Rare occurrence: A police apology

I was reading the stories about Dr. Charles Smith, the disgraced Canadian pathologist whose child-death investigations are currently under review in Ontario. According to independent experts, Dr. Smith made “serious errors in 20 of 45 criminally suspicious deaths he helped investigate between 1991 and 2001.” Now he’s the subject of an inquiry.

What interested me most (beyond Dr. Smith’s obvious bias and incompetence) was the fact that a detective on the Sudbury police force actually apologized to the family for the mistakes in the investigation of their son’s death–even though the mistakes weren’t his fault.

“Insp. Keech said he eventually became convinced himself that Dr. Smith had led the police astray, and met with Maurice Gagnon, Lianne’s father, to apologize.

“I kind of harboured a lot of guilt about what I had done,” he told the inquiry. “It was kind of an opportunity for me to apologize for what I had put them through, for my actions.”

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the police (and Champlain officials) involved in Theresa’s investigation publicly admitted that mistakes were made, apologized to the Allore family and revisited her case with an open mind to right their wrongs? It seems like such a simple thing to do…but so few of those in positions of power are able to say “I’m sorry”.

In case detectives and school administrators don’t know what an apology is, Dr. Carl Schneider spells it out:

“…an apology involves the acknowledgement of injury with an acceptance of responsibility, affect (felt regret or shame – the person must mean it), and vulnerability – the risking of an acknowledgement without excuses. It is repair work – work that is often necessary, but difficult.”

If you can’t manage admitting the wrong, then just acknowledge the pain that was caused and do what you can to mitigate the damage (e.g., be transparent about Theresa’s case). It’s never too late for an apology. And never too late to put things right.

If you want to know more about the Charles Smith Inquiry, the National Post has an excellent series of articles here:

http://www.nationalpost.com/news/story.html?id=269595

If you want to know my thoughts on the profession of pathology, read my September 7, 2007, blog entry “Are Canada’s pathologists qualified to do their job?”

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