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Ezekiel Stephan’s father attacks the Canadian Medical Association

Ezekiel Stephan was a toddler who died tragically in 2012 because his parents did not treat his bacterial meningitis with medicine, but rather with quackery. His parents were convicted, then acquitted on appeal. A week ago, his father attacked the Canadian Medical Association for reporting on a petition doctors sent to the court urging that courts overturn the acquittal.

I’ve been writing about the case of Ezekiel Stephan since 2016. The reason, of course, is that Ezekiel Stephan was a healthy toddler living in Alberta who died unnecessarily because his parents, David and Collett Stephan, chose to treat him with “holistic” treatments, including olive leaf extract, whey protein, and supplements made by David Stephan’s company Truehope, as over a couple of weeks Ezekiel got sicker and sicker and sicker from what turned out to be bacterial meningitis. By the time the conventional medical system was involved, which didn’t occur until the Stephans called emergency services because Ezekiel had had a respiratory arrest. EMS managed to get Ezekiel to the hospital, but it was too late. He did not survive long, dying in the hospital of massive sepsis from his infection. The autopsy results showed that the cause of death was meningitis and pneumonia, complete with pus on the brain and pus in the pleural cavity (empyema). The autopsy results were also suggestive that this overwhelming infection was due to a vaccine-preventable disease, Hemophilus influenza type b. Unsurprisingly, along with their belief in “holistic medicine” and Truehope supplements, the Stephans are rabidly antivaccine.

In 2016, the first time I encountered the case, Crown prosecuted the Stephans for failing to provide the necessities of life. The Stephans were convicted in a jury trial, but because the verdict was not unanimous it was automatically appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada. Unfortunately, the Canadian Supreme Court reversed the conviction on a technicality and granted the Stephans a new trial in 2018. The results of that trial were not good. In a massive miscarriage of justice, Justice Terry Clackson acquitted the Stephans in a ruling that used such insulting language about a key expert witness for the Crown that a formal complaint of racism was made against him and based the acquittal on such brain dead reasoning and an egregious misinterpretation of the facts and belief of a dubious expert witness for the defense that the Crown decided to appeal. So at odds with reality was the ruling that, personally, I strongly suspect that the fix was in.

Three weeks since the last time I wrote about this, David Stephan awaits the Crown’s appeal, and I was made aware of an brief news report by Marie-Claude Grégoire published a couple of weeks ago in CMAJ News, the news section of the official journal of the Canadian Medical Association, Doctors urge courts to protect children from parental negligence:

Many Canadian physicians expressed anger, frustration and incredulity following the recent nonguilty verdict in the retrial of David and Collet Stephan, whose son Ezekiel died in 2012 from a treatable illness. One of these physicians is Dr. Linda Leblanc, a radiation oncologist in New Brunswick. She initiated a petition demanding action against the ruling, which gathered more than 2600 signatures.

“As a profession, we need to call this out,” says Leblanc. She worries the decision could create a dangerous precedent in Canadian legislation, leaving children without legal protection in situations of parental negligence.

It’s good to see Canadian doctors angry and mobilized now. Often it takes a high profile case to shake people out of their apathy, because there’s nothing new about the Stephan case. Parents choose to treat serious diseases in their children with quackery rather than real medicine all the time, thus endangering them, and doctors don’t speak out about it nearly enough. Not knowing the Canadian legal system well enough to know if the Stephan acquittal, if allowed to stand, would result in any sort of real precedent given the idiosyncratic facts of the case and the bumbling of the Crown in prosecuting it from the very beginning, but certainly one worries about children’s rights in the event of parental negligence. However, I note that this is just one doctor with one petition. She does not represent the CMA.

The problem, as I’ve repeated many times over the last 15 years, is that there is an inherent bias in people’s belief systems and, sometimes depending on the jurisdiction, the law, that values “parental rights” over the rights of a child and treats the child, in essence, as the property or an extension of the parents, giving parents near absolute power to make medical decisions for the child, no matter how injurious those decisions are. I know I’ve quoted him time and time again, but Senator Rand Paul’s quote from nearly five years ago springs to mind: “The state doesn’t own the children. Parents own the children, and it is an issue of freedom.” Unfortunately, this attitude, that parents in effect own their the children and have near-absolute power over them, is prevalent among parents and politicians not just in the US, but all over the world. It’s why there is frequently such opposition to even relatively modest efforts to protect children, such actually promising to follow the precepts of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. It’s why it’s basically open season on children in states like Idaho, which have broadly written statutes protecting “religious liberty” that in practice make it very difficult to prosecute parents for the medical neglect of children if parents based their treatment choices on religion. It’s why parents like parents Herbert and Catherine Schaible in Pennsylvania can choose prayer instead of antibiotics to treat bacterial pneumonia in their toddler, resulting in death, not just once but twice.

“Parental freedom” is an effective message for believers in quackery, though. It’s no wonder that David Stephan is leaning heavily into it now. For example, over on his blog, Stephan is, as he has done since the beginning, painting his wife and him as the persecuted victims. Who’s doing the persecuting? The medical establishment, and all of it, of course! He begins with a long rant, a key excerpt I quote here:

With the Judge’s recent decision and the precedent that was established over the past few months of court proceedings, things have backfired on a catastrophic level. Not only was Alberta Health Services exposed for causing the death of our son, Ezekiel… but the charges of “failing to provide the necessaries of life” were further clarified in that the crown now has to prove that allopathic medical attention would actually make a difference, before parents can be convicted for not seeking it out as their first line of treatment. This is an incredible victory for all parents in Canada! Conversely, this is an incredible loss for, and will greatly hurt the bottomline profits of, both the medical establishment and the pharmaceutical industry alike, as they are intrinsically connected at the hip.

