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Fire growing in Manitoba

The Manitoba government says strong winds have fanned a fire that's burned at the edge of two northern communities, but no structures have burned so far and there's rain in the forecast.

The province says in a tweet that the fire near Easterville and the Chemawawin First Nation grew to 6.5 square kilometres on Saturday, up from the 3.5 square kilometres it was estimated to be the previous day.

Evacuation orders remain in effect for both communities, affecting about 2,000 people.

Crews had been holding the flames at the edge of the communities on Friday.

Paul White, a spokesman for the province's emergency measures organization, says in an email the fire has now been moving towards a lake.

White also says sprinkler kits are also in place to protect at-risk properties.



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Drone racing underway

It's high-speed, high-tech racing where mid-air crashes are common -- but luckily, these pilots keep both feet on the ground.

It's all part of the fast-growing world of drone racing, where participants don goggles that are linked to the drone's camera, giving them a live first-person view as they weave their small multi-propellered aircraft around a race course at top speed.

"When I was a kid I really wanted to be a bird, or superman, and this is the closest you get to get that feeling," said Jason Mainella, an organizer for the Montreal Drone Expo.

"When you put on the virtual goggles you get almost an out-of-body experience."

On Saturday, several dozen pilots attended the event, held at a local football stadium, to test their skills and try to qualify for bigger races, such as the Drone National World Racing Championships and the International Drone Racing North American Cup.

With about 50 participants, Mainella says Saturday's event to be among the biggest held in Canada thus far for a hobby -- some call it a sport -- that has been growing by leaps and bounds.

Mainella says that although drones have been around for about 4 years, racing has only grown to prominence in the last six months, spurred by improvements in technology and the rising popularity of drones.

As cameras have improved, internet live-streaming of events has made it possible to attract larger audiences and the attention of sponsors.

The first $1 million event was held in Dubai in March, and sports broadcaster ESPN announced in April that it will add drone races to its TV lineup beginning later this year.

In Montreal, the local FPV (first person view) drone club has been attracting 50 to 60 new members a day, and Mainella believes the event held Saturday could quadruple in size by next year.

Professional drone pilot Ryan Walker said he was instantly hooked on racing after winning his first beginner contest a year ago.

"When I click into the goggles, I'm the drone now," he said. "I'm racing like an F1 pilot in the sky."

Most races involve 6 to 8 drones that careen wildly around the turns, emitting high-pitched whines and occasionally crashing as they try to complete laps as fast as possible.

Formats can vary, but the winners are usually either the pilots who complete the most laps in a set time, or the ones with the fastest three consecutive laps.

Walker builds his own drones, which he says can reach 130 km per hour.

However, he says newbies can buy ready-made machines and get the hang of flying in a couple of weeks.

He says crashes are frequent, but it's all part of the fun.

"If you're not crashing, you're not going fast enough," he said.



Wary of new border rules

Canadian truckers fear a planned new border security measure will steer them into a complicated maze of U.S. law that dents their pocketbooks — or even creates immigration difficulties.

The Liberal government recently introduced legislation that would step up the exchange of information with Washington about people crossing the Canada-U.S. border.

The system involves swapping entry information collected from travellers at the land border, so that data on entry to one country serves as a record of exit from the other.

The Canadian Trucking Alliance wants assurances U.S. authorities won't use the data to unduly argue that Canadian drivers are spending enough time south of the border to be considered American residents for tax purposes.

"This could cause some truckers to exit the market, creating potential capacity shortages in the transborder trucking space," alliance president David Bradley warned Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale in a letter.

"There already is a chronic shortage of truck drivers in Canada."

Under the U.S. Internal Revenue Service's "substantial presence test," a person can be subject to U.S. tax on their worldwide income if they spend more than 120 days annually in the United States, Bradley noted in the November letter, released under the Access to Information Act.

Someone who spends more than 180 days in the United States in any 12-month period could face sanctions for being unlawfully present, he added.

The alliance, which represents some 150,000 workers, says a big part of the problem is that any portion of a 24-hour period spent on U.S. soil might be chalked up as a day.

"If we count a few minutes to drop off a load and go back as a day in the United States, that could lead to some issues," Bradley said in an interview. "So it's a matter of interpretation. And I think that we would like clarification."

