Mistaken identity: Child pornography allegation against N.S. doctor dropped after mix-up
Published Tuesday, January 26, 2021 11:58AM AST Last Updated Tuesday, January 26, 2021 4:50PM AST
A physician's stethoscope is shown in this file photo.
HALIFAX -- In a bizarre case of mistaken identity, Halifax police blamed unnamed "partner" agencies Tuesday for providing erroneous information that led to the arrest of a local doctor who was wrongly accused of possessing child pornography.
"(Police) acted swiftly and in good faith as soon as the new information came to light," Halifax Regional Police said in a statement Tuesday. "We recognize and regret the deeply negative impact of an unfortunate error of this nature."
The police force said it received information from two agencies -- one Canadian and one American -- before its Internet Child Exploitation team executed a search warrant on Dec. 2.
Const. John MacLeod, a spokesman for Halifax police, declined to name the agencies or the accused.
Police confirmed a man had been arrested in the Halifax region, but he was not formally charged. The suspect was released from custody on an undertaking to abide by certain conditions.
On Jan. 22, one of the agencies involved in the case alerted investigators in Halifax that a mistake had been made, though no details were released Tuesday.
The governing body for Nova Scotia doctors confirmed police had wrongly accused Dr. David Barnett, a family doctor who works in Cole Harbour, a suburb east of Halifax. Barnett could not be reached for comment.
Dr. Gus Grant, the college's CEO, said the Crown on Monday confirmed police had mistaken Barnett for someone with a similar name and email address in Ohio, who has been arrested. The allegation against Barnett was dismissed in Halifax provincial court on Monday, he said.
Patrick Atherton, the lawyer who represents Barnett, said it appears one of the police agencies sent Halifax police the wrong email address for the suspect.
"They either didn't include or transposed digits in the email and wound up searching the wrong residence and arresting the wrong person," Patrick Atherton said in an interview Tuesday.
"(Barnett) is quite relieved that it's over. It's a terrible shock to be accused of these kinds of things."
Atherton, a defence lawyer based in Halifax, said if Barnett decides to take further legal action, another lawyer with expertise in that area would handle the case.
Grant, who is also the college's registrar, said there is no evidence connecting the doctor with the alleged crime.
When the college learned about the mix-up, it immediately convened a committee to remove an interim suspension imposed on Barnett's medical licence in early December.
"It's a remarkably disturbing story," Grant said in an interview Tuesday.
"I feel terribly sorry that this has happened to Dr. Barnett. As a college, we will do what we can to restore his good name in the profession and in the eyes of the public."
Grant stressed the college did not take any disciplinary action against Barnett. The suspension was required to ensure the safety of the public and the integrity of the medical profession during an investigation, but this measure will not become part of the college's record, he said.
"Dr. Barnett has been a victim of mistaken identity," Grant said. "His name is entirely clear, as it should be."
Nova Scotia's Public Prosecution Service referred all questions to Halifax police.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 26, 2021.