Hang up the hip-waders. Save the speeches. Turn off the alarm. The government does not want your children – they can’t even house the ones they currently have in their care.
A day after a court found David Stephan and his wife Collet guilty under the Criminal Code of Canada for failing to provide necessaries of life to their 19 month old son Ezekiel, (onions, garlic, hot peppers and horseradish do not meet that standard if you have bacterial meningitis), David Stephan grabbed the online bullhorn that is Facebook and shouted his apocalyptic message – parents everywhere are in danger. Much like the second amendment and Bundy gang on the other side of the border, Stephan warned of an escalating conspiracy that targets families. According to this former Alberta, now Nelson BC resident and vice president of a natural ‘remedy’ brand of products, everyone would have to ‘fall in line’ with governmental dictates on how to raise their children.
I think the chronic under-funding, under-staffing and lack of proper resources put towards dealing with child abuse in Canada should be enough evidence to put such alarmist notions to rest, but Stephan’s audience isn’t swayed by evidence-based arguments.
To some extent it is true; parents are required to follow the law. The thing is, the laws are not new and I don’t think a case about a child who died after being sick for 2 1/2 weeks and was so stiff he could not be put in a car seat, suggests the laws are going to be applied willy-nilly.
A month ago parents were legally allowed to not believe in the theory of gravity but not permitted to drop their child on his or her head because of that belief. This is still the case.
I’m not a lawyer but as far as I can tell all the verdict in the David and Collet Stephan case seems to do is uphold a parent’s right to defy the cumulative knowledge of centuries of scientific thought – as long as in the process they don’t endanger the life of their child(ren). (Unfortunately such protections may not necessarily exist for other people’s children.)
Parental rights have their limits and the protection of children must supersede religious and individual freedoms.
There is good reason for this. There are some awful parents out there who do horrible things to their children.
For most people, those lines are clear.
But then there are parents whose religious, political or other beliefs contravene the human rights of their children to live and be safe – and those can not and should not be tolerated. (Unless of course we want to legalize child brides and female genital mutilation?)
Sometimes loving parents do very damaging and dangerous things; parents who believe they are helping while they are actually hurting.
The need to protect children from family members with wrong-headed ideas of how to care for them is vividly apparent to me.
When I first became ill I was shocked at the quantity and quackery of advice – usually delivered glaringly and angrily if I declined or appeared anything but enthusiastic – by friends, family, colleagues, acquaintances and complete strangers. Fortunately I was an adult – even so it was sometimes painfully hard to refuse knowing it would mean the end of a relationship and that person’s support and companionship. If I didn’t wish to share in their ‘secret’ everything that happened henceforth was my fault – which it kind of already was anyway since my condition was probably the result, in their opinion, of some westernized/bastardized interpretation of bad karma – or a cheeseburger – or both. It’s just now I was actually blowing my chance at recovery – and their moment to shine – by not believing or intending or fasting or cleansing enough.
I can’t imagine the vulnerability of a child in those circumstances.
There are parents who kill their children while trying to exorcise them of their ‘demons.’
There are parents who subject their disabled children to risky and unethical medical treatments to prevent growth in order to make it easier for the parents.
There are people like Landon Webb, now an adult, whose parents forced him into an institution against his will where he was denied phone and web access ‘for his own good’ because the province of Nova Scotia hasn’t updated its ‘Incompetent Persons Act.’
Some kids live to tell the tale. They survive in spite of their parents severely warped version of care, like the young woman whose parents refused to allow doctors to repair the tiny hole in her heart as a baby. She survived but the impact on her life and lifespan is permanent.
Some parents kill their disabled child and call it mercy even though there is considerable evidence she was happy and enjoying her life and an absence of evidence to suggest she had any desire to die.
I understand there was no evidence the Stephans were anything but loving parents. I believe it – but one thing has bothered me throughout this case.
Their complete absence of hesitation.
I see nothing of the remorse and parental guilt that normally haunts even those parents who did everything right.
I have never met a loving parent who, when their child was ill or injured, didn’t spend some time blaming themselves at least a little – ‘if only, what if I had, maybe I should have… ‘
I understand the Stephan’s legal counsel may have advised them to stake out utter blamelessness, but, let’s be honest, this has gone far beyond courtroom posturing.
Where was David Stephan in the days leading up to trial? Marketing himself as a health expert and trying to convince other parents to do as he tells them to.
And this is where I find David Stephan stands apart. A lot of parents who do hurt in the name of help, do so because they have been swayed by those who market in miracles – the sinister snake oil salesmen who enrich themselves while spreading ignorance.
In David Stephan’s case the parent is also the propagator.
Of course not all Stephan’s time was spent discussing health products. He also had a new role to fulfill – hero for a confusing cause.
The most troubling thing I have heard David Stephan say is near the end of his Facebook post declaring a state of emergency for parents in Canada. He wrote: “The floodgates have been opened and my main concern is no longer for Collet and I, but rather for Canadian’s [sic] as a whole.”
There is certainly a time to speak for others – but is it after the death of your child and when your remaining children now have two parents convicted of a serious crime? Would now not be the time to say I have to put my family first?
Imagine your child dies from a treatable illness and not only do you not take a single step down the path of self-reflection but you actually turn yourself into the victim and spokesperson for good parenting.
There are certainly words I might use to describe someone who behaves like that – hero is not one.