The ruling might have backfired, but not in the way that Stephan thinks. Justice Clackson’s ruling was so poorly argued, so clearly steeped in racism against the Crown’s expert witness, that it finally shocked doctors to respond. Moreover, the ruling did not “expose” Alberta Health Services for anything except for trying its best but failing to save a child who was too far gone from a deadly infection to be saved. Stephan does, unfortunately, more or less correctly characterize the standard Justice Clackson used in his acquittal, namely that the Crown had to prove that medical attention would have actually made a difference in the outcome. The problem is that he applied that standard only when the Stephans had finally called EMS for help, by which time Ezekiel was too far gone to be saved, neglecting to consider that if the parents had taken Ezekiel to the doctor two weeks earlier his death could almost certainly have been averted. It’s like blaming the trauma surgeon for the death of a victim of a gunshot wound to the heart because the victim was on the verge of cardiac arrest due to shock when he presented to the emergency room and the damage from the bullet to the heart was too extensive to fix, rather than on the person who pulled the trigger. Indeed, Justice Clackson ruled that Ezekiel’s cause of death was lack of oxygen to the brain. Yes, but every single one of us will die one day due to “lack of oxygen to the brain.” That’s the final common mechanism of every death. What led to Ezekiel’s lack of oxygen to the brain? His untreated bacterial meningitis! Justice Clackson’s conclusion was, as I said at the time, akin to concluding that that gunshot wound to the heart didn’t kill the shooting victim, but rather the lack of oxygen to the brain did.

Stephan spends a lot of time bemoaning the criticism (to him “attacks”) of the judiciary and of the ruling before pivoting to Dr. Leblanc:

Just when we thought that the attacks were as dirty as they could get… we discovered that Dr. Linda LeBlanc, who resides clear on the other side of Canada, started a petition that would be submitted to both the Alberta Crown as well as the Canadian Judicial Council, pressuring for an appeal to be made as well as a conviction against Collet and I. She obtained just over 2600 signatures before she claimed victory as the Crown declared that they were going to appeal our acquittal and seek to have it made into a conviction at the Alberta Appeals Court. How did she obtain these 2600 signatures? Through the blatant misrepresentation of the facts to a degree that we have never seen before, and in some instances, by even adding some fictional events of her own creation. Two clear examples of her fabricating evidence directly associated with convincing others to sign her petition, is when she stated that, “The child had been ill for a month…”, when in reality he was off and on sick over the time period of 2 weeks, 1 day and a few hours. Another instance is when she stated, “The judge ascertained that the child died because of lack of oxygen in the ambulance on the way to the hospital.” In contradiction, she would go on to state that, “The child in fact died of overwhelming sepsis secondary to meningitis…”. Nowhere in any medical evidence or in any testimony given over nearly 7 years of court proceedings did anyone state that there was any evidence of sepsis, let alone “overwhelming sepsis”. In fact to the contrary, 24 hours after Ezekiel had arrived at hospital, the doctors were looking for an alternative cause of death as the CT scan had ruled out meningitis (however the radiologist did identify brain damage due to hypoxic injury (oxygen deprivation within the ambulance)) and further to this, there was no objective evidence of an infection (sepsis). Not only is she entirely wrong, but it will be interesting to find out what kind of legal liability there will be in relation to the intentional creation and misrepresentation of facts for the sole purpose of generating public pressure to influence court proceedings? Mark my words, this is definitely not the last time that we will hear about Dr. Linda LeBlanc out of Moncton, New Brunswick.

OK, so Dr. Leblanc got the period of illness wrong. It was two weeks. I’ll admit that that was careless of Dr. Leblanc. I know from long experience that when you write an article like that you can’t afford to make a mistake as basic as that, even if the mistake doesn’t change the overall message of what you’re arguing. That doesn’t exonerate David Stephan. It’s also incorrect that evidence of sepsis was not presented, and the autopsy results contradict Stephan’s claim. The Crown’s medical examiner reported two sites of major infection, the lung and the brain.

I don’t want to re-argue the facts of the case against the distortions, misinformation, and dubious arguments about the case being promoted by Stephan, his supporters, and the various quacks who have taken up the Stephans’ cause. I’m more interested in showing how Stephan is portraying himself, and, unsurprisingly, it’s as a victim. For example, a week ago on Facebook:

He starts out by complaining that the Canadian Medical Association has alerted its 75,000 members about his case and how they should feel and act about it, claiming, as he did in his blog post, that the CMA is engaged in an effort to influence the court to rule against him and his wife. Let’s just say that this is an…exaggeration. The article in CMAJ, the official journal of the CMA, was a news report about an effort by Dr. Leblanc, not an endorsement of that effort by the Canadian Medical Association. Now here’s the thing. This was a petition posted to by a single physician. According to the CMAJ article, it had accumulated 2,600 signatures by October 23, the publication date of the article, noting:

Leblanc’s petition against this decision has been acknowledged by the Canadian Judiciary Council and the Province of Alberta. On Oct. 15, the Crown filed an appeal of the acquittal. The group lead by Leblanc is hoping for retrial and conviction.

