Tuesday, December 15, 2009

For victims, Ontario pathology scandal lives on

Kirk Makin

From Saturday's Globe and Mail
Last updated on Saturday, Jul. 04, 2009 12:59AM EDT

Eight months after ending in a shower of praise and legislative reform, the inquiry into Ontario's forensic pathology scandal is a memory to all but the victims, who have yet to hear a whisper about compensation.

For many of the up to 20 individuals who were charged or convicted on erroneous evidence from disgraced pathologist Charles Smith, the pathology scandal remains very much alive.

“For a lot of people, it is never going to be over until they are compensated and the government has said that these people were wronged, and now we are compensating them,” said Louise Reynolds, who was wrongly jailed for two years for the murder of her daughter, Sharon, in 1977.

“I personally don't have any trust in government,” Ms. Reynolds said. “It's taking so long that I am concerned there is not going to be any compensation.”

Sherry Sherret-Robinson, who was convicted of killing her child in 1996, said she is “dumbfounded” by the delay. “We hear so many different things, and it affects our lives,” she said.

Ms. Sherret-Robinson, who is awaiting an Ontario Court of Appeal review of her conviction, defaulted on her student loans while she was fighting her murder charge. As a result, she said, she cannot get any more loans to resume her education.

“I have to sit here and try and make ends meet,” she said. “One thing I have learned: You can't trust the government on anything.”

In his 1,000-page report, Mr. Justice Stephen Goudge concluded that Dr. Smith was an arrogant, unqualified pathologist whose biased, inconsistent and unprofessional testimony precipitated a string of wrongful murder charges and convictions.

He also singled out the province for blame, saying that top officials in the Office of the Chief Coroner developed a “symbiotic relationship” with Dr. Smith that led them to shield him for years from the scrutiny he so desperately required.

Judge Goudge recommended that Ontario look into providing swift redress for people who, “through no fault of their own ... suffered tragic and devastating consequences.”

Ontario Attorney-General Chris Bentley raised the victims' hopes on Oct. 1, 2008, when he announced that a three-person committee headed by former associate chief justice of Ontario Coulter Osborne would recommend a fair compensation system, “as expeditiously as they can.”

Brendan Crawley, a spokesman for the Ministry of the Attorney-General, said that the committee is still “considering the issues before providing their confidential legal advice to the minister.

“No deadline has been set, but they are being thorough in their review while treating the matter with urgency,” Mr. Crawley said in an interview. “After the minister receives the advice of the committee, he will make a decision on next steps.”

Peter Wardle, a lawyer who represents several of the victims, praised the province for speedily amending the forensic autopsy system. However, he said, “it shouldn't take that long for the government to at least take the first step toward dealing with the people whose tragedies gave rise to the calling of the inquiry in the first place.”

Maurice Gagnon, the father of another victim, Lianne Thibault, said that the province may think that, by delaying, “the public memory will be dimmed and they can get away with more.”

Mr. Gagnon, 71, said that he and his wife have waited 12 years to recoup at least some of the $237,000 in retirement savings that they plowed into defending their daughter.

“If they wait long enough, I'm going to die and I'll never be able to enjoy my retirement,” he said. “The delay becomes inordinate. Our plans have been irreparably altered because of this. And my daughter, too. Psychologically and emotionally, you never get over it.”

While Ms. Thibault, 35, was never charged, she lost custody of one of her children during a sustained police investigation precipitated by Dr. Smith's conclusion that her 11-month old, Nicholas, had died from a non-accidental bump to his head.


A sample of compensation payments made to the wrongly convicted, and the time they served:

Donald Marshall, 11 years for murder, $1.6-million;

Guy Paul Marin, 18 months for murder, $1.25-million;

David Milgaard, 23 years for murder, $10-million;

Michael McTaggert, 20 months for bank robbery, $380,000;

Thomas Sophonow, 45 months for murder, $2.6-million;

Steven Truscott, 10 years for murder, $6.5-million.

No comments: