Doctor who was subject of alleged racial comments calls judge's written decision 'surprising'
Dr. Bamidele Adeagbo leaves court during the re-trial for David and Collet Stephen. Adeagbo had what some are calling racially insensitive comments made about him in the judge's ruling.
CALGARY — The medical expert who had racially insensitive comments made about him in a judge’s ruling says he wants to “process what the justice said about me,” before responding.
Dr. Bamidele Adeagbo testified in the re-trial of David and Collet Stephen, who were acquitted last week for the 2012 death of their 19-month-old son, Ezekiel.
In his written ruling, Justice Terry D. Clackson allegedly made discriminatory comments against Adeagbo, which some say were racist.
A formal letter has been to the Canadian Judicial Council by a group of lawyers and doctors asking for an investigation of Clackson’s comments.
“At this point I am just processing the ... report of the justice and I have no comment at this time,” said Adeagbo, who was a medical examiner in Calgary now lives and works in Indiana.
“It's been very surprising to me, I been trying to really understand exactly what is going on, why that happened.”
During the proceedings, the Crown called Adeagbo to testify on the condition of Ezekiel, who died in 2012.
Adeagbo was accepted by Clackson as a qualified medical expert in the case but the letter says in his decision, the judge made a number of comments about the doctor "in which some may perceive racism."
"In particular, Justice Clackson harshly mocked Ageagbo's manner of speech and accented English and thereby inappropriately implicated his national or ethnic origin as a person of African roots," the letter reads.
Clackson wrote in the decision for R. v Stephan:
Dr. Ageagbo's evidence was replete with technical medical jargon. His vocabulary was extensive. 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.
He also added there were multiple times where he had to have Ageagbo repeat his answers, slow down his speech and insist that the question asked needed to be answered.
The letter says because he piled so much significance on accent and manner of speech, Justice Clackson formed an "inappropriate view" that the way that someone speaks says anything about the weight of their testimony.
The authors of the letter say Adeagbo testified at the first trial and there was no comment about his communication skills at that time.
"We believe that Justice Clackson's choice of words is inappropriate, shocks the conscience, and speaking for ourselves, undermines our confidence in the administration of justice."
University of Ottawa Prof. Amir Attaran, one of the people named on the complaint letter, said Clackson's comments called into question an expert witness in the case.
"A physician who he agreed was an expert but he discounted that physician's testimony because the fellow is African and he spoke with an African accent.
In a statement, Darryl Ruether, executive legal counsel for the Court of Queen's Bench, said they are “aware of a complaint made to the CJC regarding the reasons for judgment in R v Stephan."
“Because this matter is the subject of a complaint before the CJC and because it may be subject to appeal to the Alberta Court of Appeal, it would be inappropriate for the Court to comment on it,” he said.
“Justice Clackson cannot comment on the complaint, for the same reasons.”
Calgary lawyer Greg Dunn, who was not part of the group behind the letter, said Clackson is “generally highly regarded amongst the criminal bar,” and his wording could be used for a appeal, though it may not be successful.
“If it was found by an Appeal Court that Justice Clackson was truly ‘discriminatory’ or ‘racist’ in his assessment of the credibility of the Dr. Adeagbo, then I would expect this would result in a successful appeal,” he said.
“However, Justice Clackson could be disciplined by the Judicial Counsel for something less serious, such as using ‘unwise parlance’ in his decision, yet this might not be enough to constitute a significant error as to warrant a successful ground of appeal on the case proper.”
The Canadian Judicial Council has not responded to CTV News' request for comment.