Father convicted in son's meningitis death will not speak at wellness expos after backlash

After defending his decision to invite David Stephan to speak at events in Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Calgary and Edmonton, the owner of Health and Wellness Expos of Canada says Stephan will no longer speak at the company's events in Western Canada.

David Stephan of Nelson, B.C. was selling 'multivitamin replacement'

David Stephan was found guilty of failing to provide the necessaries of life to his toddler son, Ezekiel, who died in 2012. (Canadian Press/Facebook)

After defending his decision to invite a man found guilty in 2016 of failing to provide the necessaries of life for his 19-month-old son, who later died, the owner of Health and Wellness Expos of Canada says David Stephan will no longer speak at the company's events in Western Canada.

According to Rick Thiessen, Stephan "is not affiliated with any of our shows in Western Canada."

After intense backlash, Thiessen said he isn't sure the expos in Calgary and Edmonton will go ahead, because sponsors and vendors are pulling out. 

Stephan had been invited to speak at events in Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Calgary and Edmonton.

Sobeys and Saskatoon-based fitness equipment retailer Flaman Fitness withdrew their sponsorships of the events after drawing criticism online over Stephan's participation.

Stephan and his wife Collet were convicted in 2016 of failing to provide the necessaries of life to their son Ezekiel, who died in 2012. The Stephans attempted to treat their 19-month-old son with natural remedies when he fell ill with meningitis.

David Stephan was sentenced to four months in jail, while Collet Stephan was given three months of house arrest, with each also ordered to complete 240 hours of community service. The conviction was appealed and has made it to the Supreme Court of Canada docket, where arguments are expected to be heard in May.

A post on the Flaman Fitness Facebook page states: "Flaman Fitness engaged in the sponsorship of Health and Wellness Expos of Canada with the intent of supporting Canadians to reach their health and fitness goals. However, we will not support an event which has David Stephan as keynote speaker and are withdrawing our sponsorship of this event and all future associated events."

Sobeys Inc. told CBC News they had pulled their sponsorship as well. 

Cynthia Thompson, a spokesperson for Sobeys Inc., said the company was not aware Stephan was a keynote speaker when the they decided to sponsor the event.   

"Supporting the well-being of Canadians is essential to our purpose as a company and we entered this sponsorship with the best intention of advancing our focus on eating well, but we can't support the choice that Health and Wellness Expos of Canada has made on the selection of David Stephan as keynote speaker," she said.

Thompson also said Sobeys Inc. will be taking a closer look at events they sponsor in the future. 

"All I can say on the front of making the decision is that we're conducting a review of our process and governance on these types of sponsorships," she said.

"This really should not have happened."

Thiessen previously told CBC he knew all about Stephan's history before he booked him. Thiessen said he judges his vendors based on their products, not on their personal lives.

"Having seen and looked at all the documentation and had conversations about what happened, it's between them and their God, it's not between me and them," he said. "The issue that Dave had in terms of being arrested has nothing to do with his health-care product that he's selling."

Thiessen has been running the expositions for 24 years. He said inviting controversial speakers like Stephan is an important part of what he offers.

"In 24 years of doing this show, I've had some of the most controversial speakers and products known to man come through our doors," he said.

"I look for the most controversial thing I can," he added. "If it's out there and it's controversial, that means people are talking about it. There's no better place to talk about something than at a place where you can actually find out the facts from the original person."

Promoting multivitamin

Thiessen said his group researches all the companies featured at its event and rejects any companies with unsafe products or poor customer service history.

Stephan promotes EMPowerplus "daily multi-vitamin replacement" capsules, which are marketed as helping with mental disorders such as bipolar disorder, ADD/ADHD and stress. The product is distributed by Truehope Nutritional Support, a company that was co-founded by Stephan's father.

In 2003 and 2007, Health Canada issued warnings about EMPowerplus, saying there is no evidence it is safe.

Truehope bills the product on its web store as "the most powerful daily supplement in the world."

Stephan spoke in Saskatoon on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, and is scheduled to appear at next week's expo in Winnipeg, as well events in Calgary and Edmonton later in the year.

Thiessen said Stephan's presentations in Saskatoon have been well-attended.

After Stephan's talk on Saturday afternoon, over a dozen people lined up to speak with him. Stephan hugged everyone he greeted, and attendees thanked him for sharing his knowledge.

Stephan declined to speak to CBC News, but he criticized the media in a Facebook Live post about its coverage of his trial, the wellness expo and other events he has been associated with.


Ashleigh Mattern is a reporter with CBC Saskatoon and CBC Saskatchewan.

With files from CBC Calgary reporter Anis Heydari and The Canadian Press