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Sankoff Critical of Vader Decision

Karsten Erzinger (3L)

After a very lengthy and much publicized trial, Travis Vader was found guilty of second degree murder by Justice Denny Thomas. Vader was on trial for the murders of Lyle and Marie McCann and was declared guilty in a rare televised ruling.

Immediately following the decision, University of Alberta’s very own Professor Peter Sankoff was quick to criticize what he and subsequently many others believe to be an egregious error committed by Justice Thomas. On Twitter, Professor Sankoff sent out a series of Tweets stating that “This is the most stunning error I’ve ever seen & considering the past few days w/ Alta judges, is saying something.” He continued in a series of Tweets, stating that:

“In my opinion, the Travis Vader murder verdict will not stand. On appeal, he will have to drop to manslaughter. I do not think the judge can issue a correction at this stage. Section 230 of the Criminal Code has been unconstitutional for 25 years. The section he relies upon to convict Vader of murder was invalidated in R v Martineau. Murder MUST have subjective foresight of death. That this happened on live television is …. staggering. The verdict can’t be upheld as murder, because judge doesn’t make the requisite findings to convict in the alternative under (valid) 229.”

Since the decision, Vader’s lawyers have filed a notice of appeal and have requested that Thomas declare a mistrial in light of the error. In an interview with CBC, defence lawyer Brian Beresh stated that “We think because this error in law occurred, that it’s time there be a mistrial.” Beresh—who teaches Advanced Criminal Law at U of A—also believes that Vader cannot be tried again on first degree murder charges, something that has also been debated on social media since the verdict.

Professor Sankoff later stated that he doesn’t feel the second degree murder charge can be saved on appeal because Justice Thomas exclusively used Section 230 to find Vader guilty. He went on to further state that the “more appropriate” solution would be a new trial, limited to second degree murder or manslaughter charges.

While the debate over the Vader trial has continued over social media and elsewhere, it remains to be seen how it will all play out. In the meantime, the victim’s family will try to find some peace and closure while the circus rages on.