So the Court acknowledged the petition? So what? If a petition is filed to the court, I’m guessing that it has to acknowledge it. Whether it will have any effect, who knows? My guess is that it probably won’t. I also note that the petition is no longer on the website. The link in the CMAJ article just goes to the front page of the website, and a search using the almighty Wayback Machine on failed to come up with a copy. I was, however, able to find a Google cache of the petition; so I’ll quote the whole thing before it disappears completely into the digital ether:

We are a group of physicians and patient advocates from across Canada demanding action be taken against the recent ruling in the Ezekiel Stephan case. The judge ascertained that the child died because of lack of oxygen in the ambulance on the way to the hospital. He was convinced by the defense pathologist who made this claim based on hearing the 911 recording of the child’s breathing pattern and reviewing the autopsy report of which she had no part. The child in fact died of overwhelming sepsis secondary to meningitis (likely bacterial) as was explained by the pathologist who completed the autopsy who denied there were signs of anoxia in the brain.

Ezekiel had been ill for 3 weeks and the parents chose to treat him with ‘natural’ remedies, including a supplement widely advertised and sold by the Stephan family. When the child’s condition deteriorated a nurse who was a family friend as well as the parents’ Naturopath told the parents to seek medical attention as they suspected meningitis. In fact in order to bring the child to the Naturopath visit they needed to lay him on a mattress in the car as he was too stiff to sit in a car seat, an obvious sign of meningismus.

Later that day the parents called an ambulance when Ezekiel stopped breathing and then cancelled the ambulance when he resumed breathing. Ambulance was called a second time as the child stopped breathing yet again. The judge unbelievably concluded that Ezekiel’s death was due to lack of adequate oxygen in the 9 minute ambulance ride, not the 3 weeks of gross negligence from the parents that led to the child’s critical condition, including the 2 episodes of respiratory arrest prior to the ambulance arriving on scene.

The judgement creates an unbelievably dangerous precedent—as a parent you can neglect your child and deny him or her life saving treatment. If the outcome is poor you will be absolved of all responsibility. It also legitimizes ‘natural’ remedies as treatment of life threatening conditions as was explained by the child’s father upon his acquittal: He stated his case “helps protect parental rights so that parents won’t be held criminally liable if they choose alternative treatments for their sick children”.

He does not mention sadness for the death of his child but rather relief at not being held accountable. His livelihood is that of selling ‘alternative treatments’ therefore his statement pushes for their continued use ensuring he can continue to profit from its sales. One could argue the delay in seeking medical attention was driven by the parent’s need to legitimize the efficacy of their business’ product. Need we add this couple have other young children.

Children are not our property, they have a right to be protected from harm irrespective of the adult responsible for the harm inflicted. It is in the name of all children that we demand a review of what led to this travesty of justice.

This petition contains a more or less an accurate representation of what happened. One can quibble with how a couple of the details are represented, but the petition does boil the pertinent facts of the case down to a digestible summary. Dr. Leblanc is also very much correct when she points out that Stephan profits from the use of the supplements that he used to treat Ezekiel. He’s the scion of the founder of Truehope, which has long peddled dubious supplements. In all of Stephan’s rants on his blog and in his video I can’t help but think that his accusations that the medical profession is persecuting him and his wife in order to protect their profits is what I like to refer to as projection. In the video, he repeats claims that he’s made that the reason the death of his son was due to a vaccine-preventable disease (which, examining the evidence, I think it probably—but not certainly—was) is because of big pharma and big medicine wanting to maintain their monopoly. At one point, he even says that parents, out of fear of being held criminally liable, will take their children to doctors unnecessarily and in some instances “subject them to vaccines,” as if that were a horrible thing. He also misrepresents Dr. Leblanc’s petition as though it were the official position of the CMA and that the CMA was itself urging the court to convict him. That is simply not true; all the CMA did was to report on Dr. Leblanc’s petition after the fact, and indeed the petition appears to have been taken down since it was presented to the court.

The case of Ezekiel Stephan made me sad to learn about it, but as the legal proceedings have dragged on and on for years, it’s made me more angry than anything else. That an antivaccine supplement grifter and his wife, who so obviously medically neglected their child resulting in his death, can escape justice for so long infuriates me. It should infuriate you too.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

55 replies on “Ezekiel Stephan’s father attacks the Canadian Medical Association”

So, parent, who allowed his baby to suffer and die without medical treatment, continues to blame everyone but himself for the child’s suffering and death. Got it.

Yep. You could sum up this case as “Child murderer complains bitterly at any hint of personal accountability for murder.”

“Buy Truehope supplements! Our kid died while taking them!”

It doesn’t seem like a winner of a business plan. Oh, and David seems like a heartless, money-grubbing ghoul.

“…David seems like a heartless, money-grubbing ghoul.”

He lacks the necessities of human decency.

I’d really like to have some good legal opinion on the possible consequence of buying some billboards with a statement like that.
It is extra damning of Truehope products because the Stephans have steadfastly maintained that Ezekiel was not ill with anything serious. “Truehope can even cure the sniffles and a little cough.” “Has your child quit breathing because of a mucus plug? Truehope can’t help!”

David has be roundly criticized as a creep by many many people commenting on CBC articles about the matter.

