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Key witness testifies at Vader trial

“It was the right thing to do. Those could have been anybody's grandparents." That's why Dave “Bandana Dave” Olson, a key Crown witness in Travis Vader's trial for the murder of St.
Travis Vader enters the court house earlier in the trial that has now in its eighth week.
Travis Vader enters the court house earlier in the trial that has now in its eighth week.

“It was the right thing to do. Those could have been anybody's grandparents."

That's why Dave “Bandana Dave” Olson, a key Crown witness in Travis Vader's trial for the murder of St. Albert couple Lyle and Marie McCann, said he chose to speak with police and testify about what he knew.

He gave testimony Thursday morning connecting Vader to the McCanns' SUV on the day they were last seen and to another stolen truck linked to the investigation. He also said he and Vader used methamphetamines together nearly every day in spring 2010 and said he had seen Vader driving as many as 30 different vehicles he said were stolen.

But under cross-examination, some inconsistencies appeared between his testimony and interviews given to police in 2010.

Defence lawyer Brian Beresh questioned Olson's recollection of the dates and times he testified about, suggested drug use had affected his memory and even accused Olson of making a deal to give evidence to RCMP for financial gain.

Olson testified he had received $24,000 worth of his expenses paid for by police as a result of his agreement to go into RCMP protection, with most of it going to things like food, bills and shelter.

“All they did was set me up and relocate me somewhere else,” Olson said. “Very little of that money was given to me directly.”

Many documents relating to his involvement with the witness protection program are subject to publication bans and sealing orders, and it's not entirely clear who Olson is being protected from, but a partially redacted version of the agreement signed between Olson and the RCMP on Dec. 14, 2014 in Ottawa that was entered into evidence at the trial indicates what he was eligible to receive.

There was $600 allocated for transportation to the new community, $1,050 for interim accommodation, damage deposit of $1,080, three months' rent to a maximum of $1,500, $2,000 for furniture and household effects, $1,500 moving expenses, $250 for new utility connections, three months' bills to a maximum of $750, $2,160 for psychotherapy services, plus $550 for a service that was redacted from the document.

Beresh also suggested Olson co-operated with RCMP in July 2010 because he was concerned about the possibility of going to jail after he was busted with a 74-plant marijuana grow operation in late June, and wanted to “curry favour with police.”

He pointed to a conditional discharge on the marijuana-growing charge, and a pre-sentence report in which an Edson RCMP officer “put in a good word,” recommending against jail time as evidence Olson was helping police to get a lighter sentence.

“I spoke up because it was the right thing to do. I didn't do it to curry favour,” Olson told him. “I know what you're getting at, sir, and you're dead wrong.”

Beresh also suggested Olson gave inconsistent statements about the timeline on July 3. He had told prosecutors Vader had come over in the morning for a short visit, broke and driving a grey dually pickup truck, then came back later in the afternoon driving a green SUV with money for beer and a phone card, staying for a few hours.

In statement given to police in July and August 2010, Olson spoke with officers about Vader being at the house for a couple hours in the morning visit. He told Beresh he had been confused about the first and second visit that day, which is why he told police that.

Beresh repeatedly pressed this point, suggesting Vader was at Olson's house around 2:30 p.m. and Olson was changing his story as a result of outside pressure, with Olson repeatedly denying it and saying Vader hadn't been there are that time.

“Someone's told you that time's important,” Beresh said.

“Travis wasn't there at 2:30,” Olson told Beresh. “You can put it to me 50 times and I'll tell you 50 times he wasn't there.”

Beresh also pointed at that at no point in his statements to police did Olson refer to July 3, although he testified to that date on the witness stand, again suggesting someone had told him that date was important.

Ultimately, he suggested Olson's memory was unreliable on account of the drugs he was regularly using.

“It took control of your life. It took control of your judgment. It took control of your memory,” he said.

Beresh raised questions about interactions Olson and Vader had that day, suggesting it wasn't as amicable as he had suggested, even saying Vader had given Olson “a club across the head” because of how he had been treating a mutual friend.

Olson said he was attracted to the friend and had called her, but Beresh pointed to phone records indicating he had phoned her 90 times in 20 days at all hours of day or night, effectively “stalking” her.

Beresh even suggested Olson had sent her “vile” and “nasty” text messages from someone else's phone – Olson's had been seized by police as a result of his grow-op arrest – but didn't press the issue when Olson denied it.

Crown questions

Olson came into the courtroom Thursday morning flanked by security, with two armed sheriffs standing behind him in the witness box while he gave his testimony.

He told Crown prosecutor Ashley Finlayson he had first met Vader six to eight months prior to July, and had seen him driving two different cars on July 3.

Olson said Vader showed up to his house in Peers, Alta., in the morning, broke, needing money to put oil in his truck, which Olson described as a grey dually pickup truck with a tidy tank in the back, similar to the one found abandoned on an oil lease near Edson.

When he showed up again in the late afternoon, Olson said Vader was driving a green SUV similar to the one the McCanns had been towing behind their motorhome, and had money to buy a case of Boxer beer and a phone card.

At that time, he described Vader's behaviour as “agitated,” and said he repeatedly mentioned contacting Amber Williams, who has previously testified that text messages sent to her from the McCanns' phone that afternoon must have come from Vader based on their content.

Olson also told Finlayson he had seen Vader driving dozens of vehicles over the months, which Vader had told him were stolen.

“I've seen him in as many as 25 to 30 different trucks,” he said. “A lot of times he told me they were stolen, and he even told me how he would burn them when he was through.”

Friday motions

No evidence was presented at the trial Friday morning, as defence lawyer Brian Beresh had other obligations. Instead, prosecutors and another lawyer from Beresh's office, Nathan Whitling, argued on several motions arising from the trial.

First off, a decision about a defence application for documents relating to the witness protection program was deferred until Monday afternoon when lawyer Fred Kozak, who represents several media outlets, will be available to make applications with respect to the publication bans and sealing orders surrounding those documents, arguments relating to them and Justice Denny Thomas's decision.

Second, lawyers discussed the admissibility of the statements Bobbi Jo Vader made to police in 2010. During her testimony, Finlayson applied to enter those statements as evidence because of inconsistencies between the statements and evidence she gave on the stand.

Third, the lawyers discussed the admissibility of a binder full of text-message and cell-phone records provided by Telus, which have been referred to at length during this trial.

The Crown is expected to wrap up its case by the end of next week, after which Beresh will begin to present the defence's case.