Monday, January 28, 2008

He Has His Admirers, Supporters

Isn't it always the way? People who commit the most unbelievably egregious crimes against humanity always seem to have the support of someone.

Criminals who have somehow escaped detection may settle down somewhere to begin a normal life, and their neighbours would never suspect from their kindly facades what they have been capable of. In the case of war criminals who have been found guilty in absentia, instances abound where their presence has been discovered, and their neighbours come forward to declare what model citizens they have been.

In Canada, in Ontario, we have another kind of deviant in society, a highly respected doctor who chose paediatric pathology as an esteemed career, despite having had no training, merely the opportunity. And his lack of expertise, bonded to his child-saviour complex gained him the opportunity to pose as someone he was not; credible among his medical peers, in the process destroying the lives of innocent people.

His expertise was sought as a witness in criminal trials, and the expert opinion he was never loathe to deliver often spelled the death knell for the accused's hopes of proving themselves innocent.

His expert examinations in the autopsies he vetted gained him invaluable insight into how he construed children met their untimely deaths. And his suspicions were always, it seemed, met by conclusive 'evidence' or problem-solving mechanisms his brain devised, in supporting his personal thesis that parents were their children's worst enemies.

His expertise enabled him to identify deadly dog bites and consequent mauling as a deranged attack with a knife by an unfit mother. His brilliant deductions led to the conviction of an uncle accused of raping and murdering his young niece. His unerring vision convicted a mother of strangling her little boy.

All these people, and more, mourning the dreadful loss of a child, found themselves prime suspects, experienced their lives taken from them, wrongly incarcerated.

Yet, says one of his friends, his former pastor, "He's an amazing man." He most certainly is that.

Dr. Smith, formerly head of Ontario's paediatric forensic pathology unit was and is an extraordinary man, with slovenly work habits, which also aided in the wrongful homicide prosecutions of parents and caregivers. However, says his former pastor, lamenting the 'ordeal' his former parishioner is undergoing, "There is an awful lot behind this that obviously is not coming out."

As in: He's being framed, he's being held responsible for others' shortcomings. Well, there is some truth in that.

In that his superiors insisted that he take on the job for which he was unfit due to lack of professional training, among other deficits. Dr. Smith's inexact science of forensic pathology was identified through the medium of an international expert review which reached the conclusion that he had committed serious errors in 20 of 45 suspicious deaths leading to criminal investigations, between 1991 and 2001.

A commission was set up, under Justice Stephen Goudge, whose mandate it is to identify systemic failures in the forensic paediatric pathology system. But the most fascinating, compelling testimony has focused on Dr. Smith's professional practise. International experts identified some fundamental errors in his investigations such as the concealing of a potentially key piece of evidence; his propensity toward offering speculation as fact.

Dr. Smith was, in fact, inordinately proud of his vital part in the justice system, in bringing to justice the murderers of children. He had been quoted in a 1994 interview as having boasted that he had been instrumental in bringing convictions to two dozen homicide prosecutions of deliberate head injuries.

Co-ordination between experts was key, he claimed. Yet three years earlier a judge had acquitted an alleged baby killer, blasting Dr. Smith and doctors who backed his testimony, claiming the team that "abdicated" its responsibilities.

But all is well. Dr. Charles Smith has taken it upon his conscience to apologize. His lawyer had earlier apologized to the wrongfully convicted on Dr. Smith's behalf. But now, appearing before the committee, Dr. Smith has apologized for his errors. Unequivocally, he says, he regrets his ignorance of the law in reaching the conclusions he had.

Might that possibly be a gambit to ensure that because he did nothing out of a sense of malevolence he could not be found criminally guilty of gross misconduct?

His direct superior still holds that "he was doing a very good job for years". And that what took him off track was his abhorrence for the brutal treatment resulting in death of innocent children. And his conviction, it would seem, that in most instances, their nearest and dearest were to blame.

As unfortunate as it is, in a great many instances, parents do in fact destroy their children, take their lives in anger and unaccountable hatred. Dr. Smith used a wide paintbrush.

The people whose lives he was instrumental in irremediably blotching, those who have spent many years innocently incarcerated, incredulous that they could be held guilty for the murder of those they loved may find it difficult to accept Dr. Smith's apology.

It seems a slender thread to hang forgiveness on.

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