Somewhere in his Grizzly Adams walkabout Stephan essentially says he’s going to sue Dr. LeBlanc when all this is done, but please don’t ask me to watch it again to find the exact time point

The Canadian Medical Association has 75,000 members & only 2,600 signed the petition?

A little disingenuous there Christine. Do you respond to all petitions that come your way?

The petition was not circulated by the CMA, it was created and circulated by a physician in Canada.

Was David Stephan out tromping in the woods in March of 2012 when his child was dying horribly from meningitis? He sure wasn’t being a responsible parent.

Stephan claims meningitis wasn’t present because a CT scan at the hospital was negative. No, that is not true. Thus pus found on his brain and surrounding his spinal cord on autopsy confirmed meningitis.

Amazing he’s actually hitting people up for money given how wealthy his family is. I think this is more of a rallying tactic.

…and like lots of these grifters, it’s always about him and his supposed victimization. Always. Never about the children.

I’m pretty sure I recall correctly that one of the docs at the Alberta Children’s Hospital testified something to the effect that what was found with MRI was as bad as she had ever seen. Adiagbo certainly testified that he found no evidence of anoxic injury to the brain.

Let’s not forget what a horrible precedent will be set if this judge is allowed to get away with his awful, disrespectful and downright racist treatment of the foreign-born doctor who testified at the latest trial. Talk about an attack on the very idea of an expert or a medical fact.

I am much more concerned that it appears that the fundamental intent behind the applicable law has been held to be irrelevant in Clackson’s ruling. That really is a precedent that cannot stand.

Generally in the U.S. a trial court ruling would not be binding precedent, and I suspect that’s true in Canada too, though would love to hear a Canadian lawyer on that.

It can be persuasive if well reasoned and affect how prosecutors think of cases.

@ Dorit Reiss:

OT but…
I must mention that I find anti-vaxxers’ remarks/ posts about you despicable and shameful ( such as, AoA, today).You are a brilliant woman, mother and educator who is trying to do the right thing. You could probably find other causes that would benefit greatly from your efforts but you rightly chose vaccines because of their value to children around the world and because misinformation about them harms many people.

Thank you. I think they are upset with anyone who speaks up enough.

I will say that getting involved in the vaccines area is generally a good thing from my point of view: I met so many impressive, wonderful people I would not have otherwise met (including many of the commenters here), and I am involved in something meaningful that can help people. The haters are not usually a big part of my day. Who has time to obssess about them? 🙂

Do I want to look at what they said?

Do I want to look at what they said?

If only you want a good laugh, or pity them at how they can take quotes out of context and not realise (or care) that you have a limited number of characters in a tweet and some things don’t come out quite right. They are petty, racist, bitter cowards who are acting out their misery like children.

Doesn’t look too excited. They’re upset about a very, very old comment (I don’t remember when it’s from, but it’s at least a year old) I made the reflected, basically, this article, and the harms of an over-aggressive immune response:

Maybe I should have phrased it better, but there are always going to be less well-phrased comments in a long thread, and I thnk the point stands. It’s a little sad that that’s what they’re working themselves up over these days.

I agree with Denice: You are a brilliant woman, mother and educator who is trying to do the right thing.

There are probably more folks than just Denice and I who look forward to your comments here on this blog and your guest posts over at Orac’s buddy’s blog (the feathered, colorful dinosaur). I’m sure that many of us who support and develop vaccines all benefit from reading your balanced and well-researched writings. Please keep it up.

Sorry for taking so long, Denice and Moose. I’m incredibly touched by your kind words (Since I very much respect both of you, your good thoughts mean a lot), and was trying to think of a way to respond that won’t sound trite – and am drawing a blank. So thank you.

“his parents chose to treat him with ‘holistic’ treatments, including olive leaf extract, whey protein, and supplements made by David Stephan’s company Truehope”.

Olive Leaf Extract (OLE) IS a supplement made by Truehope, marketed as an “immune system booster” that can serve as an alternative to antibiotics. It’s evident from a close reading of David Stephan’s comments following Ezekiel’s death that he was counting on OLE to cure the toddler, right up to the point the boy stopped breathing and they called the EMTs.

Yes, the narrative in Leblanc’s petition is far too sloppy in the factual details, even if the big-picture frame winds up being more-or-less on point.

a family friend as well as the parents’ Naturopath told the parents to seek medical attention as they suspected meningitis. In fact in order to bring the child to the Naturopath visit they needed to lay him on a mattress in the car as he was too stiff to sit in a car seat

It would seem important to note that the family friend was an RN. Tracy Tannis was not “the parents’ Naturopath”. They had never met, much less visited her clinic for any type of appointment. The Stephans did not take Ezekiel to visit the natujropath. Quite the opposite. They took him along on a visit to their lawyers office (a WTF in and of itself that has never been properly explained), stopped of at the naturopathic office to pick up a bottle of supplements, at which point Collet ran in and out without telling anyone the very sick boy was outside in the car, much less asking anyone to take a look at him. Thus Tannis did not “suspect meningitis” as she never had any opportunity to check the boy’s symptoms, even by verbal description. (I realize the intended referent of “they” might be “the parents” rather than “a friend and a naturopath”, so we can add sloppy writing and/or copy editing to things you should avoid in writing petitions…) What did happen was that Collet mentioned a suspicion of meningitis to receptionist Lexie Vataman. While some of the exact details of what followed are in dispute, Vataman was concerned enough to report to Tannis that an unidentified caller ion the line had voiced the thought that an infant might have meningitis, and in the end Vataman told the caller to seek medical attention.

