A group of lawyers, doctors and researchers filed a complaint Thursday against an Alberta judge who they say launched a racially based attack on a medical examiner, describing his accented speech as “garbled” and criticizing him for emphasizing the incorrect syllables.
Justice Terry Clackson recorded those criticisms in a ruling earlier this month in which he outlined his reasons for dismissing charges against David and Collet Stephan, who were accused of failing to provide the necessaries of life for their 19-month-old son, Ezekiel, who died in 2012.
The complaint, signed by 42 individuals from across Canada, was sent to the Canadian Judicial Council on Thursday. The signatories say Justice Clackson failed in his responsibility to uphold the fair administration of the law by discriminating against medical examiner Bamidele Adeagbo on the basis of his ethnic origin.
“It is hard to imagine that if Dr. Adeagbo, who is of African origin, had spoken in a typically American, Australian, British, or other more familiar accent, Justice Clackson would have been so scathing,” the complaint says.
In his ruling, Justice Clackson described problems with the testimony of Dr. Adeagbo at length. According to the ruling, Dr. Adeagbo’s ability to communicate was “compromised” by garbled speech, a failure to use appropriate endings for plurals and past tenses, failing to use definite and indefinite articles properly and emphasis on incorrect syllables, as well as his tendency to drop the “H” sound and the speed of his speech.
Justice Clackson also criticized Dr. Adeagbo’s “movements, body language and physical antics,” which he wrote “were not the behaviours usually associated with a rational, impartial professional imparting opinion evidence” for the court. Justice Clackson did not describe the movements or body language of Dr. Adeagbo.
The judge’s comments regarding Dr. Adeagbo’s are “striking,” the letter says, considering he did not mention any problems understanding the accented speech of Anny Sauvageau, Alberta’s former chief medical examiner who was called by the defence to provide expert testimony.
The complaint says it appears Justice Clackson “treated a witness with a French Canadian accent more favourably than a witness with an African accent.”
University of Ottawa law professor Amir Attaran, one of the authors of the complaint, said he believes Justice Clackson’s comments regarding Dr. Adeagbo are racist and violate the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which protects people from discrimination based on their national or ethnic origin.
“In my respectful opinion, the judge has acted out of racism,” Prof. Attaran said.
Dr. Adeagbo, who has relocated to Indiana, could not be reached on Thursday.
The Canadian Judicial Council investigates complaints about the conduct of judges. According to its website, the council receives about 200 complaints a year and the majority are resolved within three months.
Complaints that are not immediately resolved can be sent to a review panel, which may close the file with an expression of concern or a recommendation that the judge undergo counselling. If complaints are deemed serious enough to warrant a judge’s removal from the bench, the matter can be sent to an inquiry committee that will make that determination.
Darryl Ruether, executive legal counsel with the Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta, said in an e-mail the court is aware of the complaint to the Canadian Judicial Council. He said the court cannot comment because the case Justice Clackson presided over is subject to a complaint before the Canadian Judicial Council and may be subject to an appeal.
Crown prosecutors have 30 days to appeal the judge’s decision, which was rendered on Sept. 19.