Failing to provide the necessaries of life: Lovett trial the latest Alberta case
Several parents have recently faced charges of failing to provide 'necessaries' (not 'necessities') of life
A Calgary mother whose son died after she treated his meningitis and strep infection with dandelion tea and oil of oregano is just the latest case to surface in Alberta of parents charged with "failing to provide the necessaries of life."
Tamara Lovett, 47, had never taken her son Ryan, 7, to a doctor in his life because she did not believe in conventional medicine, the Crown said as the trial started on Nov. 28 — not even at a friend's urging after the seven-year-old was bed-ridden for 10 days.
He died the next day, in March 2013.
The case raises chilling echoes of that of Ezekiel Stephan, a 19-month-old from southern Alberta who died of bacterial meningitis that his parents had been treating with remedies that included hot peppers, garlic, onions and horseradish.
And the parents of at least two other people who died in the province — one child and one adult with disabilities — currently face charges of failing to provide the necessaries of life.
'Necessaries' vs. 'necessities'
Although unusual in everyday parlance, the word "necessaries" — not "necessities" — is the term the legal system uses and is, in fact, an actual noun.
This is the precise wording of section 215 (1) of the Criminal Code of Canada:
"Every one is under a legal duty:
(a) as a parent, foster parent, guardian or head of a family, to provide necessaries of life for a child under the age of sixteen years;
(b) to provide necessaries of life to their spouse or common-law partner; and
(c) to provide necessaries of life to a person under his charge if that person
- is unable, by reason of detention, age, illness, mental disorder or other cause, to withdraw himself from that charge, and
- is unable to provide himself with necessaries of life.
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary also recognizes the word "necessary" and its plural, "necessaries," as a noun, despite the word typically being used as an adjective.
It defines "the necessary" as "whatever is needed for some purpose" and "necessaries" as "things (such as food, a place to live, and clothing) that you must have."
Jeromie and Jennifer Clark face charges of failing to provide the necessaries of life and criminal negligence causing death after their 14-month-old, John Clark, died in 2013.
The medical examiner found the cause of death to be a staph infection complicated by malnutrition.
At the time of the couple's arrest, police said the family — who claim to be Seventh-day Adventists — followed a strict diet based on an extreme interpretation of the religion.
Police began investigating after the parents brought John to hospital on Nov. 28, 2013, where he was treated but died the following day.
Police said John was born at home and had never been to a doctor previously. They allege the parents took steps to conceal his condition from other family members.
A jury trial is set for next June.
Patricia Couture, 68, was charged with failing to provide the necessaries of life to her 38-year-old disabled daughter, Melissa, who died on April 26.
Police and paramedics found Melissa unresponsive when they responded to the family's home in the southwest community of Woodlands at about 3 a.m. that day.
Melissa was pronounced dead shortly afterward, and Patricia was arrested.
Calgary police Insp. Don Coleman said it's a difficult case for everyone involved, but investigators had grounds to lay the charge.
"In Canada, there is a reasonable expectation of care to be provided to those who can't care for themselves," he said. "So it would appear this hasn't been met."
A neighbour who knows the family said Patricia was a single parent to Melissa, who he described as "mentally challenged and unable to hear or speak."
A jury in Lethbridge convicted the mother and father after they opted for natural remedies as Ezekiel's health worsened from meningitis, only taking him to an actual physician after he had stopped breathing.
David Stephan was sentenced to four months in jail and his wife to three months of house arrest.
They have been released pending an appeal by the Crown over the sentence and by the defence, which is appealing the
The cases may also evoke that of Emil and Rodica Radita, although they weren't charged with failing to provide the necessaries of life.
The Calgary couple were tried on charges of first-degree murder in the death of their son, Alex.
The 15-year-old was found dead in his Calgary home in May 2013 after a call to EMS.
He weighed 37 pounds when he died of starvation and complications from untreated diabetes.
Their trial and the sentencing arguments have concluded.
Court has heard that the parents refused to accept Alex had diabetes and withheld insulin from him.
A verdict is expected early in 2017.
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With files from The Canadian Press