Sadmar, we get it. Other people are imprecise about describing the relationship and actions of the naturopath, but at this point anyone who’s read your comments knows it in excruciating detail.

I’ve got to ask, why do you feel the need to bring it up every time we talk about the Stephens? It’s never made a material difference in anyone’s legal or medical argument.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

I value Sadmar’s input (usually), but in this particular case his obsession about the role of the naturopath in this tragic case has become truly tiresome.

Personally, I think it’s good to get facts straight, even if it can be a PITA sometimes – it prevents misunderstandings. Not getting facts straight and blurring belief/fact/research is what woo thrives on.

@ Justatech
My academic field was media studies, and part of that is attention to how journalistic representations affect the public’s view of the real world, which then has consequences in politics and policy, and even more broadly in social and cultural goings on. Our premise is that these things do matter, and not just when they’re ‘big’ because even the smallest details may be the drops that make up up very powerful currents.

Simply put, I bring it up every time because the OPs contain inaccuracies every time, and I think this matters because:
1. On general principles, as BillyJoe and Carl note, getting the facts right is important in establishing and maintaining credibility, which is important is opposing pseudoscience, and it’s especially self-damaging for anyone claiming to represent science to settle for “more or less accurate” in cases where there is plenty of strong evidence available for a more properly precise accuracy.
2. Frankly, on those grounds I expect better of Orac. I think his voice matters, so I think it’s important for RI to get things right, or at least to correct and clarify when it gets things wrong. So you might say I’m being intentionally tiresome in harmony with how tiresome it is to me to read the same distortions of the facts over and over and over.
3. Just as Orac recaps a certain amount of background regular readers already know ell in the OPs, I do not assume that the only readers here are regulars who may find my comments repetitive.
4. I do think the specifics of this case and it’s journalistic representations are symptomatic of larger important issues, droplets in larger important currents. I think David Stephan is a monster, and that his monstrosity is very much of a piece with the monstrosities not only creating unconscionable human misery and injustice right now, but threatening the collapse of human civilization and with it suffering and mass death exponentially greater than anything our species has experienced. What we have here is total mendacity, “total epistemological nihilism”*, total moral corruption, as attendants to unbound greed, the pursuits of wealth and power. We need to call that out and stand against it. But we can’t do that if we can’t identify it. More specifically, in terms of the concerns of this blog, opposing pseudoscience is a fundamentally political project, as one way or another it is dependent on public opinion. There is no evidence whatsoever that an interest in scientific truth has any motivating effect on enough of the citizenry to effect either policy or socio-cultural trends.

In sum then, I’m troubled by any journalistic account of Ezekiel’s death that minimizes or obscures the evil of the Stephans, especially David Stephan, who is, in the end, the personification of Truehope, even if, in some way (like Don Jr.) merely an extension of his father,

What has happened in this case is that press coverage has worked to the favor of the Stephans in two ways. First, it has almost totally downplayed the Truehope angle, suggesting that Ezekiel was treated with a regime of naive home remedies concocted in a kitchen blender or something, rather than commercial products, the grossly unethical promotion of which has been profitable enough to male the Stephan clan quite wealthy. The paradigm here is the fact that “olive leaf extract” continue to fail to identify it as a Truehope product and thus never quote the advertising copy Truehope uses for it, which is directly relevant to the cause of Ezekiel’s death, reinforced by comments David made in interviews with the authorities which revealed that he was relying exactly on that product to cure his son.
Second, the attention wrongly given to Tannis deflects responsibility away from the Stephans, Look at what a noob might conclude from the language in the petition: that the Stephans were humble and conscientious enough to have established a patient-provider relationship with some sort of trained healthcare provider; that they trusted this provider enough to have her examine their son and make a treatment recommendation (even if they rejected it, it shows some sort of conscientiousness.) This undercuts, albeit mildly, the most laudable aspect of the petition, which is that in contrast to the press coverage it does raise the Truehope issue:

His livelihood is that of selling ‘alternative treatments’ therefore his statement pushes for their continued use ensuring he can continue to profit from its sales. One could argue the delay in seeking medical attention was driven by the parent’s need to legitimize the efficacy of their business’ product.

Bingo. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Now consider, for example, how the frame would change if instead of writing, “the parents chose to treat him with ‘natural’ remedies, including a supplement widely advertised and sold by the Stephan family.” Dr. Leblanc had written,. more accurately, “the parents chose to treat him with supplements widely advertised and sold by the Stephan family, augmented by other.‘natural’ remedies.”

Your assertion that none of this “made a material difference in anyone’s legal or medical argument” is just bizarre. For just one example of many, the Crown was too scared to touch Truehope or Tony Stephan, soft-pedaled the case, and the press didn’t raise a peep.

Oops. Forgot the citation for ““total epistemological nihilism”. That was NYT columnist Michele Goldberg talking about the Republican’s attempt to defend Trump by doubling down on the conspiracy theory that the Russians didn’t hack the DNC, but rather it was a “false flag” operation by Ukranians under the control of Hilary Clinton. (Yes, that is where they’re going, believe it or not…)

Oh well, I have to disagree with the others. and agree with you, that it is important to get the facts straight. To get it wrong just provides ammunition to those who you are arguing against. The petition very definitely needed to get the facts straight. I don’t think its satisfactory to say “oh well, it’s more or less correct” or “it makes no difference to the argument”. So, thanks for your continued correction of the details. I’ve had read many incorrect accounts and, each time, I found it distracting, annoying, and frustrating that people who take the time to comment do not first make sure they have the facts straight.

