Canadian pathologist linked to wrongful convictions in child deaths admits inadequate training
Follow- up story below
Ontario inquiry urged to inform adoptees so they can reacquaint themselves with parents wrongly accused by pathologist
As Charles Smith left the blazing publicity of the Goudge commission behind him yesterday, attention shifted to the forgotten people in the scandal he precipitated - children wrenched from their homes partly on the basis of his conclusions.
"Do you realize that children were taken from their parents as a result of your evidence?" asked Suzan Fraser, a lawyer for Defence For Children International - Canada. "Are those children deserving of an apology?"
"Yes," Dr. Smith said, although he did not actually offer one.
The unexpected exchange concluded five days of testimony during which Dr. Smith responded to hundreds of tough questions about 20 criminal cases in which he botched autopsy conclusions or trial testimony.
Before Dr. Smith was permitted to return to the relative anonymity of his Vancouver Island home, however, Ms. Fraser asked him if he would be willing to help identify and assist those affected, "so that these children can perhaps one day be reacquainted with their natural parents?"
"If I can help fix a wrong ... yes," Dr. Smith said.
Shaeree Sherret-Robinson, who was wrongly convicted of infanticide based on Dr. Smith's conclusions, said in an interview yesterday that the loss of her eldest son, Austin, 13, left a painful void in her life.
"No matter what happens, the opportunity to see him grow up will never happen," Ms. Sherret-Robinson said in an interview. "Childhood comes with some of the best memories [but] I will not have the opportunity to get him back until he is 18."
Ms. Sherret-Robinson agreed to give up her son for adoption in 1999, three years after she was charged with the murder of her younger son, Joshua. "I do not think there is much that can happen at this point with respect to getting my son back," she said.
Now that she has been exonerated, it would be cruel to take legal measures to get Austin back "from the only family he knows," Ms. Sherret-Robinson said.
In a similar case that Ms. Fraser cited to the inquiry, the mother of a dead child identified as Sharon gave up a three-year-old for adoption in 1999. "She felt that she had no choice, because her prospects of being released were so remote," Ms. Fraser said.
In a third case, where a child known as Jenna had died, the Children's Aid Society also seized her sister, Ms. Fraser said. The child was returned two years later, after murder charges laid against the mother as a result of evidence from Dr. Smith were dropped.
Dr. Smith agreed yesterday that multiple mistakes he made in autopsies involving criminal cases may well be mirrored in an unknown number of cases involving Crown wardship or other custody proceedings.
"If I've made a mistake in one place, I could certainly make them in another," Dr. Smith conceded.
Ms. Fraser said in an interview yesterday that she can only speculate how many children may have been taken from their parents because of faulty conclusions Dr. Smith drew about the deaths of their siblings.
She noted that the CAS became involved in 13 of the 20 cases Mr. Justice Stephen Goudge is reviewing. "There was definitely CAS involvement outside of the 20," she added.
"We are looking for recommendations establishing a process of reconciliation for children wrongfully separated from their parents," Ms. Fraser said. "The children need to be informed of what happened to them. It is their right."
When Ms. Fraser specifically asked Dr. Smith whether he was aware of Austin's adoption yesterday, he appeared befuddled. "I don't know just how specific my knowledge of that was," he said. "My understanding was that he was taken away, but I couldn't tell you what the decision on that was."
Ms. Sherret-Robinson said the answer appalled her. "How can he not know?" she asked in an interview. "Your name is in the press all the time, and yet you don't read the stories?
"There has never been all that much attention paid to my losing my eldest son because of Smith's actions. It is hard to deal with in so many ways. I would give anything in the world to be able to see him, but I doubt that will happen, as well."
Ms. Fraser said in the interview that she will ask Judge Goudge to recommend that the Minister of Children and Youth Services, or an equivalent body, "review all CAS files to determine where forensic pathology played a role in a child protection proceeding."
However, she said no established process exists for dealing with cases in which apprehension or adoption orders were made on the basis of flawed pathology evidence.
"The child has no ability to set aside a permanent order, because how would they know about it?" she said. "The child - even though the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child says that they have a right to their identity - has no way of knowing that they might have been wrongfully separated from their parents."
globeandmail.com: Smith mulls fate of children taken from families
I say it's time to establish laws that allow these natural families wrongly seperated to be together- let the lawsuits begin!!!