The new system could mean "much more administration" in terms of route planning for Canadian drivers wary of surpassing the time thresholds, Bradley said.

"These things are all subject to appeal and to review and interpretation. But once you get into those processes, even if you're right, it's costly and time-consuming and really not productive."

Canadians travelling to the United States have always been responsible for complying with local obligations, said Scott Bardsley, a spokesman for Goodale.

"The federal government continues to work with stakeholders to grow our economy and help Canadians do business, and is open to discussing issues of concern to them."

Bradley hinted he has received some positive signals on the issue from Canadian officials.

"I think that, as a general rule, the government of Canada understands certainly much better than the U.S. federal government the economic imperative of trade facilitation versus security. But this is the world we live in, and we're going to have to see how things play out."



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Five dead in fiery crash

Multiple fatalities were reported in a fiery multi-vehicle crash Friday night on Highway 400 in north Toronto.

Ontario Provincial Police Sgt. Kerry Schmidt told The Canadian Press that based on reports from paramedics and fire department personnel at the scene police believed five people were killed, and that the victims "may" include children.

He added, however, that investigators were still working with the coroner to confirm the number of fatalities.

Schmidt said the crash happened in the highway's southbound lanes shortly before 10 p.m. ET and involved three transport trucks along with several other vehicles, some of which sustained massive damage.

"These vehicles are completely unrecognizable," he said. "I think this is one of the most incredible scenes I've ever been to in terms of the number of fatalities and just the trauma that's been sustained and the way these vehicles ended up."

Schmidt said one of the truck trailers and several vehicles were gutted by a fire that was ignited by the crash.

An OPP news release issued early Saturday morning confirmed that a total of 12 vehicles were involved in the pileup, and it said the identities of those killed were being withheld pending notification of their next of kin.

Along with the fatalities, the release said that two people were taken to hospital with non-life threatening injuries, while several others sustained minor injuries and remained at the scene.

There was no early word on a possible cause for the horrific accident, though Schmidt noted the weather and road conditions were both good, and there was no highway construction underway at the crash site.

He expected the OPP's collision reconstruction team would remain at the scene well into Saturday morning.

Schmidt said all of the busy thoroughfare's southbound lanes, as well as all but one northbound lane, would likely remain closed well into Saturday morning.



Jail for mistreatment

UPDATED: 3:35 p.m.

A couple who failed to get proper medical treatment for their son who died of bacterial meningitis are going to spend time in custody.

A judge in southern Alberta has sentenced David Stephan to four months in jail and his wife, Collet, to three months of strict house arrest — 24 hours a day, seven days a week. She will only be allowed to go out for medical appointments and church.

Both will be on probation for two years after they complete their sentences and will have to complete 240 hours of community service by 2018.

The Stephans, whose family helped start a nutritional supplements company, were found guilty in April of failing to provide the necessaries of life to their son.

They thought he had the croup or flu and treated him instead with hot peppers, garlic, onions and horseradish — even though a family friend who was a nurse said she thought 19-month-old Ezekiel might have meningitis.

Justice Rodney Jerke said that although both parents were "wilfully blind" to the boy's condition, the father was especially so.

He also said David Stephan, 33, seemed more concerned about being punished than about his inaction when his son was sick.

"Mr. Stephan's post-conviction actions demonstrate a complete lack of remorse. To this day he refuses to admit his actions had any impact," Jerke told the court in Lethbridge.

The judge said David Stephan also had greater moral culpability because he called his father instead of 911 when the toddler stopped breathing.

Jerke described the Stephans as usually being "caring and attentive parents," but not at the time Ezekiel was ailing.

"Any reasonable and prudent person would have taken action," he said.

"This is far beyond a child that has the sniffles."

He addressed the couple, who both broke into tears upon hearing the judge's decision: "By your conduct, you affected many people. It left a chilling impact on all of us."

The prosecution had asked for a sentence in the range of three to 4 1/2 years, but Jerke said that was too much. But he also said he could not comply with the defence request for a suspended sentence because of the aggravating factor that Ezekiel was a "vulnerable young child."

The Stephans were given a hero's welcome by tearful supporters when they arrived at the courthouse Friday with their three children.

