McCann family urges government to clean up Criminal Code

The son of homicide victims Lyle and Marie McCann is urging the federal government to fix laws that rendered Travis Vader's second-degree murder conviction useless.

'If there's a silver lining in what happened to my parents, I think this is it'

Conservative MP Michael Cooper says he will work with the McCann family until sections of law that have been ruled unconstitutional are erased from Canada's criminal code. (Emilio Avalos/CBC)

The son of homicide victims Lyle and Marie McCann is urging the federal government to clean up laws that rendered Travis Vader's second-degree murder conviction useless.

After a lengthy trial, Vader's lawyers were able to challenge his conviction because the presiding judge used an unconstitutional section of law.

The section of law, though ruled unconstitutional more than two decades ago, was never repealed from Canada's Criminal Code. 

Vader's charge was reduced to manslaughter as a result.

Bret McCann wants these so-called "zombie laws" erased so they can't come back from the dead in future trials.

​"If there's a silver lining in what happened to my parents, I think this is it," he said.

"I want to do something right for future people in this situation."

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

On Thursday, he wrote a letter to Jody Wilson-Raybould, Canada's justice minister, urging her to clear out a backlog of unconstitutional sections in the criminal code.

"The pain endured by my family because of this so-called zombie law was enormous," McCann 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."

'It should never happen again'

McCann recruited Conservative MP Michael Cooper, the official opposition deputy justice critic, to help his cause.

Cooper said lawyers wouldn't have been able to contest Vader's initial conviction if previous governments had repealed unconstitutional sections of the criminal code.

"It shouldn't have happened and it can be prevented," Cooper said.  

"It should never happen again."

He said Canada's justice minister hasn't responded to a letter, written by a House of Commons standing committee on justice and human rights, demanding as much.

Cooper plans to raise the issue when parliament resumes in January. 

"At the very least, Canadians should be able to expect that the criminal code is an accurate reflection of the state of the law and right now it isn't," Cooper said.

'Nothing could be easier'

Repealing zombie laws is relatively simple, according to University of Alberta law professor Steven Penney.

"Nothing could be easier from a legislative perspective," he said.

According to Penney, a federal omnibus bill is the easiest way to repeal those sections of Canada's Criminal Code that have been declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

​"As long as they're very clear-cut, as it was in the provision in the Vader trial, then there really aren't any pratfalls or loopholes or booby traps."

An en-masse cleanup of these zombie laws would require a majority vote in the House of Commons as well as Senate approval, he added.

Publishers won't be able to stop printing the unconstitutional sections until that happens.

End of an odyssey 

McCann described the six years since his parents went missing as an odyssey.  

With a verdict for Vader expected in January, he said his family is ready for the next one: killing Canada's zombie laws for good.

"I'm prepared to be patient and I'm going to stick on this issue," he said.

"I see this as trying to do something positive, trying to correct something that has been there for years and years ... in the memory of my parents."​