A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about a major case of justice denied, namely the acquittal of David and Collet Stephan in the death of their child Ezekiel, as did Clay Jones Clay Jones. Both of us concentrated on the ruling issued by Justice Terry Clackson over two weeks ago and how it was a massive and obvious miscarriage of justice. Ezekiel, you might recall, was the 19-month-old son of David and Collet Stephan. He lived in Alberta with his parents David and Collet until his death from bacterial meningitis in 2012. He was a child who very likely would have lived had it not been for the fact that his parents were (and still are) heavily into alternative medicine. After he fell ill, his parents tried to treat him with “natural remedies” (many of which were made by David Stephan’s company), his wife at one point briefly consulting with a naturopath’s office, until, by the time they sought conventional medical care, Ezekiel was in extremis, at death’s door. Basically, Ezekiel had been ill for a couple of weeks and getting sicker and sicker, but the parents didn’t seek conventional medical care until he stopped breathing, which led them finally to call an ambulance. But it was too late. Ezekiel made it to the hospital, but ultimately died. Let me describe just how bad a miscarriage of justice Justice Clackson’s ruling.
As a result, David and Collet Stephan were tried and convicted in 2016 under Section 215 of the Criminal Code which deals with “failing to provide the necessaries of life”. David Stephan was sentenced to four months in jail, and his wife was ordered to spend three months under house arrest. Meanwhile, the Stephans’ appeal went on. (Because the decision to convict hadn’t been unanimous, the Stephans’ case could automatically be appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada.) At the time, I was actually somewhat surprised at the verdict in the first trial, as courts in the US and Canada appear to give parents wide—too wide—latitude for making decisions about what is best for their children, and great deference is generally granted to parental authority and parental “rights.” It is this deference that can cause a problem in protecting children from their parents’ belief in quackery when they become seriously ill. Before the verdict was announced, I had half expected that to happen in this case, the more so because David Stephan is a prominent member of his community, belonging to a family that runs a large nutritional supplement company, Truehope Nutritional Support. Of course, Stephan’s entire business and worldview were (and still are) inextricably linked to what happened, with his belief in “natural healing” having led to Ezekiel’s unnecessary death. That’s one reason why Dr. Jones characterized explained how Ezekiel’s death was in essence a “death by world view”. It truly was just that.
Consistent with the Stephans’ world view believing in quackery, reports from the trial indicated that David Stephan tried to use Truehope supplements to treat his son. As far as David Stephan’s business goes, Health Canada had once launched an unsuccessful court case in 2004 to stop the distribution of the company’s product Empowerplus, a product that the company claimed to be able to manage mental illnesses. The case ended in 2006 when the company was found not guilty of distributing the supplement without a drug identification number. Not surprisingly, the Stephans are antivaccine, too, and that quite possibly also had a role in Ezekiel’s death, as you will see.
Unfortunately, the 2016 Stephans’ conviction was overturned on appeal based on a technicality (if you want the gory details, which involved a conclusion that the jury hadn’t been correctly instructed before deliberating, go here), the Supreme Court of Canada ordered a new trial, and on September 19 the Stephans were acquitted after a trial before Justice Terry Clackson. Clay’s and my posts two weeks ago was about the expressed justified anger, dismay, and puzzlement over the judgment of Justice Clackson. As a CBC news report put it, the Stephans will face no responsibility.
Yes, the Stephans let their child suffer for days and finally die, thanks to their medical neglect, and they’re going free, although the Crown can appeal. Even worse, after the verdict they’ll now be heroes to the alternative medicine crowd in Canada (and, let’s face it, the world), for having been “falsely accused” of child neglect, being “persecuted” by the system, but finally having beaten the charges and found to be “innocent”. Yes, they’ll be heroes. Even worse still, David Stephan can go back to doing what he does best: Grifting in the service of his company’s Truehope supplements and making money by appearing at “natural health” expos, the latter being a revenue stream that his conviction had cut into severely, as expo organizers, facing very negative publicity, dropped him like the proverbial hot potato.
You might wonder why I’m writing about this case again, given that both Dr. Jones and I have covered it so recently. The answer is simple. When Dr. Jones wrote his post, Justice Clackson’s full ruling hadn’t yet been published. Now it has been, allowing me to examine in more detail the “reasoning” (such as it is) that led to what is one of the most head scratching, cringeworthy miscarriages of justice I’ve ever seen. At the time, news reports described Justice Clackson’s rationale thusly:
The judge ultimately sided with the defence’s medical experts in finding the boy had viral not bacterial meningitis and ultimately died of a lack of oxygen.
Remember now, this is a boy who at autopsy was found to have pus on his brain and an empyema (pus in the pleural cavity surrounding the lungs). You don’t get this from a virus, at least not in the brain. (You can, of course, get a bacterial pneumonia complicating a viral respiratory infection.) Also, as Dr. Jones described in an earlier post, by far the most likely diagnosis was haemophilus influenza, type B (HiB), to which, of course, Ezekiel was vulnerable because he hadn’t been vaccinated. (Indeed, although the medical examiner was unable to culture the HiB bacteria, PCR did apparently detect HiB DNA.) It’s just another indication how the parents’ world view not only predisposed Ezekiel to catch a deadly infection, but greatly diminished his chances of surviving that infection once he had caught it.
One thing that was really striking about Justice Clackson’s ruling was the language Clackson used to describe the Crown’s expert witness, Dr. Bamidele Adeagbo, a former medical examiner in Calgary who testified that Ezekiel’s autopsy showed Ezekiel had died from bacterial meningitis. It was so bad that there was a complaint of racism, which I discussed in depth a week ago. Basically, in language I’ve never seen in a ruling before, Justice Clackson expended a lot of verbiage criticizing Dr. Adeagbo’s accent and his attitude.
The Stephan retrial ruling
Now let’s look at the balance of Justice Clackson’s ruling itself in which he didn’t concern himself with how annoying he found Dr. Adeagbo’s accent and demeanor. The summary tells the tale, and it’s a horrible one:
 The evidence plainly establishes that Ezekiel had meningitis. The main issues in dispute are:
 I have concluded that Ezekiel did have meningitis. The Stephans did not know the Ezekiel had meningitis but were alert to the possibility and monitoring for symptoms. The meningitis Ezekiel had was viral and he did not die from meningitis but from the lack of oxygen. Therefore, I have concluded that the Stephans are not guilty of the charge.
