Quacks Who Let Their Son Die Demanded 4 Million Dollars. Court Rejected It.

David and Collet Stephan live in Canada and support naturopathy. Their 19-month-old toddler Ezekiel died in early 2012. He developed meningitis. They initially refused to take him to a hospital for medical attention. Instead, they stuffed him full of fake naturopathic “treatments”, such as various concoctions of maple syrup, berry juice, apple cider vinegar, garlic and other nutritional supplements. Collet did do some Internet searches on meningitis and had a nurse come see him, but took no further actions.

After about two weeks of suffering and declining health, the parents decided to take him to the hospital. They stopped on the road to call an ambulance that came and got him. He was not breathing. He later died at the hospital. In other words, they failed to provide the bare minimum for their son to survive. They should have taken him to a hospital the moment he got seriously sick.

What happened in the courts?

The lowest court convicted David to four months in prison and Collet to three months in house arrest for failing to provide the necessaries of life (maximum possible sentence was 5 years). Collet got a lesser sentence because she did take some actions to research the condition and get a nurse to examine him in the home, whereas David appeared completely remorseless. Both sides appealed. The Crown prosecutors appealed the lenient sentence and this appeal has not yet been heard. David and Collet appealed the conviction in its entirety, while David kept on selling supplements.

The Alberta court of appeals also convicted both of them. A few months later, David got booted from a Wellness Expo, because it made little sense to have a quack who let his son die promote various health supplements. After that, their appeal court conviction was overturned based on a legal technicality. One of the Judges dissented, which automatically enabled the Stephans to appeal their case to the Supreme Court of Canada who vacated the conviction and ordered a new trial in the lower court.

David is also associated with the supplement corporation TrueHope, who pushes various fake treatments for mental illness. The company has even threatened online critics with a lawsuit.

Date set for the new 2019 trial

After having their Alberta Appeal Court conviction overturned based on a legal technicality, the date has now been set for their new trial to start in the lower court again.

The start date for their case has been set to June 3, 2019. The trial will take four weeks.

The previous cases were decided by a judge and a jury. However, the Stephans have pushed various conspiracy theories about the court system and how the case was handled, so they have now elected to have their new trial heard by a judge alone. This is somewhat perplexing, because they might be able to convince a jury that they are innocent with the help of various emotional arguments or conspiracy theories that probably will not work on a judge. On the other hand, their chief complaint about their appeal court hearings was that there was too much medical evidence for the jury to handle, so they probably think that eliminating the jury means that they will have a better chance of getting cleared. Furthermore, one of the three judges during the appeal case did disagree with the conviction, so they may think that there is more elbow room in a judge-only trial.

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The Stephans may have spent 1M dollars on legal fees

Since they have already gone through the local court and the court of appeals, the Stephans have accumulated substantial legal fees. According to the court documents they have submitted, they have already spent 1 million Canadian dollars (~754 975 USD) on legal fees. Furthermore, they “have liquidated their assets, are in debt to previous counsel from the last trial and do not have the money to obtain the needed assistance required to provide them with a fair trial.” This means that they have sold their assets to get money to pay lawyers and other legal debt. This has not been sufficient, since they are also in debt. In other words, they probably have outstanding legal fees that have not been paid.

Since they are in a financial bind, they have submitted a request to get a total of 4 million dollars (~3 019 900 USD). They want to use this money to pay off the 1 million Canadian dollars they owe in legal costs and use the other 3 million dollars for future costs for their new trial. However, according to a video (cache) posted to David Stephan’s Facebook account and later shared to the Facebook page Prayers for Ezekiel on February 4, David Stephan wants to use the money for alleged “medical experts” to prove their case, not on lawyers. David says that he himself will handle the lawyer work to begin with. He claims that the cost of lawyers would be half a million Canadian dollars (~377 487 USD) from February to the start of the trial and that the video is being filmed in an Airbnb.

David Stephan explains that any money left over will be used for a number of things. First, it will help boost their investigative team to examine other cases and go public. Second, it will allow David to personally attend other similar court cases to do supposed “independent reporting” that is not included in the mainstream media coverage. Third, money will go to getting a lawyer for his wife Collet.

