Supreme Court won't hear appeal by parents who have faced 2 trials in son's death

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David and Collet Stephan leave the courthouse in Lethbridge in 2016. The Supreme Court of Canada won't hear an appeal in a case that saw them tried twice in the death of their sick toddler. (David Rossiter/The Canadian Press - image credit)
David and Collet Stephan leave the courthouse in Lethbridge in 2016. The Supreme Court of Canada won't hear an appeal in a case that saw them tried twice in the death of their sick toddler. (David Rossiter/The Canadian Press - image credit)

The Supreme Court of Canada won't hear an appeal in a high-profile Alberta case that saw a couple tried twice in the death of their sick toddler.

David and Collet Stephan were accused of not seeking medical attention sooner for their 18-month-old son, Ezekiel, before he died in 2012.

They testified that they were treating the boy with natural remedies for what they thought was croup.

A jury convicted them in 2016 of failing to provide the necessaries of life, but the Supreme Court of Canada overturned that verdict and ordered a second trial.

A judge hearing the second trial without a jury found them not guilty in 2019.

In March 2021, the Alberta Court of Appeal granted a request by the Crown to overturn that acquittal and ordered another trial.

Crown prosecutors then stayed charges against the Stephans in June 2021, but the application seeking leave to appeal the decision on a third trial was already submitted to the Supreme Court.

As usual, the Supreme Court gave no reasons for its decision.

Sarah Langley, chief prosecutor in the appeals and specialized prosecutions office with the Alberta Crown Prosecution Service, thanked the Supreme Court for its consideration of the matter.

"Although the court has upheld the order for a new trial, a stay of proceedings was entered ... on the charges against the Stephans on June 22, 2021," she said in an email.

"A key duty of a Crown prosecutor is to assess their case on an ongoing basis and ensure all aspects of the evidence are carefully considered at every stage of a prosecution."

Langley said it has been more than nine years since Ezekiel died and available evidence has deteriorated since the previous two trials.

"The available evidence is no longer sufficient to meet the (Alberta Crown Prosecution Service) standard for prosecution and a reasonable likelihood of conviction no longer exists," she said.

Jason Demers, a lawyer for the Stephans, said Thursday in an email to CBC News that his clients are disappointed that the Supreme Court won't hear their appeal, "thereby leaving what we believe is uncertainty in the law."

"The SCC obviously felt differently, and while we may not agree with that decision, we accept it," Demers said.

"My clients are very concerned what this decision will mean to other parents who find themselves in a similar position to the one that they were in."

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