She was convicted of feeding her son cocaine. No one told her the hair tests were flawed

Posted
September 14, 2018
Article Source
Toronto Star

Twenty years ago, in a child-abuse case that made headlines for the shocking nature of the crime, a crack-addicted Toronto mother was convicted of repeatedly feeding her young son cocaine, based on drug-testing evidence from two Motherisk experts.

In his reasons for judgment, the judge cited test results of the 4-year-old's hair, which purported to show "sustained use over a three-month period."

This was not a case of "accidental exposure," Justice John Hamilton concluded in the 1998 decision. "The amount found in the hair indicates numerous usages."

Joyce, whose last name is being withheld to protect her son's identity, has always maintained her innocence. She may have had drug problems. She may have made poor choices. But she insists she never fed her child cocaine.

Beginning in the early '90s, Motherisk conducted at least 35,000 hair tests on 25,000 individuals, primarily for child welfare providers, who relied on the results as proof of parental substance abuse. These were often families on the margins, without the means or know-how to effectively challenge the results of Motherisk's hair tests, which influenced decisions to take away their children.

In many respects, Joyce fit this profile: she was a single mother and an admitted crack addict, who relied on public assistance. But this was not a child-protection case. She was on trial for a serious crime.

Joyce served nine months in jail before she was released on probation. After decades of being maligned and disbelieved, she assumed she would have to carry the weight of her conviction for the rest of her life.

That changed last month, after her case was unearthed by the Star as part of an ongoing investigation into the drug-testing scandal at the Hospital for Sick Children's former Motherisk lab. Despite efforts by Ontario's attorney general to identify and review criminal cases involving Motherisk's hair tests, which were discredited in 2015, Joyce's conviction was missed.

The oversight raises questions about the comprehensiveness of the government's internal review, and whether other convictions based on Motherisk testimony have gone unnoticed.

Read more: She was convicted of feeding her son cocaine. No one told her the hair tests were flawed