At his own sentencing hearing, the man convicted of two counts of manslaughter in the deaths of St. Albert, Alta., couple Lyle and Marie McCann said his charter rights were violated, he was abused and had feces thrown at him while in pretrial custody.
Travis Vader‘s lawyers are arguing he was subjected to cruel and unusual conditions in pretrial custody. Vader claimed the abuse of process was so severe, a judicial stay or credit for time served is warranted.
In an Edmonton court Tuesday morning, Vader recounted his arrest in 2010 on other charges. Vader was a person of interest in the McCanns’ disappearance at the time, but wasn’t charged with the murders until 2012.
Vader said after being arrested he was taken to Edson, where he was strip-searched in a cell next to a booking counter in view of many other people.
“It’s humiliating, absolutely humiliating,” he testified.
Vader said he filed an official complaint with RCMP when officers wouldn’t let him meet in private with a lawyer. He was then brought to the Edmonton Remand Centre.
Vader told court he was in isolation in “the hole” for six months straight. He said he was in his cell for 23 hours a day, with no television or radio, and no hot water. He claimed there was screaming day and night.
Vader said the justice presiding over the case recommended he be housed in Red Deer in between his court dates because of harassment in Edmonton.
There was a brief break in court, before Vader continued testifying. He described an incident where he claimed guards broke his wrist and he didn’t get proper medical treatment, so it didn’t heal properly.
Following court proceedings Tuesday, the couple’s son said Vader is playing the “classic victim.”
“I heard a sort of ‘woe is me, I’m a victim here’ instead of who the real victims are: my parents,” Bret McCann said.
“Zero. I have no sympathy for him.”
McCann said Vader might be “delusional enough” to consider himself a victim, but he doesn’t agree.
“He talked about being in prison for years there and it doesn’t sound like a very nice place and I don’t think it’s supposed to be a nice place.”
McCann would like to see Vader own up to the crime in some capacity.
“Be a man. Admit you did this. Tell me where my parents’ bodies are.”
The hearing is expected to last a week. The Crown is seeking two life sentences but has not yet addressed parole eligibility, while the defence is asking for four to six years behind bars.
When wrapping up the first day of the hearing on Monday, Justice Denny Thomas told the Crown and defence he’d like to hear full arguments on three issues:
- Concurrent (at the same time) versus consecutive (back to back) sentences, given there are two deaths in the case.
- Is the Crown seeking delayed parole?
- Addressing Vader’s dangerousness, given that one of the witnesses during the trial was in protection.
The mystery of what happened to Lyle and Marie McCann and Travis Vader’s involvement has made headlines across Canada for over six years.
The McCanns disappeared in 2010 while on a road trip to British Columbia. Married for 57 years, they were kindred spirits and called each other darling.
Lyle McCann, 78, was known for his patience, a retired long-haul trucker who liked to play crib and watch curling on TV. Marie, 77, could whip up a five-course family meal and fill a room with her laughter.
When reading his victim impact statement on Monday, their son Bret McCann said he has a recurring nightmare imagining his parents’ dying moments.
“I have this nightmare, where Vader kills one of my parents and the other one watches, knowing that they are next.”
“And I … I can’t get that vision out of my head and I know I will have that nightmare until … forever,” he said outside the courthouse after delivering his emotional statement.
But he doesn’t know the details of what happened on July 3, 2010, the day his parents were killed after they left their Edmonton-area home on a camping trip.
In the days after they vanished, their burned-out motorhome and the SUV they had been towing were discovered west of Edmonton, in a remote forested area near Edson.
Their bodies have never been found.
“Now, over six years after Vader killed my parents, their remains have still not been found,” Bret said outside the courthouse. “It is very important to myself and my family that my parents’ remains be located and buried properly. That thing is a critical component of the grieving process. And the one individual who knows where my parents are has said nothing for this whole time,” McCann said.
“Travis Vader, where are the bodies of my parents?”
He plans to attend every court hearing and parole date in the future to demand an answer.
“Vader has shown no sign of acknowledging that he even caused the death of my parents. He shows no remorse,” McCann said.
“Our loss is huge. Our pain everlasting. We will never forget and I will never forgive what Travis Vader has done.”
Outside court, he told reporters that he might be able to forgive Vader if he revealed where the bodies are.
Watch Below: Travis Vader’s sentencing hearing has began Monday and as Fletcher Kent reports, the Crown and defence lawyers have very different views on how long the man who killed the McCanns should spend behind bars.
Justice Denny Thomas convicted Vader earlier this year of manslaughter. The judge concluded Vader was a desperate drug addict who had come across the seniors in their RV and killed them during a robbery.
Court heard that Lyle McCann’s bloodstained ball cap was found with a bullet hole in the couple’s SUV. DNA that matched Vader’s was also on the hat and his fingerprint was on a can of beer in the vehicle.
A friend testified Vader was broke, yet showed up flush with cash and driving an SUV that matched the one owned by the McCanns the day they disappeared.
The defence argued that the DNA evidence was sketchy, that witnesses had lied and that — with no bodies and no murder weapon — there is no real proof the McCanns are dead.
In total, 10 victim impact statements were submitted, with eight being read on Monday. All painted a picture of a loving, elderly couple whose death has left a family reeling.
Vader, 44, sat expressionless in the prisoner’s box as they were read.
Vader did not testify during his trial. His lawyer Nathan Whitling said the defence will ask the court to take into account abuse Vader allegedly suffered while in custody. Vader has filed lawsuits claiming mistreatment by guards and alleging malicious prosecution.
Bret McCann called the defence’s request for four to six years “absurd.”
“He’s killed two people in a robbery with a firearm, covered it up, lied about it for years,” he said.
A manslaughter conviction carries no minimum sentence and has a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
Thomas made a mistake during the trial when he used an outdated section of the Criminal Code to convict Vader of second-degree murder. He refused to grant a mistrial and substituted the verdict with manslaughter.
The defence has said it will appeal.
— With files from Chris Purdy, The Canadian Press