Son of slain Alberta couple calls ‘zombie’ laws ‘booby traps’ for judges

Son of slain Alberta couple calls ‘zombie’ laws ‘booby traps’ for judges

ST. ALBERT, Alta. — An Alberta man who saw a murder conviction in the case of his missing parents replaced with manslaughter because of a judge’s error wants “zombie” sections of the Criminal Code removed.

Bret McCann said the section of the code that Justice Denny Thomas cited in his second-degree murder conviction against Travis Vader in September should be removed immediately, since it was declared unconstitutional decades ago.

McCann said it’s only a matter of time before a judge makes a similar mistake and accidentally applies an unconstitutional and out of date section in another case.

“The consternation and pain endured by my family because of this so-called zombie law is enormous,” McCann read from a prepared statement at a news conference on Sunday.

“While Justice Thomas was responsible for this mistaken verdict in the Vader case, I think it is ludicrous that these booby traps are allowed to just exist within the Criminal Code.”

Lyle and Marie McCann, in their late 70s, disappeared after setting out from their Edmonton-area home to go camping in British Columbia in July 2010. Their burned-out motorhome and a vehicle they had been towing were discovered in the days that followed. Their bodies have never been found.

In finding Vader guilty of murder, Thomas mistakenly used Section 230 of the Criminal Code, which the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional in 1990. The government didn’t remove the section from the books as antiquated laws are rarely repealed.

Section 230 allowed for a second-degree murder verdict if a killing occurred during the commission of another crime such as robbery.

Thomas acknowledged his mistake and the following month changed his verdict to manslaughter.

Following the botched verdict, Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould promised a review of unconstitutional Criminal Code provision, with the view of updating the laws to reflect high court decisions.

Wilson-Raybould said the review would be part of a larger review of the criminal justice system.

Conservative MP Michael Cooper, who represents St. Albert-Edmonton and is the Opposition’s deputy justice critic, said legislation to repeal such laws would be uncomplicated and shouldn’t have to wait for the minister’s larger review of the justice system to be completed.

Cooper told the news conference that a parliamentary committee on justice and human rights wrote the minister on Oct. 6 to make it a priority to remove inoperative sections of the code.

A spokesperson for the minister, Valerie Gervais, said Sunday that the review is ongoing.

“The Minister’s overarching goal is to ensure our legislation meets the highest standards of equity, fairness and respect for the rule of law as well as the Constitution of Canada,” Gervais said in an email.

McCann said he fears the review could take years, or even decades, to show results.

“When an experienced senior court judge like Justice Thomas can’t figure out what the law is because the Criminal Code is so clogged up and cluttered with obsolete sections, how is the average citizen supposed to figure out what the law is?” McCann asked.

Vader’s sentencing hearing in Edmonton continues this week.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A worker is constructing the frame of a new building at Clearview Ridge, near 30th Avenue and 67th Street in Red Deer. (Photo by PAUL COWLEY/Advocate staff).
Alberta wages fell more than any other province in Canada in 2020

Alberta compensation fell by six per cent last year

People board and leave at the Century Park light-rail transit station in Edmonton on Friday, Feb. 26, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
‘Racism is a real problem:’ Growing number of attacks against Black Muslim women

‘Racism is a real problem:’ Growing number of attacks against Black Muslim women

Alberta Health Services declared a COVID-19 outbreak at Revera Aspen Ridge on Feb. 1. (Photo by Advocate staff)
Two COVID deaths linked to Revera seniors residence in Red Deer

35 active COVID cases at seniors residence

Red Deer musician Lorry Boschman has written a song about love in the time of COVID-19. Proceeds from his single, Romance during a Pandemic, will be donated to the local United Way. (Contributed photo).
Local musician records a song about love in the time of COVID-19 — for charity

Lorry Boschman will donate some proceeds to the United Way

Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre can accommodate up to 20 patients requiring a ventilator, says Alberta Health Services.  File photo by Advocate staff
Opinion: UCP government reneging on Red Deer hospital funding

Another year, another Alberta budget and another blow to central Albertans. Budget… Continue reading

Seattle Storm guards Sue Bird, right, and Jordin Canada pose for photos Wednesday, March 3, 2021, on the roof of the Space Needle in Seattle after they raised a flag with the team's new logo on it. Bird re-signed with the Storm earlier in the week. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Sue Bird staying busy with 20th Seattle season on horizon

Sue Bird staying busy with 20th Seattle season on horizon

Lille players celebrate after Jonathan David scored his side's second goal during the French League One soccer match between Lille and Marseille at the Stade Pierre Mauroy stadium in Villeneuve-d'Ascq, France, Wednesday, March 3, 2021. (AP Photo/Michel Spingler)
David scores 2 as Lille wins to stay two points clear of PSG

David scores 2 as Lille wins to stay two points clear of PSG

Canada defender Shelina Zadorsky, right, passes the ball in front of Argentina forward Sole Jaimes (9) during the second half of a SheBelieves Cup women's soccer match, Sunday, Feb. 21, 2021, in Orlando, Fla. Alphonso Davies and Shelina Zadorsky have been named Canada Soccer’s players of the month for February. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Phelan M. Ebenhack
Davies, Zadorsky named Canada Soccer’s players of the month for February

Davies, Zadorsky named Canada Soccer’s players of the month for February

Manchester United's Fred, left, and Crystal Palace's Jordan Ayew challenge for the ball during the English Premier League soccer match between Crystal Palace and Manchester United at Selhurst Park stadium in London, England, Wednesday, March 3, 2021. (Mike Hewitt/Pool via AP)
Grueling season starting to catch up with Man U, Leicester

Grueling season starting to catch up with Man U, Leicester

Gary Sanchez goes deep, Yankees hit three home runs to beat Blue Jays 4-1

Gary Sanchez goes deep, Yankees hit three home runs to beat Blue Jays 4-1

Toronto Raptors guard Norman Powell (24) dunks as Detroit Pistons center Andre Drummond defends during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Detroit, Friday, Jan. 31, 2020. The undermanned Toronto Raptors, down five players and six members of their coaching staff due to health and safety protocols, are scheduled to host the Detroit Pistons in their first action since last Friday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Carlos Osorio
Powell, Lowry do their bit but undermanned Raptors beaten handily by the Pistons

Powell, Lowry do their bit but undermanned Raptors beaten handily by the Pistons

Canada's Ghislaine Landry, left, runs past France players during the Women's Rugby Sevens World Cup in San Francisco, Friday, July 20, 2018. The HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series, grounded last year by the pandemic, will return for the women in May. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Jeff Chiu
World Rugby unveils condensed 2021 sevens schedule with Vancouver a question-mark

World Rugby unveils condensed 2021 sevens schedule with Vancouver a question-mark

Most Read