When the judge read his verdict in the Travis Vader trial, Bret McCann was elated.
After six-and-a-half years of wondering whether his slain parents, Lyle and Marie McCann, would ever get justice, their killer had been convicted.
Following the televised verdict, McCann gathered with friends and relatives at his St. Albert home to celebrate the end of a marathon judicial process rife with complications – from two years of investigations to a stay of proceedings in 2014 to an abuse of process trial in 2015.
He was glad to be off the seemingly never-ending “legal rollercoaster” that began the day his parents went missing from their motorhome while on a trip to B.C.
The feeling didn’t last long. Relief was soon replaced with more pain and consternation, as it became clear through social media that there was an error in the judgment.
Twitter was abuzz almost as soon as the words left Justice Denny Thomas’ mouth: he had used an obsolete section of the Criminal Code to convict Vader of second-degree murder.
“Does this mean a mistrial? Is this it? Is this the end of it?” thought McCann upon hearing the news that Section 230 had been deemed unconstitutional more than two decades earlier.
“The possibility that he may be free after finding out he had killed my parents was just devastating,” he told a group of reporters Sunday afternoon, during a press conference at the St. Albert Inn.
McCann has teamed up with local St. Albert-Edmonton MP and Conservative deputy justice critic Michael Cooper to call for changes to the Criminal Code. He is asking Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould to immediately undertake a review of the Criminal Code to purge it from obsolete laws such as Section 230, which caused the McCanns and their friends so much grief.
Parliament has not undertaken a revision of the Criminal Code since 1985. The lack of housekeeping has resulted in a document littered with “zombie laws” – sections that are no longer enforced, but have not yet been formally repealed.
“These inoperable sections of the Criminal Code are booby traps for the unwitting,” said Cooper, “with the potential for very serious consequences, including mistrials, appeals, costs, delays and miscarriages of justice.”
Cooper, along with other members of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, sent a letter to Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould asking for the removal of these outdated and unconstitutional sections of the code two months ago.
Wilson-Raybould has yet to acknowledge the correspondence said Cooper.
“All we’ve heard from the minister of justice is talk about undertaking a comprehensive review of the Criminal Code,” said Cooper. “It is completely unacceptable that clearly unconstitutional and inoperable sections of the Criminal Code should have to wait for a comprehensive review to be completed – a process that could take years.”
Both parties are also hoping to see the establishment of a mechanism, like in the United Kingdom’s Law Commission, that would allow for the ongoing modernization of the country’s criminal legislation.
While McCann is confident justice will still be served in his parents’ case – an application for a mistrial was denied by Justice Thomas in October and sentencing is underway for the two manslaughter convictions that replaced the overturned second-degree murder verdicts – he does not want to see another family suffer through a potential miscarriage of justice.
“If there’s a silver lining to what happened to my parents I think this is it,” said McCann.
Vader’s sentencing hearing is now into its second week. A decision may not be reached until the new year.