The medical examiner who testified at the trial of an Alberta couple who were charged in their child’s death said he was overwhelmed that legal and health professionals have filed a complaint alleging some comments the judge made about the doctor were racist.
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 medical and law experts 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 suggests some people may perceive his 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.”
A professor at the University of Ottawa, who is one of the authors of the letter, said Clackson didn’t cite similar critiques against the defence’s medical expert, Dr. Anny Sauvageau.
“One is French Canadian, the other is African — both doctors, both experts — and the judge slams the African doctor for how he says his vowels and doesn’t know how to say the letter ‘H,'” Amir Attaran, who teaches medicine and law, told Global News on Friday.
“This seems quite discriminatory.”
The Canadian Judicial Council confirmed on Friday it has received a complaint against Clackson and that it takes all allegations of misconduct against judges seriously.
“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.
Although Attaran is disappointed by this situation, he noted it isn’t a reason to doubt the entire justice system.
“Judges are only human,” he said. “We shouldn’t let this decide for us whether judges are to be trusted. They deserve our respect.”
The trial was the second for the Stephans. A jury convicted the couple in 2016 but the Supreme Court of Canada ordered a new trial.
Adeagbo also testified during the first trial.
Online biographies say Adeagbo earned his medical degree in Nigeria in 1991.
He has worked in Canada and the United States for 19 years.
WATCH: David Stephan speaks to reporters after being found not guilty in the 2012 death of his 18-month-old son Ezekiel.