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McCann frustrated with delay to remove zombie laws

The son of a slain St. Albert couple says he is frustrated that the federal government is taking so long to pass a bill that would remove outdated laws from the Criminal Code.
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Bret McCann and wife Mary-Ann at press conference with St. Albert and Edmonton MP Michael Cooper in 2016.

The son of a slain St. Albert couple says he is frustrated that the federal government is taking so long to pass a bill that would remove outdated laws from the Criminal Code.

Bret McCann, the son of Lyle and Marie McCann, wants the government to take action to remove the so-called “zombie laws” from the Criminal Code. Zombie laws are sections of the Criminal Code that have been deemed unconstitutional.

McCann and St. Albert MP Michael Cooper said that he is feeling frustrated that there has been no movement on the legislation, which was introduced one year ago.

“This sort of thing is definitely not controversial. The basic notion that the Criminal Code should be correct, nobody argues with that. It is not contentious and this should move forward,” McCann said.

A zombie law in the Criminal Code is what delayed and derailed the two second-degree murder verdicts of Travis Vader in the death of Bret's parents, Lyle and Marie McCann.

When Queen’s Bench Justice Denny Thomas delivered his decision he cited a section of the Criminal Code which had been deemed unconstitutional by the court system 26 years earlier.

The criminal trial of the disappearance and death of McCann’s parents spanned six years and the final verdict was eventually substituted for two counts of manslaughter and a life sentence for Vader.

The Vader verdict was the most high-profile case involving a zombie law, which inspired the drive for updates to the Criminal Code.

In March of 2017 Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould introduced legislation to remove seven unconstitutional sections of the Criminal Code, including the one affecting the Vader verdict. Yet there has been no movement on the file since the first introduction.

Despite being deemed unconstitutional, these zombie laws remain in the Criminal Code because there is no regular government mechanism to remove them.

“The whole notion that there were obsolete laws in the Criminal Code is just absurd to me. To see such foot-dragging on the part of the government … it is frustrating,” McCann said.

Despite his frustration McCann is still optimistic that the federal government will take action on the legislation during their spring session.

At the end of January McCann received an email from Wilson-Raybould that said the government will be “seeking unanimous consent in the House of Commons to move Bill C-39 forward expeditiously.”

Wilson-Raybould also said that the government has introduced another bill that will amend or repeal other provisions in the Criminal Code that have been found unconstitutional by appeal courts.

“These bills are part of my ongoing comprehensive review of the criminal justice system, which aims to ensure that we are increasing the safety of our communities, getting value for money, and addressing gaps, and that current provisions are aligned with the objectives of the criminal justice system,” Wilson-Raybould said in an email to McCann.

Cooper said that the case involving Vader wasn't the first time a zombie law was applied in error.

"Without the swift passage of Bill C-39, it is a matter of time before this happens again. In light of what happened to the McCann family there is no excuse for the Liberals to sit on their hands and do nothing," Cooper said.


Jennifer Henderson, Local Journalism Initiative reporter

About the Author: Jennifer Henderson, Local Journalism Initiative reporter

Jennifer Henderson is the Local Journalism Initiative reporter for Great West Media based in St. Albert, Alta.
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