- Whether he had bacterial or viral meningitis;
- Whether his death was the result of meningitis, or the result of hypoxic injury;
- Whether the Stephans knew he had meningitis; and
- Whether knowing that, they ought to have sought medical intervention.
Before I get into the weeds a bit more, let me simply say that the entire premise of Justice Clackson’s ruling is a steaming, heaping pile of fetid dingo’s kidneys. Basically, he’s buying into the Stephans’ nonsense that conflates the final, most proximate cause of death (hypoxia because the child had stopped breathing) with the cause of death (the meningitis that made Ezekiel so sick that he stopped breathing). How did Ezekiel get to that point? He got to that point because his parents didn’t take him to the doctor after he got very sick and instead watched him get worse. True, from previous testimony, we know that Ezekiel did make some improvements, but it’s not unusual in the case of a serious disease for the course not to be an unrelenting downward spiral. It is, however, obvious from previous court cases that Ezekiel’s course was, overall, a downward spiral, with occasional brief improvements. We can argue about how sick a child has to be before the parents have a duty to take him to a doctor, but we already knew quite clearly that not only did the Stephans at least strongly suspect that Ezekiel had developed meningitis, but that they had asked advice of a naturopath. Indeed, here’s testimony quoted in Judge Clackson’s ruling:
Q And during your conversation with Ms. Meynders, did she ever stress that meningitis was an urgent thing that you would have to take him to the doctors for immediately?
A I’m trying to recall our conversation of what she had said. I believe with the one that she was in contact with that few weeks ago was the bacterial, and she had expressed that with bacterial, it – well, if I remember right, she expressed that meningitis was hard to diagnose, and that the bacterial is more concerning than the viral. And when I was looking at the symptoms and reading on that page, it had — it said the same thing that– that she was implying.
Q And when you were reading about the page and comparing, I take it, you compared what Ezekiel was going through to what you found on the page; is that correct?
Q And how did Ezekiel stack up, if at all?
A So when looking at the symptoms, even on the viral meningitis, he just had that achy slash stiff, so, like, the tension of the flu, but he didn’t have any of the other symptoms on the viral. So in my mind, I’m thinking, Well, if it – out of the two, he would — he would be closer to have a viral meningitis rather than bacterial, but at that time, like, it was uncertain.
Q So why didn’t you take him to the doctor at that point?
A Because he didn’t really have any symptoms that was listed under the viral and the bacterial meningitis.
Then, as Dr. Jones has noted:
Two or three days later, Ezekiel was brought into the same naturopathic clinic where Dr. Tracey Tannis recommended a “tincture of echinacea.” According to a taped March 15th, 2012 interview of his father, Ezekiel was so stiff that they were unable to put him into his car seat, so they laid him flat on a mattress in the back of their vehicle for the ride to the clinic. According to more than one report, Dr. Tannis did not examine Ezekiel.
Neck stiffness is a sign of meningitis, and neck and spine stiffness so bad that the parents couldn’t put Ezekiel into his car seat should be an incredibly worrisome sign to parents that the child is very sick.
What about the issue of whether the meningitis was viral or bacterial? As Dr. Jones described in his earlier post, viral meningitis tends to be significantly less severe than bacterial meningitis and is rarely deadly in an otherwise healthy child. Even so, my first reaction was: Why on earth should it matter? Yes, bacterial meningitis is deadlier but also easier to treat because it can respond to antibiotics, and viral meningitis has to run its course. Seriously, though. It’s part of the Court’s “reasoning” based on its erroneous conclusion that Ezekiel “only” had viral meningitis that the parents weren’t neglectful in not taking him to a doctor or hospital? Judge Clackson should realize that supportive care, such as being placed in a pediatric intensive care unit (PICU), would have maximized Ezekiel’s chances to ride out the a severe case of viral meningitis, and would have allowed a bacterial meningitis to be properly treated.
The Court also ruled that the child died of “lack of oxygen”. Well, yes, that’s what we all die of! It’s basically the common final cause of every death on the planet! The real question should have been: What had caused Ezekiel to stop breathing leading to the “lack of oxygen” that killed him? It’s clear that it was bacterial meningitis! Again, Ezekiel’s death could have been prevented by putting him in the hospital, in the PICU if necessary, for supportive care up to and including mechanical ventilation if it were to become necessary plus appropriate antibiotics, assuming the meningitis was bacterial. Justice Clackson conflated the proximal cause of Ezekiel’s death with the overall cause.
Let’s look at how Justice Clackson came to the conclusion that Ezekiel had viral meningitis, as it reveals even more intellectual bankruptcy. First, he was annoyed by Dr. Adeagbo doing what any responsible doctor would do:
 Again, however, while concerning, distracting and unprofessional, none of those attitudes demonstrate a bias or partiality. Rather, all may be attributed to the fact that in Dr. Adeagbo’s opinion, Ezekiel so obviously died of bacterial meningitis that it is a complete waste of time to even consider anything else. Accordingly, those attitudes do not raise a realistic concern that Dr. Adeagbo is not an appropriate expert. Those attitudes are however, relevant in the Cost-Benefit Analysis.
Well, yes, the child had pus on the brain and in his pleural spaces, but, by all means, hearing the hoofbeats, Dr. Adeagbo should have looked for zebras! What do I mean? In medical jargon, a “zebra” is an unexpected, much less common diagnosis relative to the more common ones fitting a given clinical presentation. There’s a saying in medicine that goes something like this:
- When you hear hoofbeats look for horses not zebras.
- If you hear hoofbeats in the distance don’t expect a zebra.
- When you hear hooves think of horses before zebras.
The idea is that common diagnoses are far more likely to explain appropriate clinical presentations than uncommon or rare diagnoses. Sure, there are times when doctors do have to go “zebra hunting“, but from the testimony from the previous trial that I’ve read (and this one), Ezekiel’s was not one of those cases, given the purulence on the brain and in the pleural cavity, plus the presence of HiB bacterial as documented using PCR. In this clinical setting, by far the most likely diagnosis was HiB pneumonia and meningitis, with viral meningitis very much less likely.
