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Acquittal in boy's death

A law professor says the acquittal of an Alberta couple in the death of their son isn't likely to set a legal precedent but should open a conversation about parental responsibilities.

A judge in Lethbridge, Alta., found David and Collet Stephan not guilty Thursday of failing to provide the necessaries of life in the 2012 death of 19-month-old Ezekiel.

It was the second trial for the pair. A jury convicted them in 2016 but the Supreme Court of Canada overturned the ruling and ordered a new trial.

The Stephans testified they thought their son had croup and used herbal remedies to treat him. They believed he was recovering and called for an ambulance when he stopped breathing.

Queen's Bench Justice Terry Clackson rejected the findings of a medical examiner who said the boy died of bacterial meningitis, siding with a defence expert who said the death was caused by a lack of oxygen. He also ruled the Stephans had done everything possible to get help for their son.

David Stephan, whose father co-founded a nutritional supplement company, told reporters after the verdict that the case sets a precedent by supporting parental rights and the choice for homeopathy or naturopathy. Naturopathy is the treatment of disease without drugs.

Lisa Silver, a University of Calgary law professor, said the decision doesn't set a template for future cases.

"With parental responsibilities and duties we may know where they lie on the outside edges, but we are fuzzy on what that means in between," she said.

"What duties and responsibilities do we have as a parent? ... I think this case opens up that discussion for sure.

"But is this case showing that (David Stephan) is absolutely right in how he thinks about herbal remedies? No."

Silver said the general public may be unhappy with the ruling but the Crown had to prove its case.

"It's not 'look what happened. A child died.' The parents do things that we don't do, which is herbal medicine. Those two things don't make out guilt."



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