Debunking "Alternative" Medicine

Crown Prosecutors Appeal Lenient Toddler Meningitis Sentence

Crown appeals Stephans sentencing

In 2012, David and Collet Stephan failed to provide the necessities of life to their toddler Ezekiel, who died of meningitis-induced hypoxia. Instead of calling an ambulance or traveling to a medical doctor, the couple instead gave pseudoscientific alternative products to Ezekiel, such as garlic, hot peppers, horseradish, maple syrup, berry juice, and miscellaneous naturopathic quackery for a period of over two weeks. It was only when Ezekiel stopped breathing that they decided to call an ambulance and take their son to a hospital and real medical help. The trial started in early March of 2016 and they got convicted for failing to provide the necessities of life. The father got four months in prison and the mother got three months house arrest. They both got 240 hours community service and a probation period of 2 years after their punishment is completed. The father was deemed especially guilty, as he showed no remorse and only got more naturopathic substances, whereas the mother actually researched the disease and contacted a nurse.

The parents, and especially David, has not fully accepted responsibility for their crime. Instead, they have offered a variety of excuses and tried to shift the blame to others. David claimed that the only way to discover that their son had meningitis was to have a 24-hour medical supervision, which is simply not true. He also claims that his son did not die of meningitis, but only because the ambulance was not well-stocked enough. One wonders what David thinks is the cause of the life-threatening breathing difficulties experienced by his son Ezekiel. It occurred before the ambulance arrived and a reasonable person would conclude that it was induced by the untreated meningitis. Yet David does not want to realize this, because that would effectively shatter his cognitive dissonance and force him to realize that he and his wife is responsible for the death of their son.

The lenient sentence caused broad outrage among scientific skeptics and medical doctors on the Internet and now the Crown prosecutors has decided to appeal the sentence. What is their reason behind this appeal? A newspaper article in the CBC Calgary written by Bill Graveland explains this decision in additional detail:

Alberta prosecutors say the sentences given last month to a couple who failed to get proper medical treatment for their son who later died of bacterial meningitis are insufficient given the seriousness of the crime.

Alberta Justice filed notices of appeal of the sentences Thursday at the Court of Appeal in Calgary.

The Crown prosecutor Lisa Weich emphasized that the trial was a way to give a voice to Ezekiel. However, the prosecutors did not feel that a few months in jail for one of the parents, and a few months in house arrest for the other is appropriate. What grounds are the Crown prosecutors appealing the sentence on?

The Crown is appealing the sentence on several grounds. It will argue the sentences aren’t “proportionate to the gravity of the offence or to the degree of responsibility of the offender, and is unfit.”

It also asserts the judge gave insufficient weight to denunciation and deterrence and failed to give weight to aggravating factors. The appeal also says Justice Jerke overemphasized mitigating factors in the couple’s favour while passing sentence.

In other words, they think that the sentence is too lenient compared with the seriousness of the crime, that it does not fit with the offender responsibility. Presumably, the prosecutors think that the parents were much more responsible than the judge presiding over the case concluded. Furthermore, the prosecutors believe that the sentence is not harsh enough to show that the government rejects their actions or to deter future parents from doing this. Also, they reached the conclusion that the judge considered mitigating circumstances in a too favorable way, and did not give sufficient weight to those factors that would suggest a harsher punishment.

The date for the case to be heard in the Court of Appeal in Calgary has not been decided yet. But the most important take-home message here is that there will be another trial. Hopefully the Stephans will get a harsher punishment that better reflects their crime, but even if they do not, they will probably incur additional legal costs that they will have to pay.

Meanwhile, Collet Stephans risks jail if she does not post the sentencing decision on the Facebook page Prayers for Ezekiel and all other websites that she is using. The day after the previous article about their conviction and sentencing was posted here on Debunking Denialism, a link did show up on the Facebook page in question. However, it went to another websites maintained by the Stephans or their associates. It did have the full, unedited judgement, but it was preceded by concentrated propaganda that tries to remove the blame from the parents and put it squarely on financial cutbacks in the medical system and badly stocked ambulances. They do not take any responsibility and they do not show any remorse. Let us hope the appeal leads to a more suitable sentence.

