EDMONTON - A judge has ruled that charges against an accused in the mysterious deaths of two Alberta seniors will stand even though the RCMP made serious mistakes and prosecutors didn't get the suspect to trial quickly.
Justice Denny Thomas said Tuesday that lawyers for Travis Vader failed to prove the case should be dropped because it didn't get to trial in a reasonable time. He also dismissed an alleged abuse of process, which the defence argued occurred when Mounties didn't initially disclose all the evidence against Vader to lawyers.
Vader was charged in 2012 with first-degree murder in the deaths of Lyle and Marie McCann. The McCanns, in their late 70s, were last seen fuelling up their motorhome two years earlier in their hometown of St. Albert, just north of Edmonton. Their bodies have never been found.
The charges against Vader were stayed days before a trial in 2014, but were reactivated by the Crown nine months later. A trial is now set to begin March 8.
"Mr. Vader's long and interrupted march to the courtroom is troubling," Thomas wrote in his decision.
"However ... the seriousness of the charges and the shared interests of Mr. Vader and the public in his very public name being cleared align to favour a full adjudication of the charges against him."
Bret McCann said outside court that his family, unable to sleep over the possibility charges could be tossed, is relieved.
RCMP did make mistakes, but owned up to them, he said.
"At the end of the day, they did an enormous and effective job. I mean, mistakes happen and what's crucial is they realize them and they address them."
The couple's burned-out motorhome was discovered in a wooded area near Edson, west of Edmonton, two days after they were last seen at the gas station in July 2010. The SUV they had been towing was also found concealed in another location.
The RCMP was criticized early in the investigation. Documents inside the motorhome linked it to the McCanns and officers phoned the couple and knocked on the door of their house.
They didn't begin searching until five days later when the couple's daughter reported that they hadn't shown up for a family camping trip in British Columbia.
Mounties also faced embarrassment when they revealed tipsters had come into a detachment in Prince George, B.C., and reported that they had spotted the McCanns' SUV. RCMP admitted that they hadn't taken down the tipsters' contact information.
Vader, arrested on a long list of outstanding warrants at a rural home in the same area where the vehicles were found, was quickly named as a person of interest and later a suspect. But he wasn't charged for two years.
Just before Vader's trial was to begin in 2014, the Crown said it discovered the "egregious disclosure mess" by RCMP and stayed the charges because it wasn't ready to proceed with a fair trial. Court heard the RCMP have since made changes to the way they handle disclosure in major investigations.
Defence lawyer Brian Beresh argued the delay was a tactic to "buy more time" for investigators. Vader has filed lawsuits against prosecutors and the RCMP claiming malicious prosecution.
Vader is disappointed he has to go to trial, Beresh said outside court, but "is looking forward to clearing his name."
Beresh said he plans to argue at trial that any evidence collected after the 2014 stay of charges be excluded.
Court documents have revealed that RCMP believe forensic evidence, an undercover sting and some of the couple's personal belongings tie Vader to the crime.