Investigated pathologist not certified

An Alberta medical examiner whose criminal cases are under scrutiny was not certified as a forensic pathologist.

Board certification desired, but not demanded, for work

Dr. Michael Belenky was never certified as a forensic pathologist, a quality desired but not demanded for employment in the Calgary medical examiner's office. (Creighton University School of Medicine)

An Alberta medical examiner whose criminal cases are under scrutiny was not certified as a forensic pathologist.

Dr. Michael Belenky's files are being reviewed by a special prosecutor after errors were found in one of his autopsy reports.

Belenky travelled a long and winding path to the Calgary medical examiner's office. He received a medical degree in the Soviet Union in 1990. Eighteen years later, after stops in Nebraska and B.C., he finished his training in Pennsylvania.

Dr. Abdulrezak Shakir, as director of the fellowship program at the Allegheny County Medical Examiner's Office in Pittsburgh, was his supervisor.

"He might not have been outstanding, but he did not do anything foolish enough to question," Shakir told CBC News.

Pathologists 'in short supply'

Belenky never became a board-certified pathologist in the U.S. or in Canada.

Despite that, his next stop was Calgary, where he landed a $300,000-a-year job as a medical examiner, a position that called for forensic pathologist certification but didn't demand it.

David Dear, spokesman for Alberta Justice, said it's hard to find forensic pathologists — certified or otherwise.

"They are in short supply, not just in Canada but internationally. It is a highly specialized area of work," said Dear.

Dr. Trevor Theman, registrar of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta, said a doctor can be licensed to work as a specialist in Alberta without being certified in that field.

"In the simplest of all worlds we would say, 'this is what we set in Canada as the requirements. Everybody must meet it.' But you know, about 40 per cent of the doctors in Alberta wouldn't be working."

Theman added that even without certification, specialists must still be trained in their field and sponsored by a physician or their employer in order to practise in the province.

First affected case could come up Thursday

Belenky left his post in Calgary last month. Shortly after that, police investigators who failed to get clarification from him on an autopsy report took it up with one of his colleagues, who then went over Belenky's file. 

Questions were raised about "discrepancies or concerns," and Alberta Justice announced the investigation earlier this week.

The prosecutor will go over all expert findings in death investigations prepared by Belenky since he was hired in 2008, with an emphasis on those cases that are still before the courts.

A hearing into what could be the first homicide trial delayed by the inquiry into Belenky's work is set for Thursday afternoon.

A first-degree murder trial is scheduled for Shengjun An, whose wife was discovered in medical distress in their home on Edgehill Drive N.W. on Feb. 8, 2010. 

Yanrong Chen, 41, later died in hospital.