EDMONTON — A judge has sentenced a man to life in prison for killing two Alberta seniors who disappeared on a camping trip.
Travis Vader was found guilty of manslaughter last fall in the deaths of Lyle and Marie McCann, who were in their 70s when they vanished after leaving their home in St. Albert, just north of Edmonton, in July 2010.
Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Denny Thomas dismissed a defence submission that Vader should get a lesser sentence because his rights were violated in custody. He did, however, agree to a defence request that Vader serve his sentence in British Columbia because of threats he has received.
Thomas said Vader will be eligible for parole in seven years.
“This court has convicted an innocent man and I will continue to fight until I clear my name,” Vader said before the sentence was handed down in an Edmonton courtroom Wednesday.
Some members of the McCann family, including son Bret McCann, were listening via video link from Australia, where they are visiting his daughter.
They had to get up at 2 a.m. for a two-hour drive to a courthouse in Melbourne to hear the sentence.
“When the judge said life imprisonment, it was a huge relief,” McCann said. “I would have gone anywhere to hear that.”
McCann said the family is thrilled to know that “Vader will spend the prime years of his life in prison and the public will be protected from this criminal.”
He said there can never be true closure for the family because nothing will bring his parents back.
“But this is definitely a chapter closing … We’re going to make an attempt to go on with our lives.”
The family does hope that Vader’s failure to acknowledge his crime and his lack of remorse will persuade future parole board panels to keep him in prison. The family will be at those hearings, he said.
The McCanns’ burned-out motorhome and a vehicle they had been towing were discovered in the days after they disappeared, but their bodies have never been found.
During his verdict last year, Thomas described Vader as a desperate drug addict who came across the McCanns and killed them during a robbery.
The Crown had asked for a life sentence, saying Vader was out on bail and on the run on other charges when he killed the vulnerable couple.
Prosecutors also argued Vader showed no remorse after the killings, using the McCanns’ cellphone the same day to call an ex-girlfriend and taking their money to buy beer and a phone card.
The defence suggested Vader should receive four to six years, but get at least six years of credit for pre-trial custody.
Vader’s lawyer Nathan Whitling had argued that the case was based on speculation, because there were no witnesses and the McCanns’ remains have not been found, so it is impossible to say how they died.
The time Vader has spent in custody on the case is complicated. He was arrested on outstanding charges when the McCanns disappeared, but was not charged in their deaths until 2012. The Crown stayed murder charges before a trial in 2014, then reactivated them months later.
Vader has also been convicted and sentenced on various other charges.