Travis Vader will go on trial March 8 on first-degree murder charges in the deaths of two St. Albert seniors, despite an attempt by his defence team to have proceedings against him stayed.
Court of Queen's Bench Justice Denny Thomas ruled Tuesday morning in Edmonton that Vader, who faces two counts of first-degree murder, failed to make a case for a stay based on his abuse of process claim.
"Further, in respect to the alleged breach of his charter's 11(b) rights based on an assertion of unreasonable delay, Mr. Vader has come close, but ultimately I have decided that reasonable delay is not shown in all of the circumstances of this litigation to date. A stay is refused on that ground as well," Thomas said in his ruling.
"I conclude that the public's confidence in the administration of justice requires Mr. Vader be tried for the charges that he murdered Lyle and Marie McCann.
"Mr. Vader's long and interrupted march to the courtroom is troubling, however, given 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.
"All of that said, this is a very close call."
Vader's lawyer, Brian Beresh, applied to the court in November 2015 to stay the charges, citing numerous instances where Crown prosecutors failed to disclose evidence to the defence.
'We were closer than very close'
Outside court Tuesday, Beresh said, "We thought we were closer than very close. We're disappointed, but we respect the decision. It's well considered. We look forward to a trial, and Mr. Vader does too.
"Despite the fact that we accept it, we still take the position that this was a tactic used by the prosecution to try to buy more time.
"That would be the most abusive, to try to use this process, because we know the day after the stay was entered the prosecution was meeting with the police trying to gear up to review the file to see what they had missed and to try to find more evidence."
Beresh said the way police handled the file will come up in the trial.
"[Vader has] always throughout this denied any involvement, despite being targeted and tarred by the police, who used that as an investigative process, which will discussed during the trial."
Going ahead with trial a positive step
Crown prosecutor Ashley Finlayson said he's glad the trial is going forward.
"We're certainly pleased with the result. This is a positive step, but it's the first step on a long road. No one is advocating a lengthy delay. There were special circumstances in this case."
Bret McCann agreed with the Crown prosecutor.
"We're very pleased that this whole process is proceeding, and we are keenly looking forward to finding out what happened to my parents back on July 2010.
"Today is just a really significant milestone for us, and we're glad it went the way it did. None of us could sleep."
Lyle McCann, 78, and his wife Marie McCann, 77, were last seen on July 3, 2010. Their Hyundai SUV was discovered 13 days later. The bodies of the St. Albert, Alta., couple have never been found.
Vader, 42, was originally scheduled to go to trial in April 2014.
But according to court documents, the RCMP failed to disclose pertinent evidence to the Crown, including details about a paid informant. The disclosure problem was so serious that the Crown felt compelled to stay the first-degree murder charges against Vader.
Key info missing, RCMP said
A few months before the 2014 trial was scheduled to begin, the RCMP sergeant in charge of the investigation told Crown prosecutor Michelle Doyle that key information was missing.
A month before the trial, the RCMP provided the Crown with 5,000 documents related to the case.
Doyle said the sheer volume meant it would "take days and probably weeks" to assess the material.
The information missing from disclosure packages included materials that referred to an "in-custody" informant paid $22,000 by the RCMP. The informant's name is now protected by a publication ban.
"Further concerns arose for Ms. Doyle when she began to prepare to lead evidence from ... an in-custody police agent," the Crown's brief said.
"She learned from the RCMP that there was a whole package of material about [the informant] that the RCMP had not included in the disclosure package, including statements, interviews, and multiple letters of agreement. In her words: 'This was pretty surprising, to say the least.'
"The absent materials included documents reflecting the amount of money that had been paid by the RCMP to [the informant]."
The brief also said an RCMP sergeant "discovered that a collection of investigator's notes had been left sealed within a number of envelopes held in the possession ... of the forensic identification section."
The Crown's brief said no justification was offered for the failure to disclose those notes.
After the notes were found, the RCMP initiated a broad audit of disclosure.
Forensic exams released
Shortly after the abuse of process hearing began last year, Doyle testified under oath she had lost all confidence in the RCMP's ability to turn over all evidence in the double-murder investigation.
In his ruling, Thomas wrote the RCMP have learned lessons from this case.
"I have been told they have taken steps to ensure that this sort of disclosure disaster never happens again in a major criminal case where K-Division is responsible."
In December 2015, details of forensic exams of the McCanns' motor home and SUV were released when a publication ban was lifted by Justice Thomas.
The McCanns' vehicle was discovered 13 days after the couple vanished. RCMP said officers located items inside the SUV "consistent with trauma to the McCanns, including the blood of Marie McCann and Lyle McCann's hat with a bullet hole on it."
Investigator notes also indicate that cans of beer were found, including "one at site w/Vader DNA." Another section discloses that a beer can was found in the McCanns' SUV. A fingerprint on it was compared to Vader's right middle finger. It was then "individualized and verified" by an RCMP officer.
The documents also allege Vader was using the McCanns' cellphone at approximately 2 p.m. on July 3. RCMP allege the McCanns were killed at or near Peers, Alta on July 3.