However, if your purpose is to defend naturopaths…

Again, I doubt if the petition has had any effect. It certainly shouldn’t have any effect on decisions made by the Crown. The courts should not be responding to public opinion on a specific case.

I think the notion that any errors in the petition will provide the slightest shred of ammunition for the Stephans in the Court of Appeal is flatly wrong. Each side will file a factum. Each side will get a few tens of minutes to make oral argument to the panel. There is no time to waste babbling about the petition. They will have to focus on the specific grounds for appeal as raised by the Crown – the four points Orac mentioned in his previous post on the matter. There will be no new evidence heard, so what a bunch of doctors not directly involved with Ezekiel have to say simply won’t get into the courtroom. The panel will ask the lawyers (likely two from each side) questions to probe details that they feel may not have been addressed adequately. If it turns out anything like the first appeal, none of the lawyers will acquit themselves with any conspicuous sign of deep legal knowledge or flair. (When Justice O’Ferrall was grilling one of the Crown lawyers on the judge’s conflation of mens rea and actus reus, saying that the failure to make the distinction was wrong in law, (the only specific words I remember from the appeal hearing is O’Ferrall saying “That’s wrong in law.”) the reply was pretty much “We don’t think so.”) The Stephans will sit silent in the box, holding hands.

It was absolutely clear from his remarks made before he got on to the judge’s instructions to the jury that O’Ferrall J. was certain that the Stephans, through whatever mechanism, were aware that meningitis was on the table as a possibility. He said words about how most people would be off to see a doctor in a flash at the very mention of the word. I don’t believe he thought the Stephans were not guilty, only that the error made by the trial judge made it almost impossible for the jury to not find them guilty and that was unfair and wrong in law.

Now of course David Stephan will get some mileage out of errors in the text of the petition when he is writing on his blog and making his videos. It will make no difference. His supporters will support him regardless and those who think he is a criminal creep won’t change their minds.

Doug, for most of your comment you seem to be criticising an opinion I did not even express – until your last paragraph where you essentially agree with the opinion I did express. What a strange fellow 🙂

sadmar, this is tim. I’ve not been very active here; I can’t find a recent post of ‘politicalguineapig’, whom i refered to as ‘PgP’, to respond to.

If you happen to run into her, please relate my heartfelt apologies to her that ‘Drumpf’ did, in fact, manage to “wreck everyting”.

Stephan: “as the CT scan had ruled out meningitis”

I’m a neurologist. The above statement is total nonsense. A CT scan cannot ever be relied on to rule out meningitis.

Even if the statements in the petition were almost entirely wrong, I don’t think it would have made any difference in the Crown’s decision to appeal. The Crown would have been aware of the issues very promptly after the ruling came down and there were probably discussions about how to proceed within a few days That the notice of appeal was not filed until nearly the last minute likely was due at least in part to a desire to formulate it for maximal chance of success. As I’ve said before, my not-a-lawyer feeling is that Clackson tried the case as if it were criminal negligence causing death, not failure to provide the necessaries of life, and that would form an excellent basis in law for success at appeal. His remarks about Adeagbo were scandalous but alone perhaps not adequate for a good chance of success at appeal.

As for the blowhard’s claim that Clackson’s ruling, even if it were to stand, would make any noticeable difference to the incomes of legitimate pharmaceutical companies or professional medical institutions or practitioners is complete and utter nonsense. This is abundantly evident from the huge number of comments roundly condemning the Stephans in every open-for-comment article on the topic published on the CBC website. All but a tiny fraction of parents will seek professional medical care. They may not take their kids to a doctor at the first sniffle, but contrary to the claims of the likes of the Stephans, nobody has ever suggested that that is in any way required by the law regarding providing the necessaries of life.

It is also clear from the bulk of comments on the CBC articles that a lot of people regard David Stephan as reprehensible. I certainly do. I hold Collet in less contempt because it certainly looks to me like she was under David’s thumb and pretty much did as he decided.

Fwiw, I agree about David and Collet. After going over all the evidence multiple times, I’m convinced there’s an untold story of conflict within the Stephan family, in that all the actions Collet took to go outside the family for input appear to have occurred while David was away at work, and then got “walked back” as soon as he got home.

I certainly don’t think the claims in the petition, right or wrong, made any difference in the Crown’s decision to appeal. On the whole, I think the fact the petition does reference David’s profit motive is a big step forward. However, it’s naive to think that public opinion won’t matter to the outcome, or how the appeal may progress. Inaccuracies in the petition do negatively affect the credibility of the critics generally, and provide a propaganda boost to David and Truehope. Not that they need actual flaws, since they can just make stuff up and their cult will eat it up (sound familiar?), but there’s no need to make iot easier for them. As for “the bulk of comments on the CBC articles regarding David as reprehensible”, as comforting as that is, It’s not like majority rules when it comes to influencing political behavior. Even a relatively small constituency can strike fear in the hearts of politicians if they’ve vocal and motivated enough — e.g. the history of the NRA in the US.

