The Discursive Power of Risk: Rewriting the Goudge Report on Paediatric Death Investigation in Ontario
Froats, Jamie Timothy
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This study examines the mentalities and sensibilities of government that get (re)produced in one programmatic narrative about ‘child abuse’ and child homicide. It shows how a perspective of governance takes shape through the lens and language of risk, and how a discourse of risk can take very different forms even within one governmental programme. Empirically the study examines the major report released from the Public Inquiry into Pediatric Forensic Pathology in Ontario (known after its chairperson as the Goudge Inquiry/Report). The Goudge Inquiry (2008) was commissioned by the Ontario government in the wake of a Chief Coroner’s Review into the problematic practices of Dr. Charles Smith, the province’s most trusted paediatric forensic pathologist for nearly 15 years. The resultant Goudge Report presents a rationalization of Ontario’s paediatric death investigation system and its failures. It presents an ideal-typical narrative that carves out the image of a fully formed and perfected risk management complex for combatting ‘child abuse’. To understand the mentalities and sensibilities of government that shape and get shaped by the Report’s risk management narrative, this study probes what ‘risk’ does in the Goudge Report. Risk discourse in this case proves to be entangled in a ‘volatile and contradictory’ set of ‘superficial’ connections, associations and activities, one that operates at the nexus of ‘common sense’ mentalities and populist sensibilities. That the Report depends for its rhetorical power on the silencing of alternative claims, discourses and rationales is central to this analysis.