No decision made on Alberta Crown’s appeal in Stephans’ case
A Crown appeal was heard in court on Thursday regarding the acquittal of an Alberta couple in the death of their toddler son.
The Court of Appeal panel at Thursday’s session included Chief Justice of Alberta Catherine Fraser, Justice Peter Martin and Justice Marina Paperny.
David and Collet Stephan had previously been accused of not seeking medical attention sooner for their 18-month-old son Ezekiel, who died in 2012. The couple testified they thought their son had croup and that they used herbal remedies to treat him.
Last September, a Court of Queen’s Bench judge found them not guilty of failing to provide the necessaries of life. Justice Terry Clackson accepted the testimony of a defence expert, who said the toddler died of a lack of oxygen, not bacterial meningitis as reported by the original medical examiner.
In his decision, Clackson noted that Dr. Bamidele Adeagbo, who was born in Nigeria, spoke with an accent and was difficult to understand.
“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 at the time.
Crown prosecutor Rajbir Dhillon argued Thursday that Clackson committed a number of errors and made negative comments about the medical examiner that gave rise to a reasonable apprehension of bias.
Dhillon emphasized the way a person speaks should have no bearing on the weight of their evidence, saying the comments made by Clackson behind Dr. Adeagbo’s back were “downright degrading.”
The Stephans had previously stated that Clackson had been polite to Dr. Adeagbo face to face, but Dhillon countered that on Thursday by saying, “It’s what he didn’t say to him.”
According to Dhillon, Dr. Adeagbo has been qualified 30 times as a medical examiner in Alberta cases, and had previously worked in the United States as a medical examiner.
Jason Demers, one of the Stephans’ defence lawyers who cross-examined Dr. Adeagbo during the trial, provided counterpoints on Thursday, saying he “couldn’t disagree more” with Dhillon’s remarks. Demers said when the totality of Clackson’s reasoning is examined, he was fair to Dr. Adeagbo.
“He gave reasons for doing that,” Demers said of Clackson’s preference for Dr. Anny Sauvegeau’s testimony, adding that the sparse amount of evidence given in the Crown’s appeal is “inflammatory and improper.”
Arguments were also made over whether Ezekiel died of bacterial meningitis or from a lack of oxygen during an ambulance ride to the hospital.
The three judges have reserved their decision.
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