McCann family welcomes federal move to kill zombie laws

Bret McCann says he's relieved the federal government is killing Canada's zombie laws — or what McCann describes as "this mishmash in the Criminal Code."

'It's basically something positive to come out of the whole tragedy relating to my parents'

Bret McCann wrote a letter in December to Canada's justice minister, Jody Wilson-Raybould, urging her to repeal zombie laws in the criminal code. (Emilio Avalos/CBC)

Bret McCann says he's relieved the federal government is killing Canada's zombie laws — or what he describes as "this mishmash in the Criminal Code."

That "mishmash" derailed a six-year criminal trial revolving around the disappearance of his parents, Lyle and Marie McCann.

An Edmonton judge convicted Travis Vader on two counts of second-degree murder in September 2016.

But the judge had relied on a section of law that was deemed unconstitutional nearly 27 years ago. The judge later vacated the convictions and substituted guilty verdicts on two charges of manslaughter. 

On Wednesday, Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould announced legislation to remove seven unconstitutional sections of law from Canada's Criminal Code. 

"It will prevent someone from being charged, prosecuted and convicted under laws that are no longer valid," she told reporters.
'Vader is the prominent case,' Jody Wilson-Raybould, Canada's justice minister, told reporters when she announced legislation to remove unconstitutional sections of law from the Criminal Code. (CBC)

The new legislation targets, among other areas, Section 230 of the Criminal Code, which eroded Vader's initial murder conviction.

"We're very happy about that," McCann said. "It's basically something positive to come out of the whole tragedy relating to my parents."

Wilson-Raybould emphasized Vader's trial as a prominent example of how zombie laws can come back from the dead to haunt the living.

"The pain that that caused to the family needs to be recognized," she said. "I want to acknowledge what a difficult ordeal this has been for the McCann family and thank them for their forceful advocacy on this issue."

McCann wrote a letter to Wilson-Raybould in December, imploring her to review the Criminal Code.

"The pain endured by my family because of this so-called zombie law was enormous," he wrote in his letter.

"In my opinion, after having suffered the consequence of such laziness, I think that it is very important that effort be expended by the government to maintain the correctness and completeness of the Criminal Code."

At the time, McCann vowed to continue his advocacy until the federal government moved to kill zombie laws for good. 

He described Wednesday's announcement as a positive step, but added he's keen for the bill to pass.

"Whether she's just being polite or whether we actually had an impact on her priorities I'm not sure, but in her press conference she did mention Vader and she did mention our family," McCann said.

"We're hoping that this bill will be passed soon and we're hoping that another family down the stream won't have to face the same trauma we did because of this zombie law."

There are still other unconstitutional sections of the Criminal Code that aren't included in the new legislation to remove zombie laws. Those provisions "require more substantive legal analysis and policy work," Wilson-Raybould said.

"We're currently undertaking that work to ensure that, when we put the next phase forward, that we are doing it right."

With files from Janice Johnston