Unfortunately, Justice Clackson let Dr. Sauvageau cast doubt on that diagnosis:
 Dr. Adeagbo testified that a sample of the right lung tissue across the empyema noted in the pleural cavity was taken and the Gram stain process disclosed Gram negative bacilli which is consistent with bacterial infection. All of which confirmed his opinion that the meningitis had been caused by bacterial infection. He plainly believed the empyema was part of the same bacterial infection which caused the meningitis.
 He ignored the presence of enterovirus in the nasal swab/wash. Supposedly, chalking that up to something common in us all.
The pleural cavity is normally sterile. There should be no bacteria there. Moreover, empyema literally means pus in the pleural cavity. As for enterovirus? That’s such an obvious deflection that I think I hurt the bridge of my nose from driving my glasses into it from all the facepalming that I did.
Then there’s this:
 Dr. Adeagbo also confirmed his diagnosis of bacterial meningitis by the presence of certain types of white blood cells. Again, Dr. Sauvageau came to a different conclusion. Although her evidence in the 2016 trial on this subject appears less certain then she was before me, I accept her conclusion that the relative prominence of lymphocytes excludes bacteria as the agent of infection.
 In result, I was left unconvinced that the meningitis was bacterial.
 Dr. Sauvageau explanation for why the meningitis was viral is consistent with what was observed on autopsy, the history of Ezekiel’s illness, the radiology reports, and was logically compelling. As well, Dr. Adeagbo said hemophilus influenza, which is the bacterial agent he concluded had caused the meningitis, is very rare. That fact, plus the fact that the vast majority of meningitis cases are viral in origin (para 62 infra), further supports Dr. Sauvageau’s conclusion.
 In result, I am satisfied the meningitis was viral.
Yes, lymphocytic meningitis in the absence of bacteria (so-called aseptic meningitis) is usually viral. However, in the presence of pus on the brain, that consideration goes out the window. Moreover, that lymphocytes predominated does not rule out bacterial meningitis, as it took me all of a minute to find Googling and doing PubMed. For instance:
The CSF findings typical of aseptic meningitis are a relatively low and predominantly lymphocytic pleocytosis, normal glucose level, and a normal to slightly elevated protein level (Table 5). Bacterial meningitis classically has a very high and predominantly neutrophilic pleocytosis, low glucose level, and high protein level. This is not the case for all patients and can vary in older patients and those with partially treated bacterial meningitis, immunosuppression, or meningitis caused by L. monocytogenes. It is important to use age-adjusted values for white blood cell counts when interpreting CSF results in neonates and young infants. In up to 57% of children with aseptic meningitis, neutrophils predominate the CSF; therefore, cell type alone cannot be used to differentiate between aseptic and bacterial meningitis in children between 30 days and 18 years of age.
And it didn’t take me long to find a paper describing acute bacterial meningitis with lymphocyte predominance in 14 out of 103 cases of documented bacterial meningitis, noting that cerebrospinal fluid lymphocytosis was “significantly more common in neonates and in those without meningismus, but occurred in all ages and without any clear identifying clinical characteristics.” (Meningismus refers to the symptoms of meningeal irritation, like stiff neck.) The authors concluded, “It [CSF lymphocytosis] is therefore of little value in differentiating bacterial meningitis from viral, fungal, and tuberculous meningitis.” A review article notes that “WBC differential may be misleading early in the course of meningitis, because more than 10 percent of cases with bacterial infection will have an initial lymphocytic predominance and viral meningitis may initially be dominated by neutrophils.” The Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne, for instance, explicitly states that a “predominance of lymphocytes does not exclude bacterial meningitis.”
Yet, risibly, Justice Clackson believed Dr. Sauvageau’s testimony over that of Dr. Adeagbo and even accused Dr. Adeagbo of confirmation bias:
 I accept that insight as a reasonable proposition which can be manifested by an expert in the steps he or she takes to defend or explain the opinion reached. In this case, I prefer to apply the label confirmation bias because the cross-examination of Dr. Adeagbo proceeded on that footing. In the cross-examination of Dr. Adeagbo, it was established that he was sure from the beginning that Ezekiel had died from bacterial meningitis. The testing done, post autopsy, was done to confirm that conclusion. There was no specific testing done to rule out viral or fungal causes for the meningitis. Despite records which could tend to support hypoxic injury and hyponatremia, no specific steps were taken to confirm or refute either possibility. These actions are consistent with Dr. Adeagbo’s assertion and attitude, that Ezekiel’s death was a crystal clear case of bacterial meningitis. He had no doubt on the subject. In that circumstance, testing for anything other than the bacteria which caused the meningitis was a waste of time. Dr. Adeagbo said, and I accept that his additional efforts to identify the bacterial agent were not done to support his opinion but done because he wanted to identify the infectious agent as he felt it was his duty to do so in the discharge of his responsibilities to the Stephans and the general public. The duty to keep them safe from a similar fate.
I’m sure any other physicians out there, especially pathologists, are laughing (or crying, or both) at this paragraph. This is how medicine is done. If clinically the case is crystal clear, as it was in Ezekiel’s case, it is a waste of time and resources to do a lot of low yield testing. Moreover, by letting himself get drawn into the “viral versus bacterial” weeds, Justice Clackson again ignored the true cause of Ezekiel’s death: The parents waited until far too late to take him to a doctor, and that’s why he died. Trying to diagnose him on the Internet isn’t enough. Seeking advice from a naturopathic quack (who didn’t even examine him) doesn’t count. At the very latest, when Ezekiel became so stiff that the Stephans couldn’t put him in his car seat, they should have taken him to the nearest emergency room.
But what about all the incriminating things that David and Collet Stephan said to police and first responders, as documented in the first trial? Judge Clackson basically made them all disappear by saying the Stephans were under stress:
 That is in stark contrast to the various statements they gave to police and medical staff about their observations and actions.
 I have concluded that I cannot rely on any of the statements to the medical staff or the police beyond what Mr. Stephan and Ms. Stephan told 911 Dispatch, the paramedics and Dr. Clark. All of those recorded exchanges are consistent with the circumstances I have just described and the Stephans’ evidence before me.
 I do not have evidence as to why honest people commit themselves to false facts, but the case reports confirm it can occur.
