Edmonton·CBC Investigates

Edmonton-Rutherford UCP nomination contestant questions vaccination science

A contestant seeking the UCP nomination in Edmonton-Rutherford has questioned vaccination science and has suggested parents may be harming their children by vaccinating them against disease.

Laine Larson suggested vaccinated people more likely to spread disease

Laine Larson, a UCP nomination contestant for Edmonton-Rutherford, has questioned the safety and efficacy of vaccinations. (lainelarson.ca)

A contestant seeking the United Conservative Party of Alberta nomination in Edmonton-Rutherford has questioned vaccination science and has suggested parents may be harming their children by vaccinating them against disease.

"And the injuries that happen to children after receiving their shots. Those are OK? That's responsible parenting?" UCP nomination contestant Laine Larson asked a former colleague in a November 2017 Facebook exchange obtained by CBC News.

Larson did not respond to interview requests sent by email, voicemail and direct message to both his personal and campaign Facebook accounts. The message sent to his campaign Facebook account was read but CBC received no response.

In a Facebook statement posted hours after this story first appeared, Larson did not directly address whether he accepts vaccination science and supports vaccinating children. Instead, he stated, as he had previously through Facebook, that he supports research of alternative treatments.

But he appeared to distance himself from his previous skepticism about vaccinations.

"Hopefully questions and dialogue can lead to discovery of new ways to support healthy Albertans, not in opposition to vaccines, but alongside of them," Larson wrote.

The initial Facebook exchange in November 2017 occurred after Larson shared an anti-vaccination article posted by David Stephan, the southern Alberta man whose unvaccinated son died of meningitis after Stephan and his wife attempted to treat the child's illness with natural remedies.

"Definitely worth the read," Stephan wrote in his Facebook post, "and quite enlightening as to why society hasn't yet recognized the main cause of the pandemic of autistic and neurologically impaired children."

In his own Facebook post, Larson said the article was "an interesting read" and he said he wished Canada's health care system would be "more open to new ideas and ideologies. Who knows what we are missing out on by being closed minded."

Facebook debate over vaccinations

A former colleague of Larson's, Justin Heslin, called him out on Facebook for posting the anti-vaccination article. Heslin uses a pseudonym online for security reasons related to his job.

Responding to Larson's re-posting of the article, Heslin wrote that, "not vaccinating is not just a personal choice, it puts everyone else at risk."

Larson dismissed that scientific fact as "one of the perspectives that people have."

"What bugs me about that perspective is that it makes it impossible to see new opportunities," he continued.

Larson suggested research should be conducted to see if natural remedies, such as hot peppers, can be an effective treatment for meningitis. One part of the treatment provided by the Stephans to their sick child involved hot peppers.

Later in the same exchange, Larson stressed he was vaccinated as a child but he then laid out scenarios that suggest he rejects established science that has proven the efficacy and safety of vaccinations. Larson wrongly suggested vaccinated people are more likely to spread disease than those who are unvaccinated.

Stands by controversial comments

Last week, Larson asked his personal Facebook friends to like his announcement that he was seeking the UCP nomination. Heslin declined and raised the exchange they had in November about vaccinations and Stephan.

Larson replied that he stood by his earlier comments and said, "I hope in the future that our medical system can pull from all information and practices available to provide the best medical care possible."

Larson is the stepson of former Reform MP Deborah Grey. This is his first foray into politics.

UCP executive director Janice Harrington told CBC News that Larson has not submitted an application to formally seek the nomination.

Larson has registered with Elections Alberta but like all UCP nomination contestants, his application must still be subjected to a rigorous vetting process before his name would be allowed to appear on the constituency ballot.

"I will not speculate on who may or may not choose to submit an application to the UCP for a nomination contest," Harrington said. "Nor will I speculate on what any potential contestant may or may not have said or posted or our response to that."

The date of Larson's initial post sharing Stephan's comments about vaccinations -- Nov. 17, 2017 -- is noteworthy.

Two days earlier, Stephan had published a scathing tirade on Facebook against the justice system and judges after the Alberta Court of Appeal upheld convictions against him and his wife for failing to provide the necessaries of life to their 19-month old son, Ezekiel.

The child, who had not been vaccinated, died of meningitis in 2012. The couple were first convicted in 2016. The court heard evidence the parents had attempted to treat their critically ill son using natural remedies, including smoothies containing hot peppers, ginger root, horseradish and onion.

Although Ezekiel became so stiff he couldn't sit in his car seat, the Stephans did not call for medical assistance until the boy stopped breathing. He was rushed to a local hospital but died after being transported to Calgary.

Earlier this month the Supreme Court of Canada ordered a new trial for the Stephans. The court found the judge in the original 2016 conviction erred in instructions to the jury.

Public health officials have raised concerns about low immunization rates in some parts of Alberta, particularly southern Alberta, which they have blamed in part on a mistrust of vaccines. Health officials have said vaccination rates may be negatively affected by community leaders who advocate against immunization.