LETHBRIDGE, Alta. — A weeping mother convicted in the death of her son told a sentencing hearing Thursday that losing her toddler was the worst day of her life.
Collet Stephan, 36, and David Stephan, 33, were convicted in April of failing to provide the necessaries of life to 19-month-old Ezekiel, who died in 2012 of bacterial meningitis. The maximum sentence is five years in prison.
The Stephans, whose family helped start a nutritional supplements company, failed to get medical attention for the boy, and instead treated him with home remedies such as garlic, onions, horseradish and maple syrup.
Collet Stephan, one of five witnesses called by her lawyer Shawn Buckley, told court in Lethbridge, Alta., that she was depressed, suffered panic attacks and had nightmares about her children being stolen.
“I had a nightmare after we were charged of a SWAT team breaking into our house in the middle of the night and stealing our children,” she said.
“I didn’t know what was going to happen with our children or us, and being a mother is my purpose in life. It’s the reason I am here.”
Stephan told court she has spent the last four years of her life second-guessing herself and wondering what would have happened if she had done something differently.
“If I could turn back time and do something different so he would still be here, I definitely would.”
She also admitted to having trouble preparing for the trial because her lawyer wanted her to review the evidence.
“I was forced to relive the worst day of my life and couldn’t bring myself to,” she said.
The trial heard the little boy was too stiff to sit in his car seat and had to lie on a mattress when Collet Stephan drove him from their rural home to a naturopathic clinic in Lethbridge to pick up an echinacea mixture.
The Stephans never called for medical assistance until Ezekiel stopped breathing. He died in a Calgary hospital.
Crown prosecutor Lisa Weich said the Stephans should be sentenced to between three and 4.5 years in prison for failing to provide Ezekiel the care that he needed. However, Justice Rodney Jerke made it clear that the Crown’s sentencing submission was “significantly past” the range he would consider.
“This was a very serious crime with very serious consequences for Ezekiel,” said Weich. “He suffered the gravest of possible outcomes.”
She said most parents put the needs of their children ahead of ideological beliefs but by treating Ezekiel with natural remedies the Stephans were “incredibly reckless or wilfully blind.”
Weich said the Crown is not opposed to homeopathic or natural remedies but children need to be cared for responsibly, and called the behaviour of the parents “arrogant and selfish.”
“They effectively abused him,” she told the judge. “They endangered his life.”
The court heard a video interview between David Stephan and the producers of the documentary “Vaxxed,” in which he criticized the justice system for targeting his family. He called it a “parental rights issue,” blamed the media and called for public support at a Friday rally.
“I watched the video and it seemed to be a very self-serving statement that deflected responsibility,” said Weich.
Defence arguments were scheduled for the evening. The sentence is to be handed down on Friday.