By Nicole Kleinsteuber
Jocelyn Wilson said she was shocked when she entered her Grade 11 law class after lunch last Friday to find disgraced pathologist Charles Smith sitting at the front of her class.
“I was freaked out that he was there, because I wrote a law report on one of his cases and I know his past,” said Wilson, a student.
Smith worked as a pathologist at Toronto’s Sick Kids Hospital for 24 years and was called to testify in cases involving suspicious deaths and alleged child abuse. Smith lost his medical licence after an inquiry into his actions concluded he “actively misled” his superiors and “made false statements” in court which led to 13 wrongful convictions and children being removed from their homes.
“When I entered my class he (Smith) was just sitting there with his name written on the board,” said Wilson in an interview.
Wilson said the female student that invited Smith to speak to the class introduced him. The student then informed the class the presentation was kept quiet because they (her and the teacher) didn’t want the media to get wind of Smith’s visit.
Kerry Donnell, communications officer for the Hastings and Prince Edward School Board, said she found out about the incident when a reporter called her to confirm Smith had visited the school. Donnell said a number of concerned parents had contacted the media after they learned Smith had spoken to the class.
Donnell said parental concern has caused the school board review the policy surrounding guest speakers and is working towards a system-based process. Controversial public speakers will require approval from the superintendent.
Rob McGall, director of education for the board, said Smith isn’t a guest speaker the board would’ve approved had they known about the request in advance.
“Had I known he was going to be there I don’t think I would’ve went to class that day just because everything I’ve read about him isn’t positive and he’s not someone I would want to listen to,” said Wilson.
Wilson said Smith didn’t let on that he had lost his medical licence or the reasoning behind it.
“Smith talked about DNA and the coroner’s role in the courtroom,” said Wilson. “Near the end of his presentation he mentioned his involvement in the Louise Reynolds’ murder trial. He said the media ran his name through the mud during his case against Louise Reynolds.”
Reynolds spent two years in jail after Smith mistakenly concluded her seven-year-old daughter had been stabbed to death in Kingston. A second autopsy concluded the girl had died from dog bites.
It surprised Wilson when Smith referred to Reynolds’ case because her recent law report focused on how she was wrongfully accused of murdering her daughter. What astonished Wilson even more was how content her teacher was with having Smith present to her class.
“I was freaked out to be in the class because our teacher was excited Smith was there and he talked about Smith like he was an amazing pathologist. I knew that he was disgraced and accused of perjury. I don’t think other students knew about his past and having him in our classroom really freaked me out,” said Wilson.
Attempts to speak with other students and faculty were unsuccessful. A source, who asked not to be identified, said teachers were told not to speak to the media during a staff meeting Monday morning.
Wilson said she didn’t feel comfortable about voicing her concerns during Smith’s presentation but she talked about his visit with her mom later that night.
“A couple of days later my principal called my parents and I to see if we had any questions or concerns about Smith’s visit,” said Wilson.
Wilson said she doesn’t think her teacher or her fellow student should suffer any repercussions from Smith’s visit. But she understands how this incident is a cause for concern.
“This situation hits close to home for some people,” said Wilson referring to Smith’s involvement in the wrongful conviction of a parent living in the Quinte area.
“I just learned that one of Smith’s victims Sherry Sherret-Robinson has requested to speak to our class,” said Wilson. “I think she should come to talk to us but I don’t think it’s necessary.”
Sherret-Robinson was convicted of murdering her four-month-old son because of testimony given by Smith.
“The school is unsure about letting Sherry come speak to us because of everything that has gone on,” said Wilson.