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Thursday, October 02, 2008

Jim Cairns faces investigation

October 2, 2008
Theresa Boyle, Toronto Star

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario has launched an investigation into Ontario's former chief coroner and his deputy.

Drs. James Young and Jim Cairns yesterday came under stinging criticism by the Goudge Commission for their "lax" oversight of a pediatric pathologist whose litany of errors led to a series of wrongful murder charges and convictions.

Asked yesterday if the investigation into Young and Cairns was being undertaken because of failures on their part exposed by the commission, college spokesperson Kathryn Clarke responded: "I can only confirm that they are the subject of an investigation."

The college investigates allegations of professional misconduct and incompetence. If cases go to a disciplinary committee, penalties can range from a reprimand to a licence revocation.

The college is also investigating Smith for professional misconduct, but because he no longer practises in Ontario, penalties – if imposed – would be limited to a fine.

Confidentiality rules normally prohibit the college from revealing details of a probe, or even if one is underway. But the college was able to confirm the investigation into Young, Cairns and Smith because of a exception to the confidentiality rule that applies when there is a "compelling public interest."

Justice Stephen Goudge, who headed the Public Inquiry into Pediatric Forensic Pathology in Ontario, which began in April last year, yesterday released his final report.

In it, he had harsh words for Smith and his two superiors.

Goudge detailed a legion of Smith's shortcomings, including a lack of basic knowledge about forensic pathology, providing speculative and erroneous opinions in court, making false and misleading statements in court, exaggerating his expertise and being sloppy, tardy, arrogant and dogmatic.

"Dr. Smith was adamant that his failings were never intentional. I simply cannot accept such a sweeping attempt to escape moral responsibility," Goudge wrote in his 675-page report.

The commissioner took particular aim at Smith's bosses, not just for failing to rein him in, but also for propping him up and protecting him. "The story of failed oversight in Dr. Smith's years is in large part the story of Dr. Young's and Dr. Cairn's failures and of the context in which that happened – the completely inadequate mechanisms for oversight and accountability."

The commissioner noted that Young sent a letter to the college in April 2002, defending Smith in response to a number of complaints that had been lodged against him. The letter, curiously penned by Smith's lawyer, was sent to the college, even though Young was aware at the time that serious questions had been raised about the pathologist's ethics and judgment.

"Dr. Young's letter misled the CPSO," Goudge wrote.

"Dr. Young told the inquiry that he sent this letter in an attempt to be fair to Dr. Smith. He did so, however, at a cost to the public interest ... The letter was not balanced or objective or candid. It was not a letter worthy of a senior public office holder in Ontario," Goudge stated.

Later that year, Cairns sent a letter to the college, defending Smith's work on another case. "In so doing, Dr. Cairns exceeded his expertise, the effect of which was to shield Dr,. Smith's opinion from further scrutiny," Goudge said.

It wasn't until 14 years after the first warning signal had been sounded and a new chief coroner was appointed to replace Young that the province acted to effectively curb Smith, the report noted.

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