Supreme Court orders new trial for parents of boy who died of meningitis
The Canadian Press
Published Tuesday, May 15, 2018 4:07AM EDT
Last Updated Tuesday, May 15, 2018 11:21AM EDT
OTTAWA -- The Supreme Court of Canada has ordered a new trial for a couple who used homemade remedies instead of seeking medical attention for their son who died of bacterial meningitis.
David Stephan and his wife, Collet, were found guilty in 2016 of failing to provide the necessaries of life to 19-month-old Ezekiel in 2012.
Their trial in Lethbridge, Alta., heard that they treated the boy with garlic, onion and horseradish rather than take him to a doctor. The Stephans eventually called 911 but the little boy died in hospital.
The Supreme Court heard arguments from the couple's lawyer and the Crown on Tuesday morning before making the decision.
The Alberta Court of Appeal upheld the conviction last November, but because the ruling wasn't unanimous, the couple had an automatic right to take their case to the Supreme Court.
David Stephan was sentenced to four months in jail and his wife was ordered to spend three months under house arrest -- the only exceptions being for trips to church and medical appointments.
Justice Michael Moldaver, speaking for the high court, said the trial judge did not properly instruct jurors "in a way that the jury could understand ... Accordingly we would allow the appeal, quash the convictions and order a new trial."
Lawyers for the Stephans had argued before the Alberta Appeal Court that the trial judge allowed the jury to be overwhelmed by medical evidence, which unfairly distracted from the real question of whether the Stephans acted differently than any other reasonable parent.
David Stephan posted on Facebook last week that the Supreme Court hearing was important in establishing parental rights.
"Our Supreme Court hearing ... will not only effect the future of our family, but the future of all Canadians as this landmark, precedent-setting case is being used to deprive parental rights and health freedoms in Canada," he wrote.
Witnesses at the trial said the toddler's body was so stiff he couldn't sit in his car seat, so he had to lie on a mattress when his mother drove him from their rural Alberta home to a naturopathic clinic in Lethbridge, where she bought an echinacea mixture.
The Stephans never called for medical assistance until Ezekiel stopped breathing. He was taken to a local hospital and died after being transported to Calgary's Children's Hospital.