Travis Vader has launched a $1-million wrongful-prosecution lawsuit against more than four dozen RCMP officers, Crown prosecutors and jail guards.
In the lawsuit obtained by CBC News, Vader alleges a detailed history of legal and physical abuse that began within days of the disappearance of St. Albert seniors Lyle and Marie McCann in July 2010 and culminated in Vader being “maliciously” charged with their murders.
“The allegation is that the RCMP and the Crown were under pressure to find somebody and convict them and this is the context in which they did all these things,” said Tom Engel, an Edmonton lawyer whose firm represents Vader.
Engel compared Vader’s case to an earlier Alberta case involving a man named Jason Dix who successfully sued the Crown and RCMP for wrongful prosecution.
In that case, the RCMP botched the early investigation of the death of two men and then were found to have wrongfully pursued the investigation and prosecution of Dix.
In the Vader case, Engel said the RCMP botched the early investigation by failing to secure the crime scene and then wrongfully investigated and prosecuted Vader.
“It’s so similar to Dix that it is scary and Dix eventually went to trial and the RCMP and the Crown got hammered by the Court of Queen’s Bench in terms of liability and damages,” Engel said.
'No reasonable prospect of conviction'
The Crown stayed the charges against Vader in March of this year. His lawsuit alleges the RCMP and Crown knew there was “no reasonable prospect of conviction.”
“The conduct of the defendants or any of them constituted an abuse of the criminal justice process and a flagrant abuse of their authority which was high-handed and malicious and warrants an award of aggravated and punitive damages,” the lawsuit states.
Shortly after the McCanns were reported missing in early July 2010, the lawsuit claims the RCMP “quickly focused” on Vader, for whom it is claimed the Mounties had a “long-standing animus.” This animus caused the RCMP investigation to become “tainted by tunnel vision.”
The lawsuit alleges that after Vader’s arrest on matters unrelated to the McCann’s disappearance, the RCMP deprived Vader of his right to meet in private with his lawyer.
While in jail, Vader was kept in filthy cells and was on one occasion beaten by guards, the lawsuit claims.
One of the most serious accusations in the lawsuit is that the RCMP conducted a fraudulent scheme to keep Vader in jail until he could be charged with the McCann’s murders.
As he has in a previous lawsuit, Vader claims the RCMP used Thomas Berube as an agent to provide a fraudulent letter of employment to Vader when he was seeking release from jail in early 2012 related to theft of property, driving and weapons offences.
Vader alleges the RCMP knew Berube’s employment letter was fraudulent but did not inform either the court or his lawyer.
Instead, he said “the RCMP members counselled, encouraged or otherwise condoned Berube’s deceptive and fraudulent action of supplying (Vader’s) lawyer with the letter, notwithstanding that they knew that (Vader’s) lawyer intended to rely on the letter in the judicial interim release letter.”
Malicious criminal charges
The RCMP, the lawsuit claims, “maliciously initiated criminal charges against (Vader)” for obstructing justice by uttering a forged document.
The federal Crown dropped all the charges against Vader without explanation, but in the meantime he had been charged with the murders of missing St. Albert couple Lyle and Marie McCann.
The lawsuit claims “the homicide charges were initiated by these defendants maliciously and without reasonable and probable grounds. These defendants knew that there was no likelihood of conviction of the homicide charges, yet nevertheless proceeded with the prosecution.”
The lawsuit further claims the Crown and RCMP continued with the prosecution to bolster public confidence in the RCMP and Crown’s office, to keep Vader imprisoned, and to further the investigation into the disappearance of the McCanns.
The Crown had initially agreed to hold a six-week preliminary hearing to determine if there was sufficient evidence to proceed to trial on the murder charges. But on the eve of the hearing, the Crown opted to proceed by direct indictment, which meant its evidence would not be tested before the trial.
Vader claims the decision to proceed by direct indictment was made in “bad faith” and with the knowledge of the RCMP and Crown that there was no likelihood of a conviction.
No statement of defence has been filed and the allegations contained in Vader’s lawsuit have not been proven in court.