Wellness expo backlash continues amid David Stephan controversy

A long-time vendor will no longer participate in the Winnipeg Wellness Expo Show after learning David Stephan was invited to speak at shows in Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Calgary and Edmonton.

Professor urges science, evidence-based community to be vigilant

David Stephan of Nelson, B.C., had been been invited to speak at events in Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Calgary and Edmonton, and was selling 'multivitamin replacement.' The man was was found guilty of failing to provide the necessaries of life to his toddler son, Ezekiel, who died in 2012. (Canadian Press/Facebook)

A long-time vendor at the Winnipeg Wellness Expo Show says he won't participate this year, or ever again.

"I'm out. It's too little, too late," said Graham Todd, who owns Reliable Mobility and is speaking out because he's angry.

He's the latest person to back out of the expo after learning that David Stephan was invited to speak at the Health and Wellness Expos in multiple western Canada cities. Stephan was the man found guilty of failing to provide the necessaries of life for his 19-month-old son who died.

​"It's my own ethics, and where I believe the ethics of my company lie, as well,​" Todd said. His company provides people with healthcare equipment such as medical grade compression, raised toilet seats and complex rehab seating structures. ​

"There's a place for different philosophies of medicine to coexist, and do well, especially on the preventative side of things, not just on the reactionary​," he said. "But there comes a line where western medicine has to be what we fall back to."
Graham Todd's departure from the Winnipeg Wellness Expo Show is a disappointment for him, as he said the event was a colourful change from his day-to-day work that includes connecting people with mobility aids, like crutches, and products like raised toilet seats. (Shutterstock)

Todd had signed up for the conference a year ago, before he knew who the speakers would be. Furthermore, he said there is a healthy place for controversy, and it can be used to start conversation, but this was too out of line with his personal ethics.

​"I'm upset at myself for not keeping a closer eye and having too much trust in the organizers to pick somebody I deem suitable." ​

Todd said he's been a part of the Winnipeg expo for around five years, and said he contacted the organizers for an explanation. He wasn't satisfied with the response. 

The Winnipeg Wellness Expo 2018 is scheduled Feb. 16 to 18. Organizer Rick Thiessen did not respond to CBC's request for comment.

Stephan on schedule 'highly inappropriate': professor

Initially, the organizer of the event defended the decision to have Stephan as a speaker. He had said he judged his vendors based on their products, not on their personal lives.

Soon after, key sponsors such as Sobeys and Flaman Fitness withdrew from the event.

"It's really disappointing that ​someone like him was being given a platform to pass on his views about health," said Timothy Caulfield, who is a professor and Canada Research Chair in Health Law and Policy at the University of Alberta.

However, Caufield said the community's reaction to the situation and the removal of the speaker was promising. Furthermore, he said circumstances like these highlight the need for the science community to be vigilant.

He said people should be cautious of the information and products they find at events like this.

"These events legitimize pseudoscience. There's a lot of nonsense, and a lot of that nonsense leverages fear," he said.

"It kind of often leverages conspiracy theories about Big Pharma. Yes, there are problems with the way Big Pharma works sometimes but that doesn't mean these products are efficacious."
Echinacea, left, fish oil, center, and glucosamine pills are shown. Health Canada regulates the advertising of natural health products. It says only products that Health Canada authorizes for sale in Canada may be advertise. It also says it is the responsibility of manufacturers and distributors to ensure that their advertising complies with the relevant legislation and regulations. (Eric Risberg/The Associated Press)

If people want to attend events like the Wellness Expo, Caufield said they should be wary of products that claim to cure several different ailments and be suspicious of products that rely on testimonial and anecdotes for evidence.

"We know how to live a healthy life: you don't smoke, you exercise, you eat real food, you get a good night sleep, you wear a seatbelt and you surround yourself with the people you love. There's no magic."