Head of Motherisk probe had ties to Sick Kids
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Feb 13, 2016  |  Vote 0    0

Head of Motherisk probe had ties to Sick Kids

Province sees no conflict, but retired judge did work for hospital’s controversial abuse team

OurWindsor.Ca

Questions are being raised about the retired judge chosen by the provincial government to head a two-year commission reviewing child protection cases that used flawed hair-test results from the Hospital for Sick Children’s Motherisk laboratory.

Justice Judith Beaman has prior legal connections to Sick Kids, the Star has learned. While working as a lawyer in private practice in the late 1980s and early 1990s, she advised the hospital’s Suspected Child Abuse and Neglect team.

The SCAN team would later come under fire for its actions during that period, after a public inquiry looked into cases by disgraced pathologist Charles Smith, who worked closely with SCAN members and whose findings led in some instances to wrongful convictions.

“The government has complete confidence that Justice Beaman’s career and experience as a judge and a lawyer will not place her in a conflict with respect to her responsibilities as commissioner,” said Christine Burke, a spokeswoman for Ontario Attorney-General Madeleine Meilleur.

Burke confirmed that Beaman, considered a family law expert, provided advice to the SCAN team “to support preparations for court appearances,” adding that it was over 25 years ago and has no connection with the matters being dealt with at the Motherisk commission.

The commission, which began its work last month, did not make Beaman available for an interview.

A spokesman said Beaman never advised — nor even recalls meeting — Smith, and that aside from discussing court presentations with the SCAN team, she also flagged case law she thought would be relevant to their work during a period of about two years.

The issue of Beaman heading the commission has led to concern from the Criminal Lawyers’ Association and has been raised in a letter to Meilleur from a lawyer representing a woman affected by Motherisk.

“Fairness and impartiality are cornerstones of our justice system. As a result, judges must be and appear to be unbiased,” said criminal defence lawyer Daniel Brown, a Toronto director of the CLA.

“There is no concern about the integrity or impartiality of Justice Beaman, but because this is a public review, our organization is very concerned that her decision might appear to be coloured by her prior associations with Sick Kids Hospital.”

Christine Rupert, whose two daughters were removed at birth and later adopted out, wants answers from the government about Beaman.

Her daughters remained in foster care because, at least in part, of Motherisk hair tests that showed Rupert was a heavy cocaine user — a finding she has always fiercely denied and has gone to great lengths to disprove.

“I simply want to be assured that Justice Beaman was not involved in any way whatsoever with the previous problems at the Hospital for Sick Children,” she told the Star, referring to the Smith scandal and the pathologist’s association with the SCAN team.

Her lawyer, Julie Kirkpatrick, raised Rupert’s concern in a Jan. 17 letter to Meilleur, but has yet to hear back.

“I have a duty to my client to ask questions on her behalf,” she told the Star. “I do look forward to hearing back from the government so that I can reassure my client. This is very important to her.”

It is not unusual for judges to have represented many different interests and parties before their call to the bench, said the head of the Family Lawyers Association.

“Generally, the family law bar was positive about (Beaman’s) appointment as she is seen as someone experienced and knowledgeable about child protection law,” said Katharina Janczaruk.

Beaman’s name came up in 2008 at the Goudge Inquiry, which was looking into errors made by Smith in child death cases.

Dr. Katy Driver, a member of the SCAN team, told inquiry counsel Linda Rothstein that “Judy Beeman” would come in about once a month and “we would discuss some of the concerns that we would have had over different cases, different court appearances of anyone of us,” according to a transcript.

Driver is out of the country and could not be reached for comment by the Star.

Rothstein’s questions to Driver followed a discussion at the inquiry about a meeting of the SCAN team in which they shrugged off a 1991 ruling by a judge who had acquitted a babysitter of killing a baby. The verdict came after a number of forensic experts disputed the evidence put forward by Smith and the SCAN team.

The judge, Patrick Dunn, was described in minutes from that meeting as a “family court judge at the bottom of the heap,” and that his ruling had “no presidential value re: medical evidence,” the inquiry heard.

Known as the “Amber case,” it was the first case that seriously called into question Smith’s work and a key moment in what would become a national scandal. The outright dismissal of the judge’s ruling by the SCAN team was described as a missed opportunity at the public inquiry.

It was not clear in the inquiry transcript if Beaman attended that meeting of the SCAN team or helped them in preparing for the trial.

The Motherisk commission spokesman told the Star that Beaman “has no recollection of speaking to the team about any particular court decisions,” but that her advice would never have been to disregard a ruling.

From a legal ethics perspective, Beaman’s appointment as head of the commission seems to have the appearance of a conflict, said Osgoode Hall law professor Allan Hutchinson, who is not involved with the commission or Motherisk.

“Somebody will easily be able to paint her report — however unjustified — by saying: ‘Look, she used to work for (Sick Kids),’ ” he said.

Toronto Star

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