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Vader appeals manslaughter convictions

Bret McCann, son of slain St. Albert seniors, says “bring it on” to Travis Vader and his legal team. On Wednesday, the man responsible for killing Lyle and Marie McCann, learned his fate.
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SENTENCE ‘HUGE RELIEF’ – The McCann family appear in a Court of Queen’s bench courtroom via video link from Melbourne
SENTENCE ‘HUGE RELIEF’ – The McCann family appear in a Court of Queen’s bench courtroom via video link from Melbourne

Bret McCann, son of slain St. Albert seniors, says “bring it on” to Travis Vader and his legal team.

On Wednesday, the man responsible for killing Lyle and Marie McCann, learned his fate. He was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for seven years.

No sooner than Justice Denny Thomas pronounced his sentence did Vader’s lawyer announce he would be filing a notice of appeal.

This comes as no surprise to McCann, who actually welcomes the prospect of a speedy appeal process.

“The sooner the appeals are addressed, the sooner Vader will realize the only path to parole for himself is to show us where he put the bodies of my parents,” he said in an email Thursday.

Lyle and Marie McCann went missing more than six years ago. The couple was last seen filling their motorhome with gas in St. Albert on July 3, 2010, before setting off on a planned trip to visit with family and camp on the West Coast. Their burned out motorhome was found near the Minnow Lake campground, southeast of Edson, two days later. Their bodies have never been located.

Last fall, Thomas found that Vader killed the elderly couple during the course of a robbery gone wrong.

The Crown and the defence took very different positions on what would be an appropriate sentence.

Crown prosecutor Ashley Finlayson argued that Vader deserved a life sentence for the killing of the second McCann, to be served concurrently with a sentence of 15 years for the killing of the first.

He argued that the killings must have been sequential; therefore the second would be as “near-murder as possible” and deserved a harsh punishment.

The defence sought two concurrent four to six year sentences, arguing that the McCanns’ death could have been the result of a physical altercation that had escalated.

Thomas refuted both theories.

In his 61-page sentencing decision, he calls Vader a “dangerous” and “intelligent” criminal and states that although a lack of money and food made him desperate, it did not make him stupid.

He concludes that Vader knew there was potential for resistance and was “willing and planned to use physical force and the threat of a firearm” to obtain the McCanns’ property. He sentenced Vader to one term of life in prison with no chance of parole for seven years.

“This sort of killing of two elderly people on the open road, a major Canadian highway, with thousands of innocent travellers using it every day, cries out for denunciation and deterrence,” wrote Thomas.

The trial has been a “marathon” for the McCann family. It took two years for a charge to be laid against Vader and another four for the case to be brought before a judge.

While McCann said he could never use the word closure, Thomas’ pronouncement came as a “huge relief” to him and his family.

“Last night we went to bed early not knowing which way it will go, but cautiously optimistic that this would be the result,” said McCann, during a Q&A session with media Wednesday.

“This won’t bring our parents back,” he continued. “But it’s a chapter closing and we’re going to make an attempt at moving on with our lives.”

But that does not mean he will stop fighting for answers.

McCann told reporters he planned to be at every parole board hearing with the same burning question he had for Vader during his victim impact statement: “Travis Vader where are the bodies of my parents?”

Vader also indicated Wednesday that this would not be the end.

Before Thomas handed down his sentence, Vader was awarded the opportunity to address the court. He said he would continue to maintain his innocence.

“With all due respect to this court, this court has convicted an innocent man and I will continue to fight until I clear my name,” said Vader.

Later, his lawyer Brian Beresh told media his client would be appealing the court’s conviction.

“After 40 years of practice, I must say this is one of those few cases that haunts me,” he said.

A notice of appeal was filed Friday. Vader is appealing both his conviction and his sentence and is asking for a new judge and jury trial.

The appeal is being made on the grounds that Thomas erred in failing to order a stay of proceedings as a result of undue delay, as well as in convicting Vader based on purely circumstantial evidence, relying on unreliable Crown witnesses, making findings of fact that were not supported by evidence, imposing an unfit sentence and declining to order a mistrial after applying an unconstitutional section of the Criminal Code.

The notice of appeal also argues that Thomas’ conduct following the erroneous application of section 230 (which resulted in the vacating of the second-degree murder charges for two manslaughter convictions) raises questions of bias.

In his sentencing decision, Thomas makes new findings of fact that Beresh’ claims were not suggested or relied upon by the Crown, nor supported by evidence, and are inconsistent with his original decision.

Beresh is also challenging the dismissal of an application for sentence reduction submitted by the defence. During his sentencing hearing, Vader alleged his Charter rights had been violated on several occasions, both at the time of arrest and during his time in pre-trial custody.

Thomas threw out the application, calling Vader a liar.

The judge recommended, at the request of the defence, that the sentence be carried out in a B.C. penitentiary, due to threats Vader had received.




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