroner, Dr. Barry McLellan, was conducting a review into the former pathologists work between 1981 and '91.