 Perhaps, as the defence has argued, the combination of stress, suggestion, confusion, lack of sleep, lack of nourishment and the overpowering urge to help save their child, all contributed to the content of the statements they made, in those fateful six days. In any event, I am of the view that those statements are not reliable.
How convenient for the Stephans. Not only did Judge Clackson buy their false narrative and let their obfuscations lead him astray, but he basically magically waved away all their self-incriminating previous statements to police and others about how sick Ezekiel had been.
Reading through the transcript, I got the distinct impression that Clackson had decided that he really didn’t like Dr. Adeagbo and didn’t want to accept his testimony, preferring that of Savageau instead. There are whole sections on voir dire and “cost-benefit” analysis in which he came up as many dubious reasons to discredit and discount Dr. Adeagbo as possible. Why? Was it racism? Possibly. It could also have possibly been because her testimony wasn’t technically beyond his ability to comprehend or because he just didn’t like Dr. Adeagbo’s manner, which he made abundantly clear in a way that stands out strikingly. This ruling is so bad that I really do think that Justice Clackson was not unbiased; he bent over backwards to find a way to rule for the defendants.
This isn’t the only time Justice Clackson has come under fire, either. He has been the subject of media attention and criticism since 2018, when the Supreme Court ordered a retrial after finding that Justice Clackson had relied on rape myths and stereotypes when acquitting a stepfather of sexual abuse charges:
The man, known only by the initials A.R.J.D. ( his name and his stepdaughter’s were under a publication ban) had initially been acquitted at trial by Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench Judge Terry Clarkson.
Clarkson let him go based on his assessment the stepdaughter didn’t do enough to avoid being alone with A.R.J.D, and didn’t display any changes in behaviour such as experiencing nightmares or losing interest in school.
Why is Justice Clackson still a judge?
During my previous discussion, I discussed the worship of “parental rights” that leads to tolerance of medical abuse and and antivaccine neglect. We can see this misguided deference to “parental rights” writ large in Justice Clackson’s decision:
 It is perhaps helpful to explain this result somewhat differently. Ezekiel was sick. Section 215 of the Criminal Code does not impose a duty to seek medical attention for every sick child. For that duty to arise there must be a risk to the child. In this case, the risk is particularized as a risk to Ezekiel’s life. The cause of that risk is further particularized as resulting from meningitis.
 The evidence before me does not establish that the viral meningitis Ezekiel had constituted a risk to his life. Therefore, the duty to seek medical attention did not arise.
 Did the duty to seek medical attention arise because Ezekiel had meningitis and his parents were aware that it was possible he had some type of meningitis and aware that some meningitis can be life threatening?
 One suspects that many parents when faced with the scenario which presented itself to the Stephans on March 12 would have been perfectly justified in feeling their child needed medical attention.
 However, as I said when addressing what the Crown must prove in Element 6, this is not a civil action. The objective analysis of what prudent parents in the circumstances would have done are captured in the other elements of this offence. The duty to act only arises on this charge, as framed, if medical intervention would have saved Ezekiel’s life. That it could have saved his life was not, in my view, sufficient.
This time, the facepalming not only bruised my nose, but it broke my glasses. I wonder if I can bill Judge Clackson for a replacement pair.
Note the argument, though. Justice Clackson seems to be saying that if there was any doubt that getting a child to a doctor would have saved his life, then that’s “reasonable doubt” and that Crown has failed to prove its case. I would counter: There is no reasonable doubt that failing to take Ezekiel to a doctor dramatically lowered his chances of survival to near zero. Even though I’m not a lawyer, even I get the feeling that Justice Clackson’s verdict appears to have been made on a matter not before the court, death as a result of negligence, not the actual charge of failure to provide the necessaries of life.
Also, the law does not impose a duty to seek medical attention for every sick child? Perhaps not—but only if the illness is obviously minor to a reasonable layperson. That was clearly not the case here. Ezekiel was, as we say in the biz, sick as snot and circling the drain. Not to take him for medical evaluation and to opt for treating him with witchcraft was child abuse at its most naked, in my not-so-humble opinion. As for the claim that Ezekiel died of oxygen deprivation because the first ambulance didn’t have the right equipment, it was pretty clear from the medical evidence that it almost certainly wouldn’t have mattered if it had. By the time the parents called EMS, Ezekiel was almost certainly too far gone to be saved. Even if he could have been saved, what about the suffering and long-term sequelae he would have suffered from bacterial meningitis treated too late?
The bottom line is that Justice Terry Clackson issued an utterly nonsensical judgment so divorced from science, medicine, and reality that I would laugh at it if the consequences weren’t so horrific. He believed the testimony of an unqualified doctor who never actually did the autopsy on Ezekiel and used only the autopsy report and the audio recordings of the 911 call and the EMS response over that of a forensic pathologist to acquit David and Collet Stephan. His ruling will both allow David Stephan to continue his grift peddling his useless supplements, which are promoted to treat real diseases and whose use are likely to lead to preventable deaths, and, worse, will likely demoralize child protective service officials and prosecutors, who are likely to think twice prosecuting medical neglect. There will be blood on Justice Clackson’s hands.
I hope that the prosecutors appeal. This ruling must be appealed. Unfortunately, I fear that the prosecutors will look at the multiple legal proceedings, the fact that it’s now seven years since Ezekiel’s death, and public opinion, and decide it’s not worth it.
And how is it that Justice Clackson is still a judge again?
45 replies on “Justice Clackson and his miscarriage of justice in the acquittal of David and Collet Stephan”
“It wasn’t the fall that killed the victim. It was blood loss and her internal organs shutting down.”
Really, this is bad causation analysis. That’s a basic error.
“And how is it that Justice Clackson is still a judge again?”
It’s damn near impossible to get one removed. Here’s the process https://cjc-ccm.ca/en/resources-center/filing-complaint
In short: A complaint is filed, the judge is investigated by it’s peer, then a panel of peers, and if malfeasance is found, the recommendation to remove goes to Parliament for a vote. This has happened twice in 145 years. The same general process occurs with provincially appointed judges, with some details differing by province.
Think impeachment of a president, with the majority of the house and senate being in the president’s party.
