Medical examiner at centre of racial complaint against Alberta judge overwhelmed

Medical examiner at centre of racial complaint against Alberta judge overwhelmed

CALGARY — A medical examiner who testified at the trial of an Alberta couple who were charged in their child’s death says he is overwhelmed that legal and health professionals have filed a complaint alleging some comments the judge made about the doctor could be racist.

Last week, Justice Terry Clackson found David and Colett Stephan not guilty of failing to provide the necessaries of life to their 19-month-old son Ezekiel.

In his written decision, Clackson said Dr. Bamidele Adeagbo was hard to understand and spoke with an accent.

A letter dated Thursday and signed by 42 doctors and lawyers from across Canada asks the Canadian Judicial Council to investigate Clackson’s comments.

Adeagbo, who is originally from Nigeria, was aware of the letter when he was reached by The Canadian Press on Friday.

“At this point I am not going to give any comment on what Justice Clackson did or not. I will leave it to his own peers,” Adeagbo said from his office in Terre Haute, Ind., where he now practises.

“It’s still kind of making me a little bit emotional.”

The Stephans testified they thought their son had croup and that they used herbal remedies to treat him. They called for an ambulance when he stopped breathing, but he died in hospital.

Adeagbo testified that Ezekiel died of bacterial meningitis, but the judge sided with a forensic pathologist called by the defence. She said the boy’s death was caused by a lack of oxygen.

Adeagbo, who said he testified at more than 50 criminal cases while working in Canada, said he only knows one of the people who signed the letter.

“I was quite overwhelmed that people really can see through all of this and see the truth,” he said.

“There are good people in Canada and they will not stand for this type of behaviour … I see people rising up to stand for what is right, and I really am proud of Canada’s people.”

Clackson took issue with Adeagbo’s inability to communicate with the court.

“His ability to articulate his thoughts in an understandable fashion was severely compromised by: his garbled enunciation; his failure to use appropriate endings for plurals and past tenses; his failure to use the appropriate definite and indefinite articles; his repeated emphasis of the wrong syllables; dropping his Hs; mispronouncing his vowels; and the speed of his responses,” Clackson wrote.

The judge, without explanation, also called out Adeagbo for “body language and physical antics … not the behaviours usually associated with a rational, impartial professional imparting opinion evidence.”

The group’s letter about Clackson suggest some people may perceive Clackson’s comments as racist.

“In particular, Justice Clackson harshly mocked Dr. Adeagbo’s manner of speech and accented English, and thereby inappropriately implicated his national or ethnic origin as a person of African roots.”

The judicial council on Friday confirmed that it had received a complaint against Clackson and would review it.

“In this matter, the review of the complaint may take additional time since the Crown Prosecution Service has indicated it is considering an appeal of the court’s decision,” it said.

Darryl Ruether, executive legal counsel for the Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta, said Clackson can remain on the bench while the judicial council investigates. Ruether said he could not comment on the complaint, because it’s before the council and the verdict may be appealed.

Online biographies say Adeagbo earned his medical degree in Nigeria in 1991. He has worked in Canada and the United States for 19 years.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 27, 2019.

— Follow @BillGraveland on Twitter


Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press

Note to readers: This story has been clarified to include explanation of why Ruether would not comment on the complaint.

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