I watched the video and I found a couple of things interesting, the huge amount of whataboutery of course, especially the concentration on medical deaths, and yet he doesn’t care to hold his own products to the same standard – if he did he would have to acknowledge that his son died as a direct result of being treated for too long with his own ineffective ‘treatment’. Also he bangs on about the parental right to choose medical system for the child – what system did he actually choose? None that I can see, given that if my understanding is correct, his son wasn’t properly examined by anyone actually qualified in anything, even woo, possibly until he was in the ambulance. In which case he seems to be arguing for the right of parental neglect, or at least using nothing more than hope. Parental rights being shamelessly mixed in with government/big pharma conspiracy theory is another particularly nasty red herring.

And, as has been commented already, the lack of sorrow or grief, or even any sense of reflection on his own actions and what he could have changed given the benefit of hindsight, seems almost inhuman.

Profoundly depressing, and really brings home how just vulnerable children are and how huge parental responsibility is – as a parent I know that I have failed or fallen short many many times, but I like to think that I have at least tried to learn from it, and certainly realised that I was at fault, and not a government conspiracy.

What an asshole. It seems far less important to him that his own son died than how he can turn his son’s death to his personal advantage. A normal, non-psychopathic person would be devastated by such a loss, and take responsibility for it.

Looks like the Stephan supporter(s??) who showed up are intellectually at Truehope-effectiveness level.

Unfortunately there are errors in this post about the court system, which need clarification as I am quite certain this will not be the last piece on the subject. Therefore in the interest of accuracy going forward the following is noted.

“Canada’s system of courts is complex. Each province and territory has its own courts, as well as courts that have national jurisdiction. The Supreme Court of Canada presides over the entire system.”
( )

For the Stephan’s the process to date has been: Stephan’s elect a jury trial – found guilty and sentenced, Stephan’s appeal to Alberta Court of Appeal where the majority dismissed, Stephan’s appeal to the Supreme Court – a new trial is ordered, Stephan’s elect a trial by judge alone – found innocent, Crown appeals.

From the Supreme Court of Canada Agenda May 2018, English version:

37845 Collet Dawn Stephan v. Her Majesty the Queen
(Alta.) (Criminal) (As of Right)
Criminal law – Failing to provide necessaries of life – Elements of offence – Charge to jury – Whether trial judge’s instruction to jury with respect to elements of offence constituted reversible error.
The appellant was convicted by a jury of failing to provide the necessaries of life to her son, Ezekiel, who died of meningitis. She appealed her conviction, arguing that the trial judge’s charge to the jury was inadequate, that the trial was unfair and amounted to a miscarriage of justice, and that her rights to be tried within a reasonable time were breached. The majority in the Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal. O’Ferrall J.A., dissenting, would have allowed the appeal and ordered a new trial. He was of the view that the trial judge’s charge to the jury was confusing, misleading and deficient in describing a key element of the offence, and that the trial judge did not properly instruct the jury on the fault element or the mens rea of the offence.

37846 David Robert Stephan v. Her Majesty the Queen
(Alta.) (Criminal) (As of Right)
Criminal law – Failing to provide necessaries of life – Elements of offence – Charge to jury – Whether trial judge’s instruction to jury with respect to elements of offence constituted reversible error.
The appellant was convicted by a jury of failing to provide the necessaries of life to his son, Ezekiel, who died of meningitis. He appealed his conviction, arguing that the trial judge erred in failing to limit the Crown’s expert evidence, in restricting a defence expert’s qualification and scope of opinion, and in his characterization and restriction of his father’s evidence. The majority in the Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal. O’Ferrall J.A., dissenting, would have allowed the appeal and ordered a new trial. He was of the view that the trial judge’s charge to the jury was confusing, misleading and deficient in describing a key element of the offence, and that the trial judge did not properly instruct the jury on the fault element or the mens rea of the offence.

The Supreme Court heard the case on May 15, 2018 and rendered verbal judgment the same day. From the Court record.
The judgment of the Court ( Indexed as: R. v. Stephan ) was delivered orally by:
[1] Moldaver J. — We are in essential agreement with the reasons of Justice O’Ferrall.
[2] In particular, we agree that the learned trial judge conflated the actus reus and mens rea of the offence and did not sufficiently explain the concept of marked departure in a way that the jury could understand and apply it.
[3] Accordingly, we would allow the appeals, quash the convictions and order a new trial.

The definitions are: actus reus – a criminal action regarded as a constituent element of a crime, as compared with the state of mind of the perpetrator. Mens rea – a criminal intention or knowledge that an act is wrong. My view is this is fundamental and not a mere “technicality”.

To further confuse matters the cmaj news piece is error ridden. Orac relied on in part “Leblanc’s petition against this decision has been acknowledged by the Canadian Judiciary Council and the Province of Alberta. On Oct. 15, the Crown filed an appeal of the acquittal. The group lead by Leblanc is hoping for retrial and conviction.” Every sentence is wrong or lacking sufficient detail and context.

There is no “ Canadian Judiciary Council” but a Canadian Judicial Council which oversees federally appointed judges of which Justice Terry Clackson is one. However there is no public acknowledgement of any action by the Council from a search of today. ( ) Unrelated to the petition there is a formal complaint filed by another party signed by 42 doctors, lawyers and professors which is not as yet noted either. As to the Province of Alberta, this is meaningless information on the level of: the patient got sick and is not doing very well. It is not a court filing nor would an appeals court look at it unless presented by the Crown, defence or recognized intervenor. If David Stephan is to be believed, the petition has gone to the Crown.

