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Vader wants prosecution halted

Through much of the first four days of the hearing regarding the on-going murder prosecution of Travis Vader, Bret McCann, his wife and daughter took turns sitting quietly, almost perfectly still, in the front bench of an Edmonton Court of Queen's Be
Bret McCann holds photographs of his missing parents
Bret McCann holds photographs of his missing parents

Through much of the first four days of the hearing regarding the on-going murder prosecution of Travis Vader, Bret McCann, his wife and daughter took turns sitting quietly, almost perfectly still, in the front bench of an Edmonton Court of Queen's Bench.

They listened patiently, as the lawyer defending the man accused of killing their parents and grandparents, Lyle and Marie McCann, said the Crown had abused the judicial process by delaying Vader's trial by two years with a stay of charges that has since been reversed.

They agreed that errors appear to have been made when the RCMP failed to provide complete and timely disclosure on evidence ahead of the original trial.

But Bret McCann said he also felt his confidence in the case was restored, and he did not hear anything that looked like abuse of process had taken place.

"I gained a much better understanding to the background of the stay, and I admire (Crown prosecutor) Michelle Doyle's professionalism in the decision to stay the charges," he said.

"I am still feeling positive and I felt more positive after watching (the court) this week."

McCann's parents, Lyle, 78, and Marie, 77, went missing in 2010 on a road trip to British Columbia to visit family.

They were last seen while buying gas on July 3, 2010. The burned-out shell of their motorhome was discovered a few days later at a campground near Edson.

The couple was legally declared dead in July 2011, and their bodies have never been found. Vader was named a suspect and was formally charged in their disappearance nearly two years later.

While a trial had originally been scheduled for April 2014, prosecutors stayed the murder charges a month prior because of the RCMP's lack of disclosure.

The stay was lifted later that year and Vader's trial is now scheduled for March 2016.

Vader's lawyer, Brian Beresh, however, wants the charges stayed a second time and the prosecution halted. He says the Crown used a strategic ploy to delay the trial.

Abuse of process hearing

During the abuse of process hearing this week he cross-examined several people connected to the case, including Edmonton chief Crown prosecutor Michelle Doyle.

Media reports say she told the court that she had been prepared to prosecute Vader in 2014. But then the RCMP failed to provide thousands of pages of evidence in the weeks leading up to the trial.

At that point, she told the court, she "lost all confidence" in the RCMP's ability to fully disclose their investigation before the trial began. She proposed that the Crown consent to Vader's release on bail if he was willing to adjourn the trial.

But he didn't so she stayed the charges.

"It was a staggering amount of disclosure and I was concerned about Vader's right to a fair trial," she told court this week.

She also denied a claim by Beresh that the stay was a convenient way of buying the investigation two years of additional time.

Beresh also cross-examined RCMP Sgt. Frederick Jane, the lead investigator in the case.

Jane told the court that he met with Doyle and other RCMP investigators several times in the weeks and months after the stayed trial to discuss and go over both new and old disclosure.

Among other things, investigators were asked to follow up with previously interviewed witnesses and to revisit sites connected to the alleged crime, he said.

Jane stressed that Doyle had "wanted to make sure she had not missed any piece."

Beresh, however, said that much of the evidence the RCMP discussed with Doyle after staying the charges had already been disclosed.

Going over it again was only a way "to see if you have any more dirt to throw against this man," he said, pointing at Vader in the courtroom.

Massive amounts of information

Beresh also called on RCMP Const. Holly Wilson to testify.

Wilson had worked as file co-ordinator on the case. She told the court on Thursday that she was at times assisted by as many as 12 people in going through the files and creating records or links to information.

She also worked out of the RCMP Peace River detachment but regularly had to upload and send information on the case to Edmonton.

She described the file as massive and at first it was "easy to get behind … because there was so much coming in."

She also said that she did not always know who was working on the case because information and tips were coming in from officers across Alberta. Some information also seemed to have not been uploaded in time after she left the position, she said.

The RCMP has since admitted that it learned its lesson from the disclosure problems and has hired more support staff and centralized its major case units in Edmonton instead of in various detachments.

“Mistakes happen”

McCann said the hearing this week has restored his confidence in the case, although sitting through it wears on the family.

He believes Doyle wanted to ensure that a fair trial would take place. He also said mistakes were made but he is not really blaming the RCMP considering the massive and complex set of evidence that they had to handle.

"It sounds like a formidable task," he said.

He added that is has been a "marathon" since his parents disappeared over five years ago.

"Based on what I heard I would be shocked if the legal process were to derail at this point," he said. "From a closure perspective for us, we just need to know what happened."

The hearing was originally scheduled for four days but will continue on Wednesday, Dec. 9. Vader's trial is scheduled for March 2016.

Beresh was not available for comment on Thursday afternoon but said that he "remains optimistic" that the charges may be stayed.

Earlier this year, he had told reporters that he would also seek a court order prohibiting the use of evidence not disclosed to the defence before the stay in 2014.

In April 2014, Vader also filed a million-dollar lawsuit alleging malicious prosecution and mistreatment by police, the Crown and others involved in the investigation.

McCann said the family still has a $60,000 reward available for anyone with information that can help find his parents.