Judicial Council called to investigate conduct of Alberta judge
A formal complaint has been made about Alberta Justice Terry D. Clackson for comments he made about one of the medical experts at the retrial of David and Collet Stephan. (File)
LETHBRIDGE – A formal letter has been sent to the Canadian Judicial Council to investigate the conduct of Justice Terry D. Clackson after the justice allegedly made discriminatory comments some say were racist about one of the medical experts at the recent retrial of David and Collet Stephan.
A group of doctors and lawyers joined together in a formal complaint and request for an investigation dated Thursday in regards to the comments made by Justice Clackson about one of the medical experts who testified at the Stephans' retrial.
During the proceedings, the Crown called for Dr. Bamidele Adeagbo to testify on the condition of Ezekiel Stephan, the couple's 19-month-old son who died in 2012.
Dr. 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 Dr. 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 Dr. 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 Dr. 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.
As a result, they are calling for an investigation into the conduct of Justice Clackson, calling it a situation where the judge has failed to "be aware of and understand differences arising from a non-Canadian culture and ethnic background."
The authors of the letter request for appropriate disciplinary action to take place should it be found necessary, but will leave it up to the Alberta Court of Appeal to determine if an error of law has taken place.
The Canadian Judicial Council has not responded to CTV News' request for comment.
The Crown told CTV News in an email that it will not comment on the formal complaint.
It has 30 days from the date of the verdict to file an appeal but, so far, it has not done so.