Pathologist faces hearing that could strip him of licence

A disgraced pathologist blamed for ruining lives by providing misguided expert opinions in court faces a disciplinary hearing this week that could see him stripped of his expired medical licence.

A disgraced pathologist blamed for ruining lives by providing misguided expert opinions in court faces a disciplinary hearing this week that could see him stripped of his expired medical licence.

Dr. Charles Smith is slated to appear before the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario on Tuesday to answer to charges of professional misconduct.

“Dr. Smith is incompetent, fell below the standard of care and engaged in disgraceful, dishonourable or unprofessional conduct in his practise of pathology and his work providing expert opinion in relation thereto,” his notice of hearing states.

Once considered the dean of pediatric forensic pathology in Canada, Smith’s work and expert evidence related to infant and child deaths led to several instances of wrongful prosecutions and convictions of innocent people.

He also became the subject of a judicial inquiry.

College spokeswoman Kathryn Clarke would not say who initiated the complaint or specify the exact basis for the allegations that the hearing will examine.

However, the hearing notice indicates the college’s evidence will include “the medical and hospital charts related to the patient care that is the subject of the allegations.”

The doctor is not required to attend Tuesday’s one-day hearing.

“We do not know if Dr. Smith will be attending, but we will be proceeding with or without him,” Clarke said.

It was unclear if Smith planned to raise a defence against the allegations.

Smith’s lawyer, Jane Langford, said she was unable to comment.

“We are not in a position to discuss the hearing,” Langford said.

If the allegations are upheld by the disciplinary panel, Smith faces a range of penalties. They include a reprimand and the temporary or permanent loss of his licence.

He could also be fined up to $35,000.

Smith’s licence expired Aug. 9, 2008, when he did not renew it. However, the college retains jurisdiction and an adverse finding would come into play should he ever decide to renew his registration.

The referral to discipline was made Oct. 19, 2009 and is the first time Smith has faced such a hearing.

He did receive a caution in 2002 but under college rules, it was considered a private matter and a dismissal of the complaint.

For more than a decade, Smith enjoyed a stellar reputation as the country’s leading pathologist when it came to infant deaths. Several complaints about his work had little effect.

Still, his professional career began unravelling about eight years ago. In 2005, Ontario’s chief coroner ordered a review of 44 autopsies Smith had conducted. Thirteen had resulted in criminal charges and convictions.

The review uncovered serious problems in half of those cases.

Smith voluntarily agreed to restrictions on his medical licence pending the outcome of the public inquiry led by Justice Stephen Goudge, who issued a damning 1,000-page report in October 2008.

During his testimony before the inquiry, Smith said his errors were not intentional.

He also apologized to William Mullins-Johnson, who spent 12 years in jail for the rape and murder of his four-year-old niece before being exonerated.

The Ontario government later paid Mullins-Johnson $4.25 million in compensation for his horrific ordeal.

In all, Ontario’s top court has set aside five convictions based, in part, on Smith’s testimony and another half-dozen appeals are pending.

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