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Forensic centre slips stir doubts

the guy-paul morin story

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By Donna Laframboise, Toronto Star, 12 October 1992

Donna Laframboise

One of the lessons we've learned from the Susan Nelles, Donald Marshall and David Milgaard (right) tragedies is that police sometimes have their own biases; that sometimes they're more interested in pursing their own pet theories about a crime than in discovering was really happened; that sometimes they find themselves under intense pressure to arrest someone - anyone.

It's important to keep this in mind when considering the role Ontario's Centre of Forensic Sciences has played in the Guy-Paul Morin case. After a crime has been committed, police often ask this government lab to examine evidence such as blood stains or soil samples in an attempt to piece together what has occurred.

“not independent...
...conclusions influenced by the police”

The centre is not, however, a neutral, independent body. Its job isn't to scrutinize all the available evidence and them propose a number of different theories as to what might have taken place. Rather, any conclusions its analysts come to are strongly influenced by the assumptions of the police officers with whom they work.

Douglas Lucas, the director of the centre, doesn't dispute this. He says he encourages the police to discuss cases with his analysts. Moreover, when asked whether he considers it proper for forensic scientists to concentrate on connecting a suspect to the crime rather than looking at all the evidence, he is unapologetic.

That's what we're here for," he says. "Virtually everything we do is to try and link two persons or a person to a thing. That's the business we're in."

“juries are never told”

What's profoundly disturbing, however, is that juries, such as the one in the recent Guy-Paul Morin trial, are never told to keep this in mind when an expert from the forensic sciences centre takes the witness stand. Rather, they are routinely given the impression that these analysts are disinterested observers whose testimony is based on scientific considerations alone.

As though this weren't bad enough, an accused person also has to contend with the fact that the centre's approach to criminal cases is sometimes downright sloppy. Consider, for example, the fact that the centre has lost hundreds of slides of hair and fibre samples connected to the Morin case.

While this apparently occurred several years ago, neither the crown attorney nor Morin's lawyers have ever been formally notified of the fact. And even though an appeal is pending, the centre has so far made no attempt to compile a list of what exactly has gone missing.

Then there's the issue of proper evidence collection. The centre publishes a police handbook which, among other things, stresses the importance of gathering hair samples that are representative of all parts of a person's scalp. This handbook says - no less than three times - that a minimum of 50 hairs is needed from one individual in order to ensure an adequate sample.

What, then, are we to make of the fact that not only do the police appear to routinely ignore these guidelines, but that no one at the forensic sciences centre is concerned about this?

Police collected hair samples from Guy-Paul Morin on two different occasions. The first sample contained 15 hairs, the second one 10. Samples were also taken from three members of the victim's family. Each of these contained between 25 and 30 hairs. Although these people were all healthy, willing donors, not once did police come close to meeting the centre's minimum requirements.

When I asked Douglas Lucas whether it's anyone's job to monitor these sorts of things, to write memos to police officers about inadequacies in their evidence collection, he indicated that it isn't.

Finally, whatever confidence one might still have in the centre is entirely undermined by the realization that the forensic analyst responsible for the Morin case has:

  • Lost numerous pages from her work notes.
  • Failed to record significant details of her examinations.
  • Doesn't know whether she spoke to police officers on certain dates or what she might have said to them.
  • Led the jury to believe she'd been a fully trained scientist for considerably longer than the 22 months indicated in her personnel file at the time the case began.

These are not trivial matters. Guy-Paul Morin has been sentenced to life imprisonment, with no chance of parole for 25 years. And the Centre of Forensic Sciences played a major role in putting him there.