I still maintain we need a judicial system that tries scientific and medical cases staffed solely by scientifically competent jurists. Expecting a layman to understand some of the methods and reasoning is unrealistic. Not to mention it would be a lot harder for a fast-talking lawyer to baffle the judge with BS.
I’m curious as to whether Ezekiel showed signs of Purpura.
This side of the Pond who we had a ‘Celebrity’ doctor telling the public that if their child had a rash which didn’t disappear when a glass was rolled over it they should get the kid to hospital.
As far as I’m concerned, if purpura is present the patient is at limb losing stage at best.
OH, good Lord.
Please, please let the Crown appeal this. This is such an believably bad decision on so many levels. Judge Clackson is, in essence, practicing medicine without a license. He is not even remotely qualified to come to the conclusions he did, and he ignored the major legal issue on which he IS qualified to rule.
It is very difficult to dismiss a judge in Canada, although a few have been “persuaded” to retire. I think that an appeal would be more productive.
If this verdict is appealed, I suspect it could be overturned on the basis of Clackson’s prejudicial statements about Dr Adbeagbo’s testimony. The following is a direct quote from an email I received from a pathologist who has seen him testifying: “His English is accented, but his vocabulary and grammar were not a problem and he certainly had no trouble getting his point and medical opinion across in a very professional matter.”
There is also the background that the defense’s medical expert, Dr Savageau, was previously director of the medical examiner service in Alberta, and was dismissed a few years ago. She is currently claiming multimillion dollars in damages in a lawsuit as a result. I will say no more…
My opinion (not a lawyer) is that Clackson created multiple grounds for appeal. The strongest point is that he tried the case as if it were a charge of criminal negligence causing death, which was not before the court. Errors in law carry much greater weight, as far as I can tell (and I’ve read or skimmed a lot of appeal court rulings) than dubious conduct on the part of the judge as grounds for appeal. In general, considerable deference is given to the trial judge by the appeal courts.
My suspicion is that the Crown won’t appeal, although it is my opinion that Clackson has clearly brought the administration of justice into disrepute. The retrial was ordered on the basis of judicial error. The Crown may feel that, regardless of what can rationally be called clear evidence of guilt, to try the accused again because of another judicial error is also contrary to the reputation of the administration of justice. However, it also looks to me like his ruling has set a legal precedent that nullifies the intent of the law with regard to the requirement of providing medical care as a necessary of life. If that is the case, I regard it as of extraordinary importance. There was an opinion piece from three people on the CBC website a few days ago. One of the authors was a legal scholar. I think this case warrants as much attention from legal scholars as from medical professionals – and all of the attention on both fronts condemnatory.
I’d like to know more about Savageau. I rather get the impression that fairly early in her career she made the transition from being a scientist to being an administrator. That sort of thing seems to happen for a range of reasons, everything from dubious ability as a scientist to outstanding ability to deal with both the science and the administrative tasks. I really don’t know just what she was actually good at. I’ve never seen any clear statement of why Alberta Justice did not renew her contract and probably never will unless her suit actually eventually makes its way to court – it has been just over 2 years since she filed her last amendment to her claims.
There appears to be some significant problems in the Alberta ME’s office. There have been a lot of resignations in recent years. I have no idea just what the problems are. It wouldn’t surprise me if some of the problem is a self-perpetuating staff shortage – not enough people to do the work, so everyone is overworked and many quit because they get burned out.
David Stephan’s flock of faithful sheeple are now openly calling him ‘Jesus’. Look at his FB page – if you can bear it, then look away fast! The guy’s just wallowing in his celebrity status. Look at him posing, posturing and swanning around, without even a nod as to how he got here. Oh, Ezekiel? Yeah, nice baby, sad. We had nothing to do with his death. Now, buy our supplements!
When you read Stephan’s propaganda posts and watch his endless long-winded videos, it really does feel as if Ezekiel’s father, at least, simply regarded him as a possession and as such the baby was just collateral all along. Stephan never talks about the things he loved about his son, or what he misses. He never muses about what Ezekiel might be doing now. It’s a fascinating disconnect that the child himself has been rarely been referred to outside of the courtroom, except as a sort of exhibit, even by his close family.
Instead, this story’s all about David Stephan – a hero in his own mind, fighting his misguided and ultimately fatal crusade against science and conventional medicine – all in pursuit of profit.
I look at the photo of the little curly-haired guy, so innocent and happy in the sunshine but soon to be sacrificed on the altar of his father’s arrogance, conceit and greed. And I think of the mother who claims to have been put on earth to have children, yet when he was critically ill and in unbearable pain which he couldn’t even begin to express she kept Ezekiel away from those who could have helped him. I might be wrong, but this appeared to be because of her faithful adherence to his father’s over-bearing narcissism, and I hate to think of a mother being that cowed and disempowered.
How could they have let him stop breathing, then blamed his death on the many dozens of caring people who did everything they could to save their son? I think it was Renate who asked here, “do they think if they hadn’t called the ambulance, he’d have lived?”
They’re clearly preparing for a crown appeal because they’re moving ahead of the oxygen in the ambulance issue and working up a case about some sort of euthanasia, further on in the piece.
I really hope that we get there. Ezekiel was worth so much more than this.
The argument from the Stephans has been that Ezekiel wasn’t critically ill – he just had something minor. Well, Stephans, your Truehope nostrums and the other crud you gave him are clearly of no value, since they couldn’t even cure a minor self-limiting ailment. Truehope products are transparently worthless.
“We gave our baby these supplements and he died. Buy now!” is the worst advertising slogan I’ve seen in a dog’s age.
I’ve long been struck as how totally unremorseful they have both been over the death of their child, its almost as if killing their child was an acceptable price to pay for clinging to woo and snake oil.
There have been several stories of child medical neglect coming out of Calgary over the last little while, so I suspect its a hot bed of woo.
Speaking of supplements (you all are dramatically improving your health with his wonderful vegetable powders, one hopes), Dr. Thomas Cowan has a new book coming out which shows that oncogenes are a mirage and that we must find an alternative to the failed war on cancer:
“In Cancer and the New Biology of Water, Thomas Cowan, MD, argues that this failure was inevitable because the oncogene theory is incorrect—or at least incomplete—and based on a flawed concept of biology in which DNA controls our cellular function and therefore our health. Instead, Dr. Cowan tells us, the somatic mutations seen in cancer cells are the result of a cellular deterioration that has little to do with oncogenes, DNA, or even the nucleus.* The root cause is metabolic dysfunction that deteriorates the structured water that forms the basis of cytoplasmic—and therefore, cellular—health.”
