Calgary pathologist's reports probed

A former Calgary medical examiner whose expert reports are being reviewed by Alberta Justice officials has been identified as Dr. Michael Belenky, CBC News has learned.
Autopsy reports prepared by Dr. Michael Belenky, who worked as as medical examiner in Calgary, are being reviewed by the province. (Creighton University School of Medicine)

A former Calgary medical examiner whose expert reports are being reviewed by Alberta Justice officials has been identified as Dr. Michael Belenky, CBC News has learned.

The investigation began after two police officers — unable to understand an autopsy report prepared by the forensic pathologist for a criminal case — asked for clarification from another doctor in the medical examiner's office.

"This ME said, 'yep no problem, I'll go through the file.' And when that ME went through the file, he noted some discrepancies or concerns in that file," said Calgary Police Service spokesman Kevin Brookwell.

Alberta Justice has since hired a special prosecutor to go over all expert findings in death investigations prepared by Belenky since he was hired in 2008, said department spokesman David Dear.

"Obviously the priority will be anything currently before the courts. And any that we do identify, we'll be notifying defence counsel as soon as we can," he said.

Belenky left the medical examiner's office last month. But Dear refused to say what led to his departure, calling it a private human resources issue.

University contract ended Tuesday

Belenky also had a contract to teach clinics for students at the University of Calgary, but it ended Tuesday, the university has said.

Belenky began teaching pathology to students in October 2008. The university said students watched him work at the medical examiner's office and that he didn't lecture on campus.

A university spokesperson said it was an honorary arrangement and he wasn't paid for the work.

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta's website indicates Belenky graduated as a doctor of medicine in Russia in 1990. His licence is still in good standing.

Kelly Eby, spokeswoman for the college, said an outside agency does the checks on doctors who are trying to qualify for a licence in Alberta.

"So that's their medical degree, and evidence of the post-graduate training," said Eby. "So they send all that information to [the Physician Credentials Registry of Canada]. PCRC reviews it and verifies it, and then they advise us of the results of that review."

Lawyers being notified

Defence lawyers in affected cases are being notified. One of those is Calgary lawyer Charlie Stewart, who said his firm has no objections to the work done by Belenky.

He said it's too early to jump to conclusions, but that it's important to take these matters seriously.

"Everyone has concerns when any of these kinds of issues arise," said Stewart. "We are all very familiar with the [Dr.] Charles Smith case in Ontario where people were wrongfully convicted on evidence that turned out in the end not to be accurate."

The Ontario government recently said it would offer payments of up to $250,000 for each person whose life was directly affected by Smith's flawed pediatric forensic pathology.

Smith was found to have made mistakes leading to dubious conclusions of criminal wrongdoing in 20 instances over a period of 10 years of work for the Chief Coroner's Office. Thirteen of those cases resulted in criminal convictions.

Charles was stripped of his medical licence by a disciplinary panel on Tuesday, although he hadn't practised medicine since August 2008, when his registration expired.