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Government moves to kill zombie laws

The federal justice minster has introduced legislation to remove ‘zombie laws’ from the Criminal Code, including the one that caused a delay in the Travis Vader verdict.

The federal justice minster has introduced legislation to remove ‘zombie laws’ from the Criminal Code, including the one that caused a delay in the Travis Vader verdict.

Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould introduced legislation on Wednesday to remove seven unconstitutional sections of the Criminal Code.

“It’s gratifying for our family to have this done,” Bret McCann said. “It’s a positive to come out of our whole tragedy with my parents.”

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 Lyle and Marie McCann.

The criminal trial of the disappearance and death of Bret McCann’s parents spanned six years and was finally wrapped up with a life sentence on Sept. 15, 2016.

That night the McCann family went home to mark the closure of the case with their friends and family. It wasn’t long before they began to see people on social media calling into question the verdict.

“It was a real sort of celebratory moment and then the chatter on Twitter said that there could be an issue,” McCann said. “Then we didn’t know what to think – whether there would be another trial or was this the end of it.”

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 verdict was eventually substituted for two counts of manslaughter.

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

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

“The pain that that caused to the family needs to be recognized,” Wilson-Raybould said. “I want to acknowledge what a difficult ordeal this has been for the McCann family and thank them for their forceful advocacy on this issue.”

In December, McCann began his mission to remove the zombie laws from the Criminal Code. McCann, along with St. Albert MP Michael Cooper, pushed to have the outdated laws removed to protect families from the suffering the McCanns have endured. McCann said he wants to ensure the “booby trap” cannot hurt another family.

Cooper is happy the government is moving forward with removing the laws, but would like to see a more permanent system in place to remove zombie laws on a regular basis.

“It’s fine to introduce legislation today to remove zombie laws but inevitably there will be future zombie laws unless we have a process in place to review the Criminal Code and to identify these zombie sections we will be back to where we are today,” Cooper said.

There are still some unconstitutional sections in the Criminal Code that were not included in the legislation but Wilson-Raybould said those provisions would take more work to remove. The government plans to tackle them in the next phase of updates.


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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