You may remember Doc Cowan from his previous book on vaccines causing autoimmune disease, or from his um, slight trouble with the California Medical Board. Don’t miss his new book! And sprinkle that beet powder on everything you eat.
*maybe it’s the Golgi bodies. No one _ever_ suspects the Golgi bodies.
Silly man. It’s not as though scientists haven’t known about the metabolic contribution to cancer for a long time and it’s a hot area of study.?
I know barely less than nothing about cell biology but even so, my brain hurts.
(But I’ll do a bit of suspecting of Golgi bodies tonight. They certainly have their suspicious ongoings.)
Got another question for the docs:
The Stephans claimed Ezekiel stopped breathing due to a mucus plug (and apparently Collet was present at the time). Would not something like a plug cause a very strong and visible reaction in a child that was conscious? (as opposed to what I, in my ignorance, would expect if the “brain quit breathing” – simply cessation of normal breathing movements)
In a child that was conscious? Absolutely! And an adult.
Seriously: it happened to me the first time I got pneumonia. If I hadn’t cleared it in time, I shudder to think what would have happened to me. I can’t begin to describe how terrified I was at not being able to breathe.
Thanks. That was certainly what I expected. I’ve aspirated the occasional bit of something and found it to be distressing in the extreme when I can’t mange to suck in any air for a few seconds. Had anyone been around me, I’m sure they would have noticed.
My point here is that the notion of a mucus plug simply does not ring true without mention of Ezekiel showing obvious distress – no matter whether he had meningitis or not. Collet also apparently got him started breathing again with “a few rescue breaths” (I think that was the phrase that was in one of the rulings of the Courts). I would think that highly improbable if there was a blockage sufficient to cause breathing to stop in the first place (I suppose it might be possible if the plug were in the trachea and were forced into one primary bronchus, allowing the other lung to inflate). If the notion that his breathing stopped because of a blockage, then I see it as reinforcement for the notion that his brain stopped first, then his breathing, not the other way round. But to get this “on the record” at the trial it would almost certainly be necessary for it to put in the form of question(s) to an expert, and for a lawyer to do that I think a medical professional as a coach would likely be necessary. Of course I accept Dr. Adeagbo’s finding of bacterial meningitis.
But again, this occurred some time after Ezekiel had become very stiff. His parents’ failure to take him to a physician at that point I regard as sufficient for conviction on the charge.
The thing about viral meningitis is you almost always survive it. Ezekiel died of bacterial meningitis. The Stephans sat on him long enough at home that did he actually have viral meningitis he likely would have been recovering by the time he instead died. But he died because he had untreated bacterial meningitis thanks to the neglect of his parents. Period.
Thank you Dr Hickie–I suspect that the Judge will find some fault with your accent or manner, however, should you testify.
Bradford Stephan has shown up in the comments below to add misdirection…
Is that the grandfather of the poor child?
I don’t know what his relation is to David Stephan. Whoever he is, he seems as invested in the Stephans’ story as anyone. I wonder if he has anything to do with Truehope.
I did find this from 2012 which seems to indicate that a “Bradford Stephen” is Chief Operating Officer for Truehope, as well as other bits and pieces suggesting a connection to Truehope. Including a rather distasteful pro-Stephens site (which I won’t link to here – not giving them the traffic) which lists a Bradford Stephen as being David Stephen’s brother.
So assuming it’s actually him as opposed to someone merely posting under the name I’m going to go with “yes”.
OT but it’s news in the War-on-Woo:
Charlatan Null has lost his long time venue in NY: Pacifica shut down WBAI yesterday because of financial woes and is presenting shows from other affiliates ( where he was either tossed or left) so he now has PRN (which he claims is where most of his thralls find him ) and the phone-in Zeno Radio.
The shutdown was short-lived. WBAI* got a judge to issue an injunction against Pacifica, so the station continues operating for now.
“WBAI is claiming that Pacifica violated its rights — not only under common and not-for-profit law, but also under its own bylaws, as well as the station’s free speech rights, a lawsuit filed by attorney Arthur Schwartz shows. (Schwartz, the principal attorney at Advocates for Justice, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.)”
Null may sympathize with the free speech angle, since he earlier claimed that another Pacifica radio station (KPFA), “censored” him by not allowing broadcast of a show where he was scheduled to gripe about California’s “totalitarian” stance on vaccination.
If Pacifica is not allowed to close economically nonviable stations on the basis that it mustn’t impede free speech, it might not survive overall.
*full disclosure: many, many summers ago I worked as a volunteer at WBAI (as a program engineer).
The story gets more baroque ( see Daily News): an employee went in and found necessary equipment missing.
right now, they’re playing archival material Pacifica Across America.
Dangerous Bacon: So, you’re a liberal?
More on PRN/ WBAI/ haters- the saga continues:
Local programming is still off the air; anger stirring the woo-meister’s rants
His investigation into Wikipedia/ Google:
PRN/ GN show/ yesterday/ 20 minutes in- 30?)
OK, he announces that he has ALL** internal communication amongst Wikipedia editors and those in contact with them; they are “toast”, “they will be served”/ lawyers are at work; another letter to board members of Wikimedia/ pedia, legal action will be taken to all who got warnings ( ?); there will be a congressional investigation** challenging their non-profit status so injured alties can sue** ; they will write a true bio of Wales.*** All will be revealed.. Coming soon.
So at the very least whilst this may be meaningless to sceptics, it costs the woo -doer LOTS of air time/ website space ( where he could be selling BS theories and products) AND money paying lawyers rather than buying estates and playing travelling documentarian. PLUS he knows that eventually, his Wikipedia bio will greatly influence how the general public regards him, his “education”, “science” and products.
** yeah, right
*** for Whale.to?
It’s almost as if Judge Clarkson wanted the case to be overthrown on grounds of racist remarks. But the remarks in the rape case were just as stupid. What a guy.
I will repeat this as long as the OPs get it wrong:
“They had asked advice of a naturopath.”