People in a crowd of about 70 shouted "We love you" as the couple hugged and thanked supporters. David Stephan told them he appreciated their love at a time when what he called "misinformation" had turned people against him and his wife.

A handful of counter-protesters, most of them medical doctors, set up across the courtyard.

"You can not impose your personal views on your children in a way that endangers their life," said Dr. Kirsten Jones, a general surgeon from Lethbridge. "Those children have a right to grow up to become independently thinking adults and to form their own moral judgments at that time."

At the sentencing hearing, David Stephan said it was important for his three other children to have a father "who'll help raise them up."

"Looking back at it, had I known that it could possibly end up in this situation, I would not have put my child at risk," he told court.

Collet Stephan, 36, said her only purpose in life is to be a mother.

"My children are everything to me and I'm everything to my children," she said. "I am incredibly sorry I did not take him to the hospital.

"I just loved him so much."

The trial heard the little boy was too stiff to sit in his car seat and had to lie on a mattress when his mother drove him from their rural home to a naturopathic clinic in Lethbridge to pick up an echinacea mixture.

The Stephans never called for medical assistance until Ezekiel stopped breathing. He was rushed to hospital, but died after being transported to Calgary Children's Hospital.


ORIGINAL

A couple to be sentenced for their role in the death of their son were given a heroes welcome by tearful supporters in front of a southern Alberta courthouse.

David and Collet Stephan were found guilty in April of failing to provide the necessaries of life for 19-month-old Ezekiel, who died of bacterial meningitis in 2012.

People in a crowd of about 70 people shouted "We love you" as the couple hugged and thanked supporters at the Lethbridge courthouse.

David Stephan told them he appreciated their love at a time when what he called "misinformation" has turned people against the couple.

The Stephans told court they thought their son had the flu, so they gave him natural remedies including hot peppers, garlic, onions and horseradish instead of taking him to a doctor.

He later stopped breathing and died in a Calgary hospital.

David Stephan called for supporters to rally at the courthouse Friday in an interview earlier this week with producers of a documentary film called "Vaxxed."

Maureen Furtado heeded the call, holding a sign that read "Family. Consider the sibling's future." She said she doesn't know the family but believes they are being ill-treated.

"I'm here to support the family ... and support the family unit and to support parental rights," she said.

"I would like to see that this doesn't happen to another family. This is a terrible thing to happen to a family. They've suffered enough."

A handful of counter-protesters set up across the courtyard at the courthouse. Most were medical doctors.

Carrying signs that read: "Kids Lives Count" and "Children have a right to live and not die from a curable disease," they said they wanted to send a different message.

"We think it's a shame that these protesters here think that the only injustice that's occurred is an infringement on their parental rights. In fact, as a mother, I would like to respectfully remind them that parenting is a responsibility and not a right," said Dr. Kirsten Jones, a general surgeon in Lethbridge.

"You can not impose your personal views on your children in a way that endangers their life and in fact those children have a right to grow up to become independently thinking adults and to form their own moral judgments at that time."



Countess tours Fort Mac

Sophie, the Countess of Wessex, has seen first-hand the destruction caused by last month's wildfire in Fort McMurray.

Prince Edward's wife was greeted upon her arrival at the city's airport by Gov. Gen. David Johnston and Wood Buffalo Mayor Melissa Blake.

They then boarded a bus for a tour through the city and were given a commentary about the fire's progress by fire Chief Darby Allen.

At the destroyed neighbourhood of Beacon Hill, Sophie got off the bus and held onto a fence with her fingers while gazing at the devastation.

The group later stopped at a sports complex downtown for a reception where people were waiting to greet the countess.

Sophie signed a Canadian flag that was handed to her by a woman who said she saved it from her house, which was completely burned by the fire.

Johnston presented commendations for outstanding service to those involved in emergency relief efforts.

Residents had to flee their homes when flames whipped by high winds raced through the city May 3. About 2,400 houses and other buildings — about 10 per cent of the city — were destroyed in the blaze.

It's not the first time royals have visited a fire-ravaged Alberta town. Five years ago, newlyweds Prince William and Kate lifted spirits when they visited Slave Lake