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THE HAGUE : Supreme Court orders new trial for David and Collet Stephan, convicted in toddler’s meningitis death

May 15th, 2018 | by Richard Paul
THE HAGUE : Supreme Court orders new trial for David and Collet Stephan, convicted in toddler’s meningitis death
Canada
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Supreme Court orders new trial for David and Collet Stephan, convicted in toddler’s meningitis death

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In 2016, they were convicted after using homemade remedies instead of taking their son who died of bacterial meningitis to a hospital


David Stephan and his wife Collet Stephan arrive at court on Thursday, March 10, 2016 in Lethbridge, Alta. THE CANADIAN PRESS / David RossiterDavid Rossiter / The Canadian Press

The former Alberta couple convicted of failing to provide the necessaries of life after using homemade remedies to treat their infant son will be headed back to court.

The Supreme Court of Canada overturned the 2016 conviction on Tuesday after about one hour of arguments from the Crown and counsel for David Stephan and his wife, Collet, found guilty of failing to provide the necessaries of life to 19-month-old Ezekiel.

The Stephans’ defence told Canada’s highest court that contrary evidence from medical experts led the trial judge to issue a misleading charge and did not “give the jury the tools that they needed to decide this case properly.”

She claimed the testimony of an emergency room nurse — who examined Ezekiel at the family home the day before his death — was not given weight and fully explained by the judge when charging the jury.

But the Crown says the same nurse testified at trial Ezekiel could be suffering from “something internal.” The Crown said the comment should have been a “red alert” for the parents.

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He was taken to hospital in Cardston but later died after being transported to the Alberta Children’s Hospital in Calgary.

“The jury needed to understand the fact that not just the decision was wrong, but that it was wrong such that it was criminal,” the defence said.

“The question then becomes is it criminal neglect, and that is the submission here … that the jury has convicted on the basis of negligence … which, as we all know is not a constitutionally acceptable standard for criminal liability.”

Their trial in Lethbridge heard the couple treated Ezekiel with natural remedies like garlic, onion and horseradish rather than take him to a doctor.

The court heard the Stephans only called 911 when their son stopped breathing.

Lawyers for the Stephans argued before the Alberta Appeal Court that the trial judge allowed the jury to be overwhelmed by medical evidence, which unfairly distracted from the real question of whether the Stephans acted differently than any other reasonable parent.

The Alberta Court of Appeal upheld the conviction against the Stephans last November. But because the ruling wasn’t unanimous, the couple had an automatic right to take their case to the Supreme Court.

David Stephan was sentenced to four months in jail and his wife was ordered to spend three months under house arrest — the only exceptions being for trips to church and medical appointments.

The Crown has indicated it plans to appeal the sentences as too lenient.

In a May 10 Facebook post about the appeal, David Stephan said he expected to go “back to trial so that the whole truth can finally come out,” adding the hearing is an important one for parental rights.

Hours after the appeal, David Stephan posted the thought of another trial “is deeply uncomfortable” for his family, but said “the whole truth will be established and the tremendous lies surrounding the passing of our son will be exposed.” 

Witnesses at the trial said the toddler’s body was so stiff he couldn’t sit in his car seat, so he had to lie on a mattress when his mother drove him from their rural Alberta home to a naturopathic clinic in Lethbridge, where she bought an echinacea mixture.

Organizers of a holistic medicine expo removed David Stephan from its Calgary show last month after the event’s venue objected to his presence.

Stephan has been outspoken on social media about what he calls “pharma trolls,” people he claims are working on a campaign of disinformation supported by journalists and Canada’s pharmaceutical industry.

The Stephans now live in Nelson, B.C.

– With files from the Canadian Press

RRumbolt@postmedia.com

On Twitter: @RCRumbolt

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