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William Mullins Johnson, who wrongfully spent 12 years in jail and was later exonerated, leaves a hearing that stripped disgraced pathologist Charles Smith of his medical licence. (Kevin van Passen/The Globe and Mail/Kevin van Passen/The Globe and Mail)
William Mullins Johnson, who wrongfully spent 12 years in jail and was later exonerated, leaves a hearing that stripped disgraced pathologist Charles Smith of his medical licence. (Kevin van Passen/The Globe and Mail/Kevin van Passen/The Globe and Mail)

CHRISTIE BLATCHFORD

Charles Smith's punishment deemed 'a slap on the wrist' Add to ...

Charles Randal Smith is a doctor no more.

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, the governing body for the province's doctors, has stripped the former disgraced pathologist of his certificate to practice, fined him $3,650 in costs, spanked him in the sternest language and summoned him to a formal public dressing-down next month.

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If it sounds like punishment on a grand scale, it isn't.

Mr. Smith can't be compelled to appear for his paddy-whacking, the revocation decision is effective only in Ontario (however, the rulings are sent to governing bodies across the country) and after a year, he could even reapply to be certified as a doctor again - though he would bear the onus of showing why.

Bill Mullins-Johnson, who wrongly spent 12 years in prison because of the ex-pathologist's testimony at his first-degree murder trial, pronounced the college action "a slap on the wrist" and "a spit in the face of myself and the public of this province."

Mr. Mullins-Johnson was one of six people - three of whom were jailed in large measure because of Mr. Smith's ostensibly "expert" evidence - who submitted victim-impact statements to a disciplinary hearing Tuesday held at the college in downtown Toronto.

At least one other victim, Maria Shepherd, whose conviction in the death of her stepdaughter has been reopened and who is now seeking exoneration in the Ontario Court of Appeal, joined Mr. Mullins-Johnson in a call that Mr. Smith face criminal charges.

"I would like to see this man face prison," the 40-year-old mother of five told reporters after the hearing, "and to walk through the halls holding the gear [prison-issued clothing]as you become an inmate in protective custody."

The impact statements speak not only of the terrors of prison, but also of shattered if not ruined families and the nightmare of being branded as baby killers in the broader community.

The hearing came almost three years after the release of the so-called Goudge report, a public inquiry headed by Mr. Justice Stephen Goudge which reviewed Mr. Smith's 20-year career as the country's go-to forensic pathologist - despite the fact that he was not one at all, but rather a pediatric pathologist.

Pathology is the study of natural disease in people; pediatric pathology the study of disease in children and adolescents.

Forensic pathology is the study of suspicious or unnatural death and is where science and the law often intersect, since the forensic pathologist often performs postmortem examinations critical to determining whether a death is homicide, accident or disease and testifies in court about those findings as an expert witness.

Mr. Smith, who admitted to the Goudge inquiry that his forensic training was virtually non-existent, nonetheless rose to become in 1992 the first head of the Ontario Pediatric Forensic Pathology Unit based at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto.

As early as the year before, when a judge was harshly critical of Mr. Smith's work and evidence, alarm bells were beginning to ring around the province about the bespectacled, gentle-seeming man who saw himself as a lonely advocate for dead youngsters and sometimes wore cartoon-character ties to court as a reminder, as he once told me, of his humanity.

This lack of neutrality, coupled with his woeful lack of forensic training, was compounded by Mr. Smith's sloppiness and failure to complete reports on time, reply to Crown attorneys and coroners who were increasingly badgering him for answers and by his inability to even keep track of key evidence.

In short, Mr. Smith had a disastrous effect, as the disciplinary committee said in its findings, upon the administration of justice, particularly upon those who either pleaded guilty (on the advice of lawyers who correctly feared Mr. Smith's testimony at trial) or were wrongly convicted on his say-so.

As Judge Goudge said in his report, Mr. Smith was not above even deception in his efforts to repel what was a growing legion of critics. The judge also said that Mr. Smith "made false and misleading statements to the court" on occasion.

"I was held accountable for things that didn't even happen," Mr. Mullins-Johnson said both in his furious impact statement and to reporters after the hearing. "On the other hand, he was allowed to practice unsupervised by the college and Sick Children's Hospital … his actions are no less than perjury and obstruction [of justice]"

Mr. Smith pleaded no-contest to the charges of misconduct and incompetence leveled against him by the college; it means he agreed to the facts as presented, albeit for the limited purpose of the disciplinary hearing. He didn't, and wasn't required to, turn up in person, and even his lawyer, Jane Langford, had but a few sentences to say.

Under Section 36.3 of the Regulated Health Professions Act, nothing that was used or said at the hearing, or the decision itself, is admissible in a civil proceeding such as a lawsuit.

Too little too late; a day late and a dollar short: It all amounts to a tongue-lashing - the formal one delivered perhaps to an empty chair, if Mr. Smith chooses not to show up - and a theoretically temporary defrocking.



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