Collet Stephan, convicted in son's meningitis death, may go to jail for not posting sentencing decision

The mother convicted in the meningitis death of an Alberta toddler still hasn't posted the June 24 sentencing decision on Facebook, so could be sent to jail, a defence lawyer says.

Collet and David Stephan found guilty after Alberta toddler died of meningitis

David Stephan, 32, and his wife, Collet Stephan, 36, were convicted last month of failing to provide the necessaries of life for nearly 19-month-old Ezekiel, who died in March 2012. (David Rossiter/Canadian Press)

The mother convicted in the meningitis death of an Alberta toddler still hasn't posted the June 24 sentencing decision on Facebook, so could be sent to jail, a senior defence lawyer says.

"She's playing with fire on this if she doesn't comply with the posting," said Adriano Iovinelli.

Collet Stephan and her husband, David Stephan, were sentenced in Lethbridge for failing to provide the necessaries of life to their 19-month-old son, Ezekiel, who died of bacterial meningitis.

Jurors heard evidence the parents used naturopathic remedies rather than seeking medical treatment for the boy. 

The mother was sentenced to house arrest while her husband was given four months in jail, but Justice Rodney Jerke went a step further.

"Ms. Stephan shall post or cause to be posted an unedited accurate copy of this decision to the [Prayers For Ezekiel Facebook page] and any website or social media sites that she is personally affiliated with," wrote Jerke in his sentencing decision.

So far, the judgment has not been posted to the family's conspiracy-ridden Facebook page, the Meet the Stephans website or the fundraiser page.

Ezekiel Stephan of Raymond, Alta., died in March 2012. An autopsy showed he had meningitis. (Stephan family)

Because Jerke's order did not contain a deadline, Collet likely has 90 days — the length of her sentence — to comply.

'Trial by social media'

Several people have posted links to Jerke's decision in the comments section of the Facebook page.

All three sites were active throughout the trial and promoted a host of allegations that the Stephans' case had been mishandled.

The couple and their supporters have alleged schemes involving the prosecution and doctors, the family being targeted by the government, doctored medical reports, a falsified autopsy report and a host of other conspiracy-based misinformation. 

It wasn't the first time that the Stephan family has clashed with authorities over medical issues.

David Stephan is vice-president of a nutritional supplements company founded by his father, Truehope Nutritional Support Inc., based in Raymond, Alta.

Health Canada launched an unsuccessful court case in 2004 to try to stop the distribution of the supplement EMPowerplus — a product the company claims can manage mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder — and also issued warnings about it.

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

It's an era of what Calgary Police Service counsel Donna Spaner calls "trial by social media."

"It is unique," said Spaner of Jerke's order. "I don't think we've seen it in Canada before, but we've also not seen this type of conduct."

The day after the jury convicted the couple, David Stephan posted a highly critical letter to jurors on Facebook, blasting the prosecution and criticizing the way the case was handled.

Ahead of sentencing, the Stephans were called out for letters of support from members of their worldwide anti-vaccine community.

Although more than 500 letters were sent to the family, Jerke refused to admit them as evidence because the majority were from people who did not know the couple.

"Frankly you've never seen that blatant use of social media to condemn a finding of a jury," said Spaner.

'This community has been harmed'

When delivering an in-custody sentence, Jerke noted David Stephan's conduct after he was convicted, and said he had deflected responsibility and demonstrated a complete lack of remorse for his actions, focusing more on how the situation affected him as opposed to his son.

Collet was handed a conditional sentence order (CSO) allowing her to serve her time in the community, under house arrest.

If she does not comply with Jerke's order, Collet could be found in breach of her conditions, her CSO could be collapsed and she could be sentenced to time in custody.

Two of the fundamental principles of sentencing are rehabilitation and repairing harm done to the community, which Spaner says is addressed in Jerke's unique order for his judgment to be posted.

"This community has been harmed by their conduct," said Spaner. "I think putting the appropriate fact scenario into their community is a relevant and meaningful sentence."

The Stephans lived in southern Alberta when Ezekiel died but have since moved to B.C.