No. They didn’t want anyone outside of the family circle involved. Before Collet called Lethbridge Naturopathic, she had already done her Internet “research” and decided that the thing to do for Ezekiel was giving him more “natural immune system boosters”. She was merely seeking a source for a non-Truehope problem (and I infer getting push-back from her husband and father-in-law at that). That they were not interested in advice from a naturopath is evidenced by the fact [as established in the testimony cited in Clackson’s opinion, which the OP conveniently leaves out] that they had Ezekiel in the car, in obvious distress in the parking lot outside the clionic, yet Collet “just ran in and told the receptionist that I called earlier about immune booster, and she handed me the liquid.”
Naturopath Tracey Tannis “did not examine Ezekiel.” because she was never given the opportunity. Nor did she.”recommended a tincture of echinacea.” As Collet testified that “recommendation” – for an OTC supplement called Blast – merely came from the clinic receptionist Lexie Vataman. What appears to be at issue here is whether Vataman mentioned the Blast before or after Collet mentioned meningitis, and whether Vataman was actually “recommending” Blast, or merely indicating that was the type of “natural immune system booster” the clinic kept in stock. Putting everything in context, I think Collet had likely identified Blast as a likely promising non-Truehope “immune-booster” via her previous days Internet research, was fishing for some confirmation when she called the clinic, and would have been too careful to mention meningitis before asking “what do you have for boosting the immune system?” Anyway, what is clear from the testimony Clackson cites, and astonishingly twists to his unconscionable decision, is that Collet and David had decided NOT to take Ezekiel to a health provider even AFTER Collet had done the diagnostic tests indicating he did indeed have meningitis. “So after that research and I had spoken with David, we were just going to keep an eye on things,..”
Why this matters: I get that sbm folk decry every form of “natural healith’ woo, and are especially agitated by the efforts to grant some official legislative legitimacy to naturopathy. But if you want to get any significant segment of the public to give a damn, you have to prioritize what they care about, which is first, harm and second, some sense of moral violation in harm being disregarded, especially in pursuit of financial gain. Natural health woo is a massive field, ranging widely in how much they get to those concerns. Or, to put it another way, some are worse than others – at LOT worse. If you’re not going after the worst, the public is going to question your motives and judgement (and rightly so, if you ask me…).
At one end of the scale, when I go into the local Trader Joe’s there’s a big exclamation of “Superfoods!” painted on the wall. Down the road at Sprouts – a sort of more budget conscious alternative to Whole Foods – booklets on natural cures with the smiling face of Andrew Weil on the cover are in the impulse buy publication rack at the checkout lanes. I sigh and grumble, of course. But I wouldn’t expect any “regular folks” would be too upset about those things, or wouldn’t react anything but negatively to me complaining about them.
On the other end of the scale, there be monsters. like homicidal cancer quack Brian Clement. If more people knew about him, for example, I can’t imagine they wouldn’t be outraged. If you want people to tune in to the potential harms of natural cures, you want to highlight examples where there are real stakes. Which, of course, is why we’re still talking about Ezekiel – because what happened is so shockingly wrong. But when the stakes are high, you want the public to see your critique has hit the right target fairly and squarely, to establish and maintain your credibility..
There are monsters in this story, and Tracey Tannis isn’t one of them. David Stephan is, but there’s another deeper monster behind him, that formed him, if you will. And that beast is Truehope. This isn’t just another supplement company, profiting off the gullibility of “the worried well.” They use hard sell phone techniques to get mental health patients psychologically hooked on their ‘treatments’, to the point of financial ruin, and in doing so urge them to stop taking and real psych meds they’ve been prescribed by real doctors. Lives have been ruined. People have died. It’s a real horror story, complete with echoes of corruption in high places in how Truehope has been able to get away with their sh!t over and over again. You know who supervised that staff of aggressive phone salespeople? David Stephan. You know how he met Collet? She was one of the salepeople under his supervision. This isn’t just a sketchy business, it’s a crime family. And they’re getting a free pass on the underlying crime. As I’ve noted before, the whole narrative of Truehope’s pitch, “The Truehope Story” as detailed on their website, is how Tony Stephan proved the value of his miracle treatments by using them to cure his own children! You think maybe those dots connect, like father like son? Maybe??
To add just a bit of detail, consider the difference between the marketing of Master Formulae Blast, the echinacea based ‘Immune booster’ supplement Collet picked up at Lethbridge Naturopathic and Truehope OLE (Olive Leaf Extract) the ‘Immune booster’ David Stephan (by his own words, actually) was relying on to cure Ezekiel’s illness. From the distributer’s websites:
Blast “Used at the onset of illness to help reduce symptoms (sore throat, irritation of the mucus membrane) of colds, flu and infections of the respiratory tract.”
The usual for echinacea, no cure promised just symptom reduction in severity or duration.
OLE: “A natural extract from the olive leaf, standardized to 17% Oleuropein. The antibacterial, antifungal effects of Oleuropein are well-known and are even thought to help reduce the need for pharmaceutical antibiotics.”
Hiuh? What? Antibacterial? Antibiotic? How’s that for unconscionably dangerous?
That’s Truehope. That’s David and Collet Stephan.
Sadmar, I’m tired of your harping on this ad nauseam. Stop it. I’ve had enough. We know already. You get one comment like this per post on the Stephans, no more.
I tell you very bluntly what the public who have heard/read about the Stephan case care about. They care about the fact that parents who had substantial reason to believe their son was critically ill with meningitis engaged in a marked departure from what ordinary prudent parents would have done in the circumstances – taken their child to a physician. Most couldn’t give a damn about Truehope products or any other “natural remedy.” The don’t give a damn about the motive for failure to provide the necessaries of life – they care that the necessaries were not provided Most are appalled that parents can be so irresponsible as to have failed to seek professional medical help for a child in obvious severe distress. A few are aware that the Stephan family business is snake oil – they don’t give a flying fuck what kind of snake the oil was squeezed from or what the claims for the oil are. This is all very very abundantly clear from the myriad of comments on articles on the CBC website.
Yeah. I don’t know why sadmar’s got such a big up his butt about this one point. No one really cares. They care about what you just described.
