News / Calgary

Wellness expo cancels talk by father convicted in son's death, Sobeys withdraws support

David Stephan and his wife Collet were found guilty of failing to provide their critically ill toddler with the necessaries of life

David and Collet Stephan leave for a break during their appeals trial in Calgary on March 9, 2017. The Supreme Court of Canada has set a tentative hearing date for the parents of an Alberta toddler who were convicted after they failed to seek medical attention for their son who died of bacterial meningitis.

Todd Korol / The Canadian Press

David and Collet Stephan leave for a break during their appeals trial in Calgary on March 9, 2017. The Supreme Court of Canada has set a tentative hearing date for the parents of an Alberta toddler who were convicted after they failed to seek medical attention for their son who died of bacterial meningitis.

A national grocery chain said Sunday that it’s no longer a sponsor of a series of “wellness’’ expositions where a man convicted in the death of his toddler was listed as a featured speaker.

Sobeys had been sponsoring the Health and Wellness Expos of Canada, which on Sunday morning listed David Stephan as a speaker at events this month and next in Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Calgary and Edmonton.

In an emailed statement, a spokeswoman said the company couldn’t support the organizers’ decision to host Stephan as a speaker.

By Sunday afternoon, his name was removed from the expo’s website and links to the events’ schedules no longer worked.

“He’s no longer involved with our company in any way, shape or form,’’ said Rick Thiessen, the expo’s owner, when reached by phone on Sunday.

In 2016, Stephan and his wife were both found guilty of failing to provide the necessaries of life in their son Ezekiel’s 2012 death from bacterial meningitis.

Their trial in Lethbridge, Alta., heard they treated the 19-month-old boy with garlic, onion and horseradish rather than taking him to a doctor. The Stephans eventually called 911, but the little boy died in hospital.

Stephan was sentenced to four months in prison. The Alberta Court of Appeal upheld the couple’s conviction in November, but because the ruling wasn’t unanimous they had an automatic right to have the Supreme Court hear arguments in the case.

Their case is scheduled to be heard by the Supreme Court of Canada in May.

Some people took to Twitter to call on Sobeys to pull its support of the expo, given Stephan’s involvement.

Sobeys spokeswoman Cynthia Thompson said the company won’t be associated with any future Health and Wellness Expo events.

The expo website previously said that Stephan works for a “research-based’’ organization that offers “nutrient supplementation’’ in an effort to improve brain and thyroid function.

Thiessen said he had no knowledge of the Stephans’ conviction until Saturday, when a post on the expo company’s Facebook page criticized his inclusion.

Stephan, who now lives in Nelson, B.C., took to Facebook on Sunday and posted a 25-minute video where he linked the online attacks to “trolls’’ he said were supported by the pharmaceutical industry.

He also said facts about his son’s death, including how it was caused, were falsely reported by the media during the trial.

“I don’t know if it has anything to do with the fact the pharmacetical industry is a major funder of the media because of advertising dollars. I don’t know,’’ Stephan said.

Thiessen said Stephan was brought to his company last year by another vendor. He said he looked at the website for the nutritional supplements company called Truehope Nutritional Support, which Stephan’s family helped start, and was impressed.

“I didn’t search their family history. Why would I? I hired a company off the internet from their website.’’ Thiessen said.

Thiessen said his sponsors and vendors are pulling out, and he doesn’t know if upcoming shows in Calgary and Edmonton will go ahead.

Stephan’s father, Anthony Stephan, co-founded Truehope Nutritional Support in Raymond, Alta., in 1996, after his wife took her own life.

The company’s website says the woman and some of the couple’s 10 children had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, so Anthony Stephan formed the company with a friend to find a natural treatment.

The company says one of its products, EMPowerplus, helps treat bipolar disorder, depression and even autism. In the fine print, the website states that its claims have not been evaluated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and the product is not intended to “diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.’’

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