References and further reading:

Grant, M. (2016). Collet Stephan, convicted in son’s meningitis death, may go to jail for not posting sentencing decision. CBC Calgary. Accessed: 2016-07-13. Cached here and here.

Graveland, B. (2016). Give Stephans tougher sentences in son’s meningitis death, Alberta Crown urges on appeal. CBC Calgary. Accessed: 2016-07-13. Cached here and here.


Debunker of pseudoscience.

14 thoughts on “Crown Prosecutors Appeal Lenient Toddler Meningitis Sentence

  • “The date for the case to be heard in the Court of Appeal in Calgary has not been decided yet. But the most important take-home message here is that there will be another trial. Hopefully the Stephans will get a harsher punishment that better reflects their crime, but even if they do not, they will probably incur additional legal costs that they will have to pay.”

    Hopefully that will happen. Ezekiel’s parents were totally irresponsible and that’s why he’s dead. Just about the only real excuse they have is that they were ignorant to believe people promoting a bunch of pseudoscience instead of medical professionals. However the Stephans don’t even seem willing to admit that they were wrong.

    • Yeah, I cannot wait to the appeal trial starts. There are also three other cases of failing to provide the necessities of life ongoing in that region, so this looks like the government is fighting back against the quacks.

  • They certainly deserve more of a sentence than they recieved. Had I been the judge I assure you things would have gone differently. What these people did was as good as murder. That they are so deluded to believe they share no guilt in this crime only makes it worse IMO.

    Despicable people. If they cannot understand the role they played in killing their child, they should not be allowed to have any more children when they get out of prison.

    • Preventing people from reproducing has never turned out well before. Much better to require the children too visit a nurse and a doctor on a regular basis. They already have three other children, so even if you were to restrict their fertility, they have plenty of children to mistreat already.

      The problem with the murder charge is that they did not intend to kill their child. So you require both the criminal act (actus reus) and the criminal mind (mens rea) for that to work legally.

    • I don’t know, I still see it as murder by neglect. If such a thing is possible. Perhaps manslaughter?

      Yeah, I know you can’t go around prescribing people to not have children, too many issues there, but it is nice to think about in certain cases.

      Geez, I had no idea they have other kids already. Yes, they need mandatory check ups. The parents have already proven their lack of good sense.

      To actually claim that the problem was the ambulance was underequipped is appalling.

    • The crime you are thinking about: murder, manslaughter etc. all either require intentional or direct killing rather than killing by neglect or failing to provide necessities of life.

      The current sentencing involves mandatory medical check-ups for the other children.

    • Hmmm, then something needs to change. Killing by neglect, in the manner these people did, is more of a henious sort than the average dipstick leaving the infant in the hot car situation. Each equally tragic but one certainly more pre meditated. I’d say the same for parents using their religious beliefs to allow their children to die of treatable illness. There is a cause there, an intent, that results in death. These cases should at least be manslaughter IMO. But agreed my opinion isn’t the law. I wish it were.

      At least then those kids are somewhat guaranteed a future in which their idiot parents won’t kill them from stupid.

    • Neither of the two situations you describe are premeditated or intentional. Therein lies the key difference. I understand your frustration. I feel it too. But this is not the right way to go I think. I would prefer 3-5 years in prison in this case, at the very least for the father who showed no remorse and was more concerned about how the trial would affect himself.

      Consider a doctor who uses a treatment on a patient. All treatments have risks, and one of her patients died. Is this manslaughter? If we ignore intent or directness, we are going to be moving in a very dangerous direction. Would any doctor dare to use a treatment if he or she risks criminal conviction? Even if you get the patient to sign a document, that will not hold up against criminal prosecution.

  • What was the basis for their actions? Did they have a religious belief system or a set of belief’s based in religion?

    It shouldn’t be a crime to be ignorant. Ezekiel is dead because his parents did what they considered the right things although they were horribly fatal. Why did they consider their actions right? There’s a bigger villain in the room that needs to be identified or more of this could happen. .

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