January 17, 2022
The CBC’s The Fifth Estate program broadcast “irresponsible sensationalism” about the work of a former Calgary medical examiner, a $15-million defamation lawsuit claims.
In a lengthy, 25-page statement of claim obtained Monday by Postmedia, Dr. Evan Matshes alleges the broadcaster defamed him in a two-part Fifth Estate episode in January 2020, entitled The Autopsy: What If Justice Got It Wrong.
“In the story, the defendants either broadcast or caused to be broadcast a defamatory publication of irresponsible sensationalism conceived and created by the defendants to create and foster false allegations that Dr. Matshes had caused or contributed to miscarriages of justice and wrongful convictions,” the lawsuit alleges.
The claim, filed last week by senior Calgary litigator Perry Mack, names the CBC and Fifth Estate journalists Mark Kelley and Harvey Cashore as defendants.
“The broadcasts stated, expressly or impliedly by innuendo that the professional work of … Dr. Matshes as a forensic pathologist in the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner was wrong, misleading, negligent, and substandard and that miscarriages of justice had occurred as a result of the work of Dr. Matshes.
“The story was presented in a deliberately dramatic, nonobjective, misleading fashion designed to create a sensational and provocative presentation. The presentation of the story was the result of selective and incomplete presentation of opinion, conjecture, and facts calculated to present what was a distorted, inaccurate, incomplete and wrongful picture of the circumstances of the cases discussed.”
A statement of defence has not been filed in response to the allegations in Matshes’ claim, which have not been proven in court.
The broadcasts, and subsequent internet follow-up coverage, caused Matshes, now a consulting pathologist in San Diego, reputational damage, the claim alleges.
“The presentations amounted to a reckless, irresponsible and deliberate defamation of Dr. Matshes’ professional and personal standing and character. The presentations amounted to a malicious and marked departure from responsible journalism.”
The lawsuit said much of the coverage was focused on a review ordered by Alberta Justice of 14 of Matshes’ autopsies in which three U.S. pathologists raised concerns, which the shows referred to as an “expert panel report.”
“In presenting its sensational and provocative story, the defendants chose to rely upon a discredited so-called ‘expert panel report’ that purported to question the findings of Dr. Matshes in certain cases,” the claim states.
“The CBC failed to clearly and unequivocally state that the alleged ‘expert panel report’ had been quashed by order of the Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta,” it says.
“The defendants persistently described the so-called ‘expert panel report’ as ‘buried’ or otherwise ‘hidden’ notwithstanding that at the time of the events the judicially discredited report was widely publicized in the media and remained on searchable file at the Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta … as was the Court of Queen’s Bench decision that quashed it.”