Image: Dr. Charles Smith
Adrian Wyld  /  AP
Dr. Charles Smith as he waits to deliver testimony at an inquiry in Toronto, in this Jan. 28, 2008.
updated 10/1/2008 8:26:00 PM ET 2008-10-02T00:26:00

The Ontario government said Wednesday it would compensate victims after a judicial inquiry concluded poor oversight and the inadequate training of a Canadian pathologist led to the wrongful convictions of several people accused of killing children.

Justice Stephen Goudge concluded that Dr. Charles Smith, once viewed as an expert in pediatric forensics, actually had little expertise, rarely visited crime scenes and had sloppy work practices.

Ontario's former chief coroner James Young and his deputy, Jim Cairns, also played a critical role in the wrongful convictions, Goudge said.

Ontario Attorney General Chris Bentley said the government would do its utmost to make reparations. "To those who have suffered an injustice we are truly sorry," he said.

In testimony before Goudge, Smith acknowledged he made mistakes but said the errors were made honestly and without any intent to harm.

Smith said in a statement Wednesday that he is optimistic the judicial inquiry report will have a positive impact on the practice of pediatric forensic pathology in Ontario.

"Dr. Smith was adamant that his failings were never intentional," Goudge wrote in his report. "I simply cannot accept such a sweeping attempt to escape moral responsibility."

Questionable findings in 20 cases
Goudge's inquiry was ordered by the government in 2007 after an investigation of the deaths of 45 children involving autopsies or expert testimony from Smith found the pathologist made questionable findings in 20 cases.

Smith's testimony played a key role in the conviction of William Mullins-Johnson, who spent 12 years in jail for sexually assaulting and strangling his 4-year-old niece. Evidence later surfaced that showed the girl died of natural causes, and Mullins-Johnson was exonerated last year.

"For more than a decade Dr. Smith was viewed as one of Canada's leading experts in pediatric forensic pathology and the leading expert in Ontario, yet he had little forensic expertise and his training was, as he himself described, 'woefully inadequate,'" Goudge said.

"He achieved the status of a leading expert in the field in large part because there was no one who had the training, experience and expertise to take him on. He worked all too much in isolation. This situation was prolonged because there was then, as there is now, a severe shortage of forensic pathologists in Ontario."

Goudge said oversight was inadequate, and that Young and Cairns had "blind confidence" in Smith.

Goudge said Smith almost never went to the scene of a death and was sloppy and inconsistent about documenting information. He also said Smith relied too heavily on the histories of those allegedly involved in a death.

Goudge urged that 142 cases be reviewed because there may have been wrongful convictions. Bentley said his office would review every case involving Smith from 1981 to 2002.

Not charged with a crime
Smith has not been charged with any crimes. He stopped performing autopsies in 2001 after several cases in which he was involved fell apart amid questions about his work.

The inquiry had no authority to punish Smith or evaluate past convictions.

It reviewed Ontario's pediatric forensic system and recommended a clear legislative framework for forensic pathologists, establishment of a specialized forensics unit, a council to oversee the chief coroner's office and creation of the position of chief forensic pathologist.

Rick Bartolucci, the Ontario community safety minister, said the government will amend the provincial coroner's act to reflect Goudge's recommendations. Bartolucci apologized for the miscarriages of justice.

Mullins-Johnson would like to see criminal charges.

"Smith was protected," Mullins-Johnson told CBC TV. "They were more worried about bad publicity rather than speaking the truth."

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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