When Tamara Broomfield was convicted in 2009 of giving her
2-year-old son, Malique, a near lethal dose of cocaine, she was
branded Toronto’s “crack mom.”
Based largely on evidence presented by a prominent Toronto
toxicologist, the judge found that, for more than a year,
had regularly fed her baby doses equivalent to
those recorded in adult addicts. She was sentenced to seven
years in jail.
Malique, who had a heart attack and almost died from a cocaine
overdose in 2005, suffered permanent brain damage and
In October, the court of appeal overturned the cocaine
convictions after fresh evidence cast doubt on the science that
all but sealed Broomfield’s fate.
Gideon Koren, founder and director of the Motherisk program at
the Hospital for Sick Children, delivered the findings that are
now in question.
Toronto criminal defence lawyer
, who tried to get the trial judge to reopen
Broomfield’s case in 2010 to re-examine the medical evidence,
said “everyone should be concerned that faulty science helped
“Scientific evidence is often complicated and cloaked in a
belief that reputable and experienced doctors providing expert
evidence in court can’t be wrong,” he said. “The public too
easily accepts these experts at face value. As the Broomfield
case shows, this can result in a miscarriage of justice when the
science underlying the opinion is faulty.”
In response to questions for this story, the Star received an
email on Friday stating that Koren “is out of town and
unfortunately cannot respond.”
The email included a report written by a toxicologist from Utah
in support of Motherisk’s analysis, which was also filed in
court during the appeal process.
Broomfield, 31, has abandoned her appeals of the remaining
child-abuse convictions related to Malique, including failing to
seek medical care for a broken wrist, and causing multiple rib
fractures. Speaking through a friend, she declined to comment.
Broomfield was released on bail last year after the Crown
cross-examined the expert witness who cast doubt on Koren’s
Craig Chatterton, deputy chief toxicologist in the office of the
chief medical examiner in Edmonton, challenged the methods used
to prepare Malique’s hair sample that Motherisk analyzed as well
as the methodology used to analyze it.
Chatterton also questioned “the validity of the results as given
in evidence at trial,” the appeal court decision states.
In a 2012 report filed in court, Chatterton wrote, “It is not
possible to determine whether Malique Broomfield had ingested
(or been exposed to) cocaine over an extended time period, based
on the results of the immunoassay analysis conducted by
(Reached by phone on Friday, Chatterton, who submitted his
evidence as an independent consultant, declined to offer further
After the cross-examination, the Crown and Broomfield’s lawyer,
James Lockyer, went before the court of appeal to ask that she
be released on bail.
Although the court of appeal ordered that the Crown make Koren
available for cross-examination, the Crown instead agreed that
Chatterton’s findings should be admitted as fresh evidence and
that the cocaine convictions should be quashed.
Malique, now 11, lives with his father, Steve Fitz-Charles, and
his grandmother, Yuillie Fitz-Charles, who told the Star on
Friday that the family is trying to “move forward.”
“We need to really focus on Malique and his well-being and
everything that he’s gone through, that he’s going through, and
that he will continue to face in the future,” she said.
His grandmother said he is improving but difficulties remain.
“He looks like me. He talks. But his reading skills have been
impacted very badly. His social skills, too . . . We’re trying.”
Lockyer, who founded the Association in Defence of the Wrongly
Convicted, said neither he nor his client was “comfortable
talking about the case.”
Court documents state Malique was in the midst of a seizure when
he arrived at hospital in Scarborough with his mother in August
The boy was transferred to SickKids, where tests showed cocaine
in his urine, blood and cerebral spinal fluid, and doctors
concluded he was suffering from an overdose.
Broomfield, who was separated from Malique’s father at the time,
told police that she had never taken the drug herself. Fitz-Charles
had a history of dealing drugs, and “was dealing in crack
cocaine in substantial quantities” during a six-month period in
2004, when he often stayed with Broomfield and Malique,
according to court documents.
Shortly after Malique landed in hospital, Broomfield told police
that she called his father to tell him what happened.
“I said to him . . . ‘I’ve already found drugs in the building
before, probably he got it from there, probably could have left
something, anything there. The police are on the case. They’re
gonna find — figure it out,’ ” she told police, court documents
She recalled a day Malique picked up a bag of crack in her
building in the videotaped statement to police.
About a week after the apparent cocaine overdose, a sample of
Malique’s hair was analyzed by Koren and his team at Motherisk,
which he said found “extremely high” levels of cocaine and its
byproduct. In December 2005, Motherisk did a segmented analysis
of Malique’s hair, which Koren said showed chronic exposure to
cocaine each month for 15 months in levels that, for an adult,
would indicate “a very severe addiction and drug dependence,”
the court documents state.
The highest levels of cocaine were recorded in early 2005.
However, as the appeal court observed in its decision, the
question of whether Malique showed “any behavioural signs
consistent with chronic exposure to significant amounts of
cocaine” before the overdose was “a live controversy” at trial.
At trial, the defence argued that because Motherisk’s tests
consumed the entire hair sample, there was no chance for an
independent assessment, but Justice Tamarin Dunnet was not
“Dr. Koren’s evidence was vigorously challenged and on occasion,
his demeanour was abrupt and defensive,” Dunnet wrote in her
decision. “Nevertheless, the salient points were unshaken on
cross-examination. His evidence was credible and compelling.”
In his response to Chatterton’s evidence, Koren defended his
findings, which he said have been accepted by experts in the
field and a leading scientific pediatric journal.
“Acute, one time exposure to cocaine, cannot explain the hair
test results,” he wrote in a 2013 letter filed in court. “All
evidence indicate at very high medical probability that the
toddler was exposed to cocaine chronically as part of an extreme
case of chronic abuse and neglect.”
In 2003, Koren was reprimanded and fined $2,500 by the Ontario
College of Physicians and Surgeons for writing anonymous,
harassing letters to colleagues during a heated fight over
research by another doctor. A panel described his actions as
“childish, vindictive and dishonest.”
“Ironically for this accomplished research scientist, it was
only when confronted with irrefutable scientific evidence of his
guilt did he admit that he was the perpetrator,” the panel
Court documents state that Broomfield presented her trial
lawyer, Terry Kirichenko, with this information, but he chose
not to raise it during the proceedings. (At the time of her
trial, Kirichenko was facing an impending suspension by the Law
Society of Upper Canada for failing to maintain his books and
records and failing to co-operate with an investigation.)
Koren’s resumé in the court file is 147 pages long. According to
the SickKids website, he has trained pediatricians from more
than 40 countries and published over 1,400 peer-reviewed papers
in the area of pediatric pharmacology.
Rachel Mendleson can be reached at