David has also started an online fundraising campaign. At the time of this writing, it has 180 backers and has raised 12 960 Canadian dollars (~9 784 USD) out of a total of 150 000 Canadian dollars (~113 246 USD) requested. Another 1 325 Canadian dollars have been raised online, raising the total to 14 285 Canadian dollars (~10 785 USD) or 8% of the funding goal.

It is often inadvisable to represent yourself in court instead of being represented by lawyers with appropriate expertise in the area. David is taking a substantial risk, but one must also take into account the high cost of lawyers. Since they are in debt to their past lawyer, perhaps future lawyers would not want to take their case without any guarantee that they will be able to get paid for their work. Even if new lawyers would take the case, it could push the Stephans further into debt if they lose the case. Since they have lost two trials before, it is a risk they have to take into account when going ahead with the new trial.

Alberta judge rejected the 4 million dollar demand

Did they get 4 million Canadian dollars from the court? In early January of 2019, Justice John Rooke rejected their demands and gave them nothing.

The judge said that the request is a civil court matter and not a matter for the criminal courts. He also clarified that the new trial is only about the guilt or innocence of the couple for failing to provide the necessaries of life for their son Ezekiel. It is not an investigation into the death of their son.

Because they are effectively out of money, the Stephans want the court case to be postponed until they have gotten the money to get lawyers. This contradicts their other claim that they want money for alleged “medical experts” to defend their position. It will be difficult for them to go into a new trial about their own guilt or innocence if they are trying to make it into an investigation into the death of their son.

The conspiracy theory grows…

What is even more disturbing, David Stephan reveals that his conspiracy theory about the death of his son has now grown substantially.

Instead of taking responsibility for the fact that he did not seek real medical attention for his son but let him suffer for two weeks before dying, David previously blamed the ambulance for not being sufficiently stocked. Now, he also claims that the hospital proactively over-medicated Ezekiel to ensure that he would die (1:30).

He also claims that the Crown prosecutors are colluding with “medical experts, doctors and the medical examiner’s office” and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. David Stephan further rants against vaccine advocacy and against the legal protections against children of quack parents.

David Stephan kicked out from another health show

David Stephan continues to be remorseless over his actions and has kept selling naturopathic quackery products. In January of 2017, David gave a talk at Ave Maria Specialities in British Columbia. It is a generic alternative health store that sells the standard smorgasbord of fake products that have never been tested or been found not to work. The decision to give him a platform sparked substantial backlash. Why on earth, critics argued, should a store claiming to promote health give a platform for someone who was convicted for letting his son die from a treatable medical condition? However, the store did not care and gave him the platform. However, David was not equally fortunate in other cases.

During March of 2018, David Stephan was supposed to deliver the keynote speeches during the Health and Wellness Expos of Canada events in Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Calgary and Edmonton. Once this information went viral, multiple sponsors and vendors who were going to attend the conference pulled out, including Sobeys, Reliable Mobility and Flaman Fitness. Because of this financial threat to the expo, the owner canceled his participation and insisted that David was “not affiliated with any of our shows in Western Canada”. However, much like the Ave Maria Specialities case, the owner defend David with similar arguments.

David Stephan was recently booted from another health show. In early February of 2019, he was scheduled to speak at Calgary Health Show at BMO Centre on the Stampede. This was a similar show to the one David was invited to in 2017. However, the organizers of the event wrote a tweet that “David Stephan will not be speaking at The Health Shows”. Like before, some sponsors (such as Lakeview Bakery) had withdrawn from the health show, which likely prompted them to cancel the appearance of David Stephan. Predictably, the people behind the event complained that it “has been heartbreaking to witness how our sponsors, exhibitors and charities have been treated by some members of the online community.” After this, both the Twitter account and the website for the event was removed.

However, the company they represented (TrueHope) was still listed as attending the event. TrueHope pushes supplements as fake treatments for mental illness and has even threatened to sue online critics. David Stephan is considered to be associated with TrueHope.

Note: A previous version of this post wrongly stated that their next court case is going to be in the Supreme Court of Canada, but the Supreme Court of Canada vacated the conviction and sent the case back (note added 20190219 20:21 GMT+1).

Emil Karlsson

Debunker of pseudoscience.

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