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'Life consuming': Alberta Crown stays charges against parents in toddler's death

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LETHBRIDGE, Alta. — Crown prosecutors have stayed charges against parents who were facing a third trial in the death of their toddler in southern Alberta. 

Shawn Buckley, a lawyer for David and Collet Stephan, said Tuesday he received a letter from the Crown about the decision. 

“The Crown dropped the charges,” Buckley told The Canadian Press. 

“Obviously they’re very relieved that the Crown is not proceeding against them to try and convict them.” 

A copy of the letter from Chief Prosecutor Shelley Bykewich directs the Lethbridge court to stay charges of failing to provide the necessaries of life against the Stephans.

No reason for the decision was given and Alberta Justice did not immediately respond to a request to explain why.

David Stephan said it has been nine years since his son Ezekiel died and it was eight years ago he and his wife were charged.

“It has been absolutely life consuming,” Stephan said in an interview.

“It’s somewhat of a relief in relation to not going back to trial again although there was a part of me as well that would have liked to go back to trial and been able to dig in more to the missing evidence and all that we still haven’t had provided to us eight years into it.”

Stephan successfully represented himself at the second trial.

The Stephans were accused of not seeking medical attention sooner for 19-month-old Ezekiel, who died in 2012. 

Over the course of their trials, the Stephans testified that they initially thought Ezekiel had croup, an upper airway infection, and treated him with natural remedies, including a smoothie with tinctures of garlic, onion and horseradish. 

They said he appeared to be recovering at times and saw no reason to take him to hospital, despite his having a fever and lacking energy. 

They called an ambulance when the boy stopped breathing. 

A jury convicted them in 2016, but the Supreme Court of Canada overturned that verdict and ordered a second trial. A judge hearing the case without a jury found them not guilty in 2019. 

The Alberta Court of Appeal granted a request by the Crown earlier this year to overturn the acquittal and ordered a new trial.

Buckley said the Crown’s decision caught him off guard and the matter isn’t over.

“Actually it’s a little surprising because we still have an application for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada,” Buckley said.

“Both David and Collet want to proceed with that because they think it’s very important for the law to be clarified so that other parents don’t face the type of uncertainty that they have been facing.”

David Stephan said he’s not expecting to celebrate.

“I think it’s a little early to celebrate now,” he said.

“We’re still involved in the battle. We’re still moving forward to the Supreme Court and it’s still going to be a bit of an uphill journey.”

Stephan said he will also seek to be repaid by the courts for the “tremendous amount of money” they spent over the past eight years.

The report by The Canadian Press was first published June 22, 2021.

— By Bill Graveland in Calgary.

The Canadian Press

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Alberta

Wildfire forces evacuation of an area in Yellowhead County west of Edmonton

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EDMONTON — A wildfire has forced the evacuation of an area in Yellowhead County west of Edmonton.

An Alberta Emergency Alert message says the evacuation order affects people along Highway 16 between Evansburg and Wildwood.

It says the order also applies to people who are in the Lobstick resort area.

The order says all people in this zone must leave immediately.

The province says an evacuation centre is being set up at the Evansburg Arena in Evansburg.

The wildfire danger in the area is listed as very high and there are six airtankers, four helicopters, six pieces of heavy equipment and 30 firefighters working on containing the blaze.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 22, 2021

The Canadian Press

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