Opinion

'Travis Vader: Where are the bodies of my parents?'

On July 3, 2010, Travis Vader killed my parents, Lyle and Marie McCann. On Dec. 12, 2016, our family had an opportunity to tell the court at Vader’s sentencing hearing what we think and how we feel about this horrific crime.

'The empty places at the Christmas table have become even more poignant,' says Bret McCann

Bret and Mary-Ann McCann speaking to reporters outside the Edmonton courthouse. (CBC)

On July 3, 2010, Travis Vader killed my parents, Lyle and Marie McCann.

On Dec. 12, 2016, our family had an opportunity to tell the court at Vader's sentencing hearing what we think and how we feel about this horrific crime.

It is so, so sad that my parents didn't live to fully enjoy their golden years. And, especially, did not live to enjoy their great-grandchildren.

The empty places at the Christmas table have become even more poignant after six years. We have all been robbed of this happiness. The pain will be revisited as their great-grandchildren grow up, and their parents (our children) will need to explain what happened to them.

I think of, and miss, my parents often. They had a long and very happy life together, that was sadly cut short.

They were kindred spirits. Married in 1952, they loved to be together. We live in the same community that I grew up in, St. Albert, and I am constantly reminded of them.

Killings 'horrible to imagine'

I sometimes find myself with an image of Travis Vader killing my parents, one of them first. It is so horrible to imagine what the survivor thought, and felt, about their lifelong companion being killed before their eyes. Then, to be killed in turn.

I find it impossible not to think about that horrific, but hopefully brief, moment in time. This is a nightmare I have, and will probably have forever.

In the summer and fall of 2010, my family and I attempted to gain the public's attention to help find my parents. At that time, we thought they could be lost or kidnapped.

Hopeful they could be saved: we organized poster blitzes, conducted a candlelight vigil at St. Albert Place, established a Facebook page that gathered over 30,000 members, raised a reward fund of $60,000, erected billboards on the Yellowhead Highway, organized searches of the area east and south of Edson.

The support and love that our family received from Canadians across the country during this entire period is deeply appreciated, and was, I think, very important in helping our family see this through.
Marie and Lyle McCann
The last six years has been a marathon for my family. I must acknowledge the tremendous support and professionalism of the RCMP, the Crown prosecutors and the judicial system. Yes, mistakes were made, but the key thing to remember is that these institutions recognized the errors and corrected them.

As the Vader trial unfolded, the complex and irrefutable web of evidence amassed by the RCMP that inextricably tied Vader to my parents' deaths became clear. The wild defence claims that ranged from the notion that my parents weren't dead, to the killer was someone else, were proven baseless.

Justice Denny Thomas did an excellent analysis of the evidence, clearly distinguishing the liars from the truth tellers, and produced a judgement which cannot, in my opinion, be challenged.

Reprisal from 'drug world cronies'

I also must acknowledge the brave witnesses who did the right thing, and came forward to tell the truth at the trial. Even to this day, some of these witnesses have a real fear of reprisal from Vader's drug world cronies, and their courage is admirable.

This year, 2016, has been particularly stressful. From the abuse of process hearing in January, through the three-month trial in the spring, the long wait for the verdict over the summer, the controversial live-streamed verdict in September, and the corrected verdict in October — this year has been a legal roller coaster.

Our family felt vindicated and elated when Justice Thomas decided in September that Vader was responsible for killing my parents. Our family is comfortable that justice has been served. We await the sentence for Vader that will probably be announced in January.

The Crown is asking for a life sentence. In a drug-fuelled robbery, Vader deliberately and ruthlessly killed two elderly, gentle people for some cash and their vehicle. Then Vader covered it up, and has lied about it for over six years.

Life in prison is the appropriate penalty. The defence is asking for four to six years, which is basically time served. Such a paltry sentence would be a travesty, and would, I think, greatly offend all Canadians.

After the sentencing, our family looks forward to two exciting projects in 2017 in the memory of my parents.

We are repurposing the $60,000 Crime Stoppers reward, which was never claimed, into public art to be located in St. Albert. The City of St. Albert has a terrific public art program that will help us capture our memories of my parents into what we think will be a beautiful memorial, projected for completion in the fall of 2017.

Both of my parents loved nature. Dad could identify many trees and bushes by the bark and the shape of the leaves. Mom was terrific at identifying birds by their songs. She could make a sound just like a loon, which is a distinctive sound on a lake, especially at night.

We envision that the public art will have two loons at the shore of a lake. The piece will be titled 'Darling' — the term of endearment they used for each other, as long as I can remember.

We have also contacted the federal justice minister to implement a process to repeal and delete obsolete and unconstitutional laws from the Criminal Code. These are numerous examples of 'zombie law' that are invalid, yet remain in the Criminal Code.

Booby trap caught Thomas

One such booby trap caught Justice Thomas in the controversial verdict of Sept. 15. I am working with two members of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights: chairman Anthony Housefather and my local MP Michael Cooper to move this forward. So, hopefully, some future family will not need to endure the pain and anxiety that resulted from this, or another, zombie law.

Vader has shown no sign of acknowledging that he caused the death of my parents. He has denied any involvement in several press interviews over the past few years.

During the trial, he continually demonstrated his total disdain for the judicial process: appeared late a number of times, and breached his bail conditions. He, in fact, continually insulted my parents' memory by his conduct towards our family during the trial, constantly leering, smirking, and sending obscene gestures at various members of the family.

And, after all this time, there is still one major outstanding question: Travis Vader — where are the bodies of my parents?

I want Vader to know that our family will be at any future hearings, demanding to know where he put the bodies of my parents. Providing a proper burial for my parents is, I think, a critical step in our grieving process. Vader must accept responsibility, and show remorse, for what he has done.

Our loss is huge. Our pain is everlasting. We will never forget what has happened to my parents. We will never forget what Travis Vader has done.

Bret McCann, P.Eng. (retired), is the son of Lyle and Marie McCann

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