What is missing from the mention of the appeal is the Crown filed notice asking the Alberta Court of Appeal to either substitute a guilty verdict or order a new trial. My view, knowing this, no reasonable observer would want a new trial, notwithstanding that it is probably the preferred option of the Stephan’s.

What David Stephan has written is worthy competition to any antivaxxer for tropes and misinformation so I will leave it alone and resist name calling which is what I would like to do.

Last observation; “suspect that the fix was in” would be my preferred explanation as that would imply some intelligent chicanery but all I see is stupidity from the two presiding judges. Is especially true for Clackson who by all appearances does not know enough things medical to even understand that he does not know, but has the arrogance, as demonstrated by his uncalled for remarks about Dr. Bamidele Adeagbo, to believe he can render a just judgment.

I’m not convinced the original trial judge was “stupid,” I strongly suspect that he had never before tried a case in which clear distinction between mens rea and actus reus was required, whereas in the charge that was before the court it is. For conviction there is a requirement for a marked departure from what an ordinary prudent person with no specialist knowledge would do in similar circumstances and that is the mens rea part. O’Ferrall made some remark about how there would be no question of guilt based on David’s actions if actions were all that was required (I really wish I could remember O’Ferrall’s precise words from several of his comments but I don’t do shorthand and things went zinging by a quite a pace even though the whole hearing took much longer than a typical appeal court hearing – plus the conversation is between the bench and the lawyers’ podium, so it can be a bit hard to hear everything when you’re sitting in the gallery).

Clackson stupid? It would seem that way. Incompetent in law? Seems pretty conspicuously true – and I think that is what will get him overturned and carry much more weight than his scandalous remarks about Adeagbo. I’m also a bit suspicious that Clackson might have been feeling burned by having been rather publicly overturned on another case and decided he’d do what he damned well pleased and give “them” something else to have to clean up. One commenter on CBC said he knew Clackson when he was a lawyer in northern Alberta and that he was something of an arrogant jerk even then.

Maybe I could come up with something like not very clear thinking, but consider his bio: Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Rodney Jerke, (BASc (BSc) ’78). Rod Jerke is a partner in the law firm Davidson and Williams in Lethbridge and appears as Counsel at all levels of Courts in Alberta. Rod was recently elected a Bencher of the Law Society of Alberta and earned his Queen’s Court designation in 1998. His academic strengths are widely recognized having earned both his degrees with Distinction and serving as guest instructor and team leader at the University of Calgary Intensive Trial Advocacy Workshop.
Not a lot of room there for inexperience and fundamentals of law concepts.

Ross, if you read the decisions of the Court of Appeal you will find that two very experienced justices of that court argued specifically against Justice O’Ferrall that Jerke J. was not wrong in his instructions to the jury and support that position with citations. I take that as a strong suggestion that only specific experience and/or detailed knowledge of the fine points would have made any difference, and I therefore do not hold the position that he was stupid or even not thinking clearly. (I would be quite prepared to believe that his brain hurt after having to sit through that trial.) Of course the fine points are virtually never laid out in the written law and get sharpened over time in the courts.

A few months ago I spent a little time searching CanLII looking for other cases of prosecution for failure to provide the necessaries of life. I found very few, but perhaps I should have been searching on the specific number of the section of the Criminal Code. There have been two other cases where that charge was included, along with criminal negligence causing death, tried in Calgary, both after the original Stephan trial. One was before a judge alone, but I”m not sure about the other (last time I looked the case was listed on CanLII but there was no content for the listing, which is very unusual). Lots of child neglect cases pass through Alberta courts but not criminal courts.

I wish I could see a transcript of the appeal hearing. I’m not 100% certain but my belief is that O’Ferrall essentially handed the Stephans the specific point that prevailed at the Supreme Court of Canada. The Stephans had made rather vague claims of the judge not instructing the jury properly but I don’t recall, nor see supported by the ACA decision, that the specific point was raised from the podium – it fell from the bench.

If you are keeping your eyes and ears open for news of when the new appeal hearing is going to happen, I’d greatly appreciate it if you’d post a comment. I would very much like to attend and it’s hard to find out about these things in advance if you aren’t press.


In the interest of consensus, could we agree on “fatuity”, that is, complacent stupidity rather than not clear thinking or plain stupidity? Would like to see Dorit Reiss weigh in on actus reus and mens rea being as simple as I see it.

Often thought the whole system is like a poker game where it depends very much on what cards you draw. Chief Justice of the Supreme Court could have the face and the value of an Ace. Supreme Court Justices could be Kings and Queens on down the line to say Traffic Court is a deuce. So with that in mind I will see your two Appeals Court judges and raise you 7 Supreme Court justices ( Wagner C.J., Abella, Moldaver, Karakatsanis, Gascon, Côté and Rowe JJ. ) who sided with O’Ferrall.

The Stephan’s in once sense of the word lucked out with Clackson, but only sufficiently so to have to fight another day and get an extended soapbox with their “World Done Me Wrong” song after they caused the death of their son.

I have not read any transcripts so cannot comment on further than what I have seen.

Since I am permanently domiciled North of Toronto and spend a fair amount of time in Quèbec, ( watching Wexit from afar ) and have no network in Alberta, I would probably not see anything about the Appeals Court hearings schedule. However, the Registry is posted weekly for both Edmonton and Calgary at so you could check there. Attendance is probably not as bad as a GOOP convention, but arduous enough.

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