Father convicted of failing to provide necessaries of life for son promotes nutritional supplements

A man who went to jail after using natural remedies to treat his son’s meningitis is going to Prince George, B.C., to promote nutritional supplements sold by his family’s business — a move that is sparking controversy online.

David Stephan and his wife were charged with “failing to provide the necessaries of life” after their nearly 19-month-old son Ezekiel died of bacterial meningitis.

The couple testified they believed Ezekiel had croup or flu and treated him with remedies including hot peppers, garlic onions and horseradish.

Court heard a recording of the couple explaining to police they prefer naturopathic remedies because of their family’s negative experiences with the medical system.

Promoting ‘alternative’

On Jan. 10, Stephan was scheduled to speak about “how his family members suffered from mental illness and were made well,” according to a display at Ave Maria Specialities, an “alternative and holistic health service” store in Prince George.

TrueHope

Truehope sells its products in stores across Canada including at Ave Maria in Prince George. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC)

Stephan works for Truehope Nutritional Support, co-founded by his father.

Truehope produces EMPowerplus, billed on the company’s website as “natural alternative to pharmaceutical medications” aimed at treating mental disorders such as bipolar disorder, ADD/ADHD and stress.

The appearance attracted negative attention on Ave Maria’s Facebook page from people concerned the store is giving a platform for Stephan to promote a message of going outside the medical system to treat medical issues.

Ave Maria owner Dave Fuller said Stephan had spoken at the store in the past and was back by request.

“He has helped a number of our customers,” he said. “We had a number of people request him to come back. We didn’t think that this would be an issue.”

CBC tried to reach Truehope and Stephan to speak about the Prince George appearance, but no comment was provided.

In 2003 and 2007, Health Canada issued warnings about EMPowerplus, saying there is no evidence it is safe.

In 2004, it launched an unsuccessful court case to stop EMPowerplus from being distributed in Canada.

In 2006, the company was found not guilty of distributing EMPowerplus without a drug identification number.

The Truehope website says EMPowerplus is “not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.”

Medical care not sought soon enough: judge

In April 2016, a jury found Stephan and his wife guilty of failing to provide the necessities of life for their son after he became ill.

Stephans meningitis trial Lethbridge

David Stephan was sentenced to four months in jail while his wife received house arrest for ‘failing to provide the necessities of life’ to their toddler son. (Erin Collins/CBC)

Justice Rodney Jerke said the couple were caring parents but said they made a conscious decision not to see a doctor for over a day​ before Ezekiel was rushed to hospital.

He sentenced Stephan to four months jail, saying he had deflected responsibility and demonstrated a complete lack of remorse for his actions.

His wife was sentenced to three months house arrest with exceptions for church and medical appointments.

Both parents were ordered to complete 240 hours of community service.

Jerke said while Stephan’s wife called a nurse and researched their son’s illness, Stephan used nutritional supplements and talked to his father.

“[David] loved his son, but to this day refuses to accept his actions played any role in Ezekiel’s death,” he said.

On Facebook, Stephan said Ezekiel was given EMPowerplus regularly because “it assists with brain function,” but clarified it was not being used as a treatment.

TrueHope

Health Canada has issued warnings about TrueHope. On the company’s website, products are sold with a disclaimer that their health claims ‘have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.’ (truehope.com)

Fuller said he believes Stephan did what he thought was best for his son.

“Who am I to say that just because something happened that was an accident the guy regrets — his son died — that he shouldn’t have a job?” he asked.

In an interview with CBC Calgary in June 2016, Stephan said he’d spent time thinking about the “would’ve, could’ve, should’ve” of his son’s fate.

He also said he worries the case sets a precedent for prosecuting loving parents whose care-giving style falls outside government-dictated norms.

An appeal is scheduled for March 9 in Calgary.

With files from CBC Alberta.