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Health

How Anti-Vaccine Parents Found Guilty in Death of Toddler Grew to Distrust Medicine

A long read in the 'National Post' digs into the religious, legal, and financial forces that led up to the Alberta Mormons' conviction. Here are a few highlights.
June 11, 2016, 10:47pm

Stephan family, minus Ezekiel. Photo via Facebook

This week Alberta parents David and Collet Stephan will finally face sentencing after being found guilty of failing to provide their 19-month-old son Ezekiel with the necessities of life earlier this year.

The Mormon couple did not vaccinate any of their four sons. Ezekiel was treated with alternative remedies two and a half weeks before he died of meningitis in 2012.

The verdict was held up as a win for science over quackery, but the parents have since doubled down in their rejection of some aspects of modern medicine. In a letter to the jury, David Stephan blasted the Crown's "deception, drama, and trickery" and warned of "a dangerous precedent being set."

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This weekend, a lengthy National Post profiletakes a deep dive into the forces that set the stage for the tragedy and the couple's continued anti-vaccination crusade. Basically, there's been a lot going on in their family over the last two decades, and the tangle of religious, legal, and financial battles illuminate why they've chosen the government as their enemy.

The story begins with David Stephan's parents: his mom suffered from bipolar disorder and committed suicide in 1994, prompting his dad to take up alternative medicine experiments in effort to treat David's siblings' mental illnesses.

Stephan senior took cues from livestock feed that reduced tail-biting symptoms in pigs, and combined over-the-counter nutritional supplements to make his own mental health formula for humans. Through the 2000s, the product gained popularity for its claims of fighting hyperactivity, depression, bipolar disorder, and autism, raking in $6 million in gross profit by 2010.

David became the vice president of his dad's company, and his wife Collet worked there, too. The company got into a few legal fights with Health Canada over the years, but continues to sell over the counter medication with a disclaimer that the supplements "are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease."

You can see how deep the anti-government sentiment goes in the way the family chose to describe Stephan's mother's death. In one version, she was failed by a cocktail of prescribed medication, in another she was pushed to suicide by harassing tax investigators, according to the Post.

"I believe she'd be alive today if it wasn't for them," Stephan senior told media in 2000.

Now the death of their son and resulting court case appears to have pushed them deeper in their battle with the government, where they stand to lose their other kids, their livelihood, and spend up to five years in prison.

David and Collet find out their fate June 13.