David and Collet Stephan are a married couple with three children that used to live in Alberta in Canada (they moved to Nelson in British Columbia after the first conviction). Both of them are staunch supporters of the pseudoscientific fakery that is naturopathy. David was also an employee at the harmful alternative medicine company Truehope that claims that their supplements can cure various forms of metal illness despite having virtually no scientific support for it. That company has also threatened to sue at least one their critics because she wrote a critical review of their products on her website.
They were convicted of failing to provide the necessaries of life in the summer of 2016. Their 19-month-old son Ezekiel died of meningitis after they had refused to take him to a hospital during roughly a two-week period. The parents are anti-vaccine activists and just used a variety of fake treatments like garlic, onions, peppers and horseradish.
The father was sentenced to four months in jail and the mother got three months of house arrest due to crucial differences in how they handled the situation. The mother had done Internet research and did a few diagnostic tests on their son, but the dad just got more supplements. Both were also sentenced to 240 hours of community service. The remaining children must see a doctor once a year and that they must post the conviction on their social media accounts in full. David Stephan was later caught selling naturopathic supplements, indicating that he has certainly not given up on this quackery.
Some people who do not understand the point of scientific skepticism and critical thinking often rhetorical ask “what’s the harm?”. This is the harm.
What is the appeal trial about?
Previous reports suggested that the parents would not appeal their conviction because of the high costs associated. However, they changed their mind and did appeal. They are now seeking to have the entire conviction thrown out. What are their primarily arguments? The defense lawyers claim that the judge wrongly restricted a defense witness, that there was too much delay during the trial and that there were too many experts on the side of the prosecutors.
For reasonable people, it is difficult to understand why it would be a bad thing to have more rather than less expertise involved. For proponents of quackery, the reason is obvious. To the defense team, the problem with experts are that they are not parents:
Jurors were subjected to a “week-long barrage of inflammatory, emotional evidence” and jurors had an inability to focus after hearing “inflammatory overkill” from Crown experts, Molle argued.
Though the test for a finding of guilt is what a reasonably prudent parent would do to care for their child, Molle argued jurors were subjected to evidence of doctors who are experts and were not in the position of a parent.
“We can’t undo the impression that these doctors left on this jury,” said Molle.
Perhaps the defense lawyers should consider the possibility that the impression the experts made on the jury was so hard to “undo” was because they reported accurate facts about the event in question?
The prosecutors argue that the reason that the delay was over the recommended limit was due to delay caused by the delay. If that is subtracted away, the total delay is not over this recommended limit of 30 months.
The parents still refuse to accept responsibility
David and Collet turned this appeal case into a show. They created a Facebook event and got many of their naturopath and anti-vaccine supporters to show up in the court room, including other parents that are scheduled to be prosecuted for similar cases. Here is the message attached to the Facebook event:
They refused to take their toddler son who had meningitis to see a doctor for around two weeks. Refused even when a nurse told them it was probably meningitis. Refused even when the mother did confirmatory tests. Refused even when Ezekiel was so stiff that he could not sit up. They just gave him worthless supplements.
Now after they have gotten convicted, they claim that this conviction was “agenda driven” and that “the rights of loving parents be restored and protected”. They also mindlessly repeat the profit canard. One wonders who exactly is going to financially profit from parents not neglecting their children to death? They turned a serious court case into a show for their fans. They are clearly still remorseless and thinks that he did nothing wrong.
What might happen?
When a case gets into the Court of Appeals, it is heard by three judges. In this case, the judges reserved their decision after hearing the defense appeal case. This means that it will be delivered in writing at a later date. Debunking Denialism will continue to cover this chilling case to the end.
Because the Crown prosecutors also appealed because they thought the sentence was way to lenient, but this has not been scheduled yet.
It is hard to speculate about what conclusion the Court of Appeal judges might reach, but it is very unlikely that the conviction will be overturned. The arguments put forward by the defense team was extremely weak and many were effectively countered by the prosecutors. Will they get a harsher punishment? Hard to tell, but they should be given a punishment that is compatible with the Canadian criminal justice system and fits with the crime they committed.