EDMONTON — Bret McCann and his family got up in the middle of the night half a world away to watch a live video feed of a judge handing a life sentence to the man who killed McCann’s parents.
Travis Vader was facing anywhere from time served to life in prison for manslaughter in the deaths of Lyle and Marie McCann. The couple were in their late 70s when they vanished after leaving their home in St. Albert, north of Edmonton, for a camping trip to British Columbia in July 2010. Their bodies have never been found.
“When the judge said life imprisonment, it was a huge relief,” Bret McCann said Wednesday on a video link from Melbourne, Australia.
“I would have gone anywhere to hear that.”
He said his family is thrilled to know that “Vader will spend the prime years of his life in prison and the public will be protected from this criminal.”
Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Denny Thomas determined at trial that Vader was a desperate drug addict who was already on the run from police when he came across the couple in their motorhome and killed them during a robbery.
In his written sentencing decision, Thomas described the 44-year-old as a smart, dangerous man who didn’t care who his victims were. Vader may not have intended to kill the vulnerable seniors, said Thomas, but he used a loaded gun to rob them before burning their motorhome and disposing of their bodies in the wilderness.
“The randomness of these homicides is terrifying for all Canadians,” he wrote.
“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.”
Thomas ruled Vader won’t be eligible for parole for seven years, which is automatic when someone is sentenced to life for manslaughter. Parole ineligibility periods start at the time of arrest so Vader will be able to apply in about 4 1/2 years, said Bret McCann.
“And if he does, I am going to be there and I am going to ask him, ‘Where are the bodies of my parents?’ ” said McCann.
“He has to show some remorse.”
Vader didn’t testify at his trial, but spoke at his sentencing hearing about alleged abuse he suffered while in custody. The judge dismissed an application by Vader’s lawyers that he should be released with time served, or get a judicial stay, because his rights were violated.
Thomas said Vader was not believable.
Vader spoke again Wednesday.
“This court has convicted an innocent man and I will continue to fight until I clear my name,” he said before learning his fate.
His lawyer, Brian Beresh, said outside court that his client “was not pleased.”
“As he said in court, he will fight to his last day to prove he is innocent. We intend to launch that fight, probably this week, by filing a notice of appeal.”
Beresh said the case is troubling.
“After 40 years of practice, I must say this is one of those few cases which haunts me and remains a mystery in terms of what occurred and how we have gotten to this point.”
The defence had argued that the case was based on speculation, because there were no witnesses and the McCanns’ remains have not been found, so it is impossible to say how they died.
The judge also made a mistake by initially convicting Vader of second-degree murder using an outdated section of the Criminal Code. Thomas later refused to grant a mistrial and substituted the verdict with manslaughter.
The Crown had asked for a life sentence. It argued that Vader showed no remorse after the killings — evident in that he used the McCanns’ cellphone the same day to call an ex-girlfriend and took their money to buy beer and a phone card.
Prosecutor Ashley Finlayson said the Crown had the option of requesting Vader’s parole ineligibility be increased to 10 years but chose not to. He pointed out that the Parole Board of Canada will ultimately decide when — or if — Vader should be released.
“A life sentence is a life sentence,” Finlayson said. “We’re confident that the parole board will deal with everything appropriately.”