Sour grapes much? The 911 call recordings heard that he was gargling through fluids. The statements given talked about smacking him on the back and coughing up fluids and then breathing again. He was choking and the ambulance had the equipment removed. The call recordings between the doctors prove that he went for upwards of 12 minutes without oxygen because they couldn’t get an intubation done and were unwilling to put their mouth on him
The meningitis had not progressed past the outer layer of meninges which means it happened long after his entrance into the hospital. What a coincidence that there was an overdose of steroids over a five-day. While he was in hospital that would have promoted they already immuno compromised tissue to become infected.
Not to mention the recorded PADIS call between doctors that showed that they were well aware there was no meningitis at the time of the CT scan.
This site a weak attempt at brainwashing people into believing the garbage that’s sold here. It targets people of a lower intelligence who believe that they are smart because they’ve read a book but in reality can’t piece together two basic facts and come up with a conclusion that is remotely close to the truth. Such a shame…
All this would have been avoided, if his parents would have gone to doctor earlier. (He had now pus in his lungs, which caused breathing problems.) Instead, they diagnosed him by themselves and used their own supplement instead antibiotics.
‘This site a weak attempt at brainwashing people into believing the garbage that’s sold here. It targets people of a lower intelligence who believe that they are smart because they’ve read a book but in reality can’t piece together two basic facts and come up with a conclusion that is remotely close to the truth. Such a shame…’
Unless I’ve missed something, I haven’t noticed this site selling anything, no brainwashing going on, just discussions between like-minded people, reading books is generally more effective than ‘google university’ and I’m impressed by the powers of deduction on display in this case.
Perhaps you’d care to speculate as to why the parents denied proper medical care to a young child who was too stiff to put in a child-seat, leaving it so ridiculously late, despite his worsening condition, that the time of a short ambulance journey could have made any difference at all?
“NutriNos Labs. Health and Green Product Consulting Services
CEO & Founder · January 2015 to present · Raymond, Alberta
NutriNos is a full service Natural Health Product research and development group dedicated to improving the Natural Health Industry through innovation and open access to the most advanced technologies.”
I would have thought he would be frantically researching and developing some new nostrums for the Stephan family business, since those used to treat Ezekiel are very clearly useless for purpose. Now that meningitis is “off the table,” the only remaining reason for Ezekiel to have become so ill is failure of his treatment – maybe even “remedies” that actually made things worse than doing nothing.
Incidentally, there is something of a pertussis outbreak in Lethbridge, and, notably, Raymond, AB.
^^ source for quoted text was Facebook
This could all been avoided if the child had been vaccinated, or even treated by a doctor. It was definitely an emergency situation when he could not be put into a carseat. Yet no one called for emergency services. What happened to that poor child was nothing short of pure torture.
You should not be proud of that.
“The gangrene had only rot half the leg, that means there is plenty of time before we need to treat him”.
I wouldn’t trust you to take care of a teddy bear.
Nice projection, too. Escroc.
The Crown has filed an appeal.
I would expect this to be heard in Calgary, so I’ll attend if I can find out when.
This is such good news. Judge Clackson’s ruling was totally irrational and has such-far-reaching, negative implications for children’s health. Please keep us up-to-date, Doug.
My only qualm with your article is your comparison of the US and Canadian justice systems insofar that justice is doled out similarly less harshly in cases where parents withhold medical treatment.
That is factually incorrect. Canada, like every other country on the planet except the US has ratified the UNCRC into law (13 December 1991) so, there is in effect, no such thing as parental rights in Canada, unlike in the US. There are responsibilities. Rights are granted to all citizens in Canada, not just those who’ve reached the age of majority.
As for sentencing, with the exception of the Stephan’s, Canadian justice doesn’t go easier on these arrogant people, our justice system is one of restorative justice rather than punitive justice, hence the seemingly light sentencing guidelines that infuriate us so much at times. That “light” sentencing is common in all areas of criminal law.
This is my layman’s explanation and critique.
That said, I look forward to lengthy prison sentences for both of them and appreciate your informative article on the subject.
I was talking more about the attitudes, namely that parents have basically an absolute right to do with their children whatever they want, more than laws, and I see no evidence that Canada is any better in terms of the prevalence and strength of those attitudes than the US.
Thank you for clarifying. I understand completely and cannot disagree with your sentiments (having lived in Alberta for 20 years), unfortunately. I do want to disagree but, your being right makes that impossible. It does tick me off though, these attitudes you speak of. How do they exist at all in Canada? I remember how big of a deal it was when the UNCRC was ratified into law (I had just turned 14 and I’m sure my parents never slept much after, I was a bit of a free spirit (thanks again mum and dad for being awesome, loving, open minded parents!)) and while I don’t expect others to share my vivid memories of this important event in our history per se, I do expect my fellow Canadians to know and understand our collective rights and that they differ greatly from our neighbours to the south. This is basic level education for Canadians. Speaking of, we’re supposed to be highly educated people in Canada; that’s becoming less apparent to me as time wears on. (Ok, admittedly, I really began to take notice with the growth of social media.)
That said, I too have held some less than accurate views about many important subjects but, my views on those subjects as I’ve gotten older have evolved and hopefully, my past ignorance dies with my former history professors. I guess I’m trying to say, how is it possible for false narratives like these mythical “parental rights” to persist and endure? In light of cases like these where arguing for parental rights is clearly indefensible, of which there are too many? I’m finding that fewer people support this position while not being aware that it isn’t a position in Canada at all. Those who do support the Stephans and others like them seem to be unaware of the laws in this country and behave as if the “erosion” of their parental rights is something new. I noticed similar sentiments on a personal level within the Family Courts in Alberta (where I admitted jokingly to regretting educating my own children on their rights). That said, I understood that in assigning responsibilities to us parents that the lack of obvious neglect in our duties as parents to be the reasoning behind such decisions. Someone has to be responsible for children and their parents are naturally, the first choice. I’m assuming that it’s a lack of public awareness and perhaps general apathy towards understanding our individual rights and exposure to the rights of our neighbours to the south through our voracious appetite for American television and news that could be reinforcing such false narratives to some degree, if not completely, I suppose? (Grasping here, outside perspective is graciously welcomed). Nevertheless, the lack of awareness and understanding of the laws of Canada baffles and irritates me to no end. Your insight, should you have any, is greatly appreciated. I’ll take all of the insight I can get, in fact.
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