Father wants justice for daughter wrongly accused of murder
Baby’s death led to nightmare of suspicion and accusation

By Carol Mulligan/The Sudbury Star
Local News - Saturday, June 11, 2005 @ 11:00

Maurice Gagnon is calling for a public inquiry into the system that accused his daughter of murdering her baby, based on no evidence — only the opinion of a Toronto pathologist whose work is now in question.

The chief coroner of Ontario has ordered a review of 40 autopsies performed by Dr. Charles Smith, of Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children, since 1991 in what were thought to be child homicide cases or criminally suspicious deaths of children.

That’s not good enough for Gagnon, whose family was subjected to a nightmare of suspicion, accusations, legal proceedings and fear of losing another child after his 11-month-old grandson Nicholas died Nov. 30, 1995.

A Sudbury coroner classified Nicholas’s death as sudden and unexplainable after the infant crawled under a sewing table, bumped his head and stopped breathing.

Gagnon never wants anyone else to go through what his daughter Lianne Thibeault did after her child’s death.

In 1995, Thibeault was a single mom, and Nicholas was living with his grandparents, Maurice and Angela.

Gagnon was devastated when the child died. What hurt more was when Smith’s opinion led to police, coroner’s office and Children’s Aid Society investigations.

“(It was) the anger of anyone daring to pick on my child,” said Gagnon at his Minnow Lake home Friday.

“Someone attacking your child ... you get a parent’s dander up and you’ve got a force to be reckoned with.”

Gagnon said he and his family refused to be victims when Smith fingered Lianne as a murder suspect, based only on the Sudbury coroner’s autopsy report.

They became the aggressors, and he and his family believe, “in some small measure,” their fight helped result in the review into Smith’s conduct. Gagnon and Thibeault took their story to CBC’s Fifth Estate, which pointed the finger of suspicion at Smith.

It was May 1997 — almost 18 months after Nicholas had died and two days before her bridal shower — that police visited Thibeault and told her her son’s death was being treated as a homicide and she was a suspect.

Thibeault never was charged criminally, but it would take almost 18 months, $120,000 of her parents’ retirement savings, the exhumation of Nicholas’s tiny body and a battle in family court to end to her ordeal.

Thibeault married Pierre in the summer of 1997 and gave birth to her daughter Nicole, now 7, the next year.

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During that time, Smith had conversations with CAS officials here and told them, in Thibeault’s words, “that I killed one child and chances are I would do it again.”

As a result, Nicole had to be given up into the custody of Gagnon and his wife after her birth and Thibeault could only visit her during CAS-supervised visits.

Nicole was eight weeks when Thibeault got a date in family court. She was allowed to live with her daughter at her parents’, but wasn’t to be left alone with the baby.

By that time, Gagnon had backed the chief coroner’s office into a corner and it had called for a second opinion on Smith’s findings in Nicholas’s death. A child abuse authority from the United States concluded there was no indication of foul play in Nicholas’s death and called Smith irresponsible, say Gagnon and his daughter.

The family hired Sudbury criminal lawyer Berk Keaney to represent them during the police investigation and Keaney, who does not practise family law, handled their case in family court. The legal paperwork was so extensive, Thibeault said Keaney claimed it occupied an entire room at his law offices. Gagnon, a former senior manager with the Ministry of Tourism, retired early to work full time on the case.

Thibeault and her dad are relieved to see it closer to resolution. They want nothing less than Smith’s medical licence revoked. They want him to serve jail time for what Gagnon calls his “reckless disregard” for the truth and the families he hurt.

“There’s not going to be any benefit to us,” said Gagnon, if Smith is merely stripped of his medical credentials. An inquiry into how the system allowed one man to wield such power over so many families’ lives must be held.

In the meantime, Thibeault has gone on with her life. As well as Nicole, who is autistic, she and her husband have a son, Noah, 21 months. She just completed a developmental services worker diploma, adding to her Laurentian University degrees in English and history. She wants to go to teachers’ college when her children are older and earn a master’s in special education, something she wouldn’t have considered before Nicole’s birth.

“You can carry a lot of anger, and let that consume your life. But I have two kids at home and I have a husband, and I have to carry on.

“Being angry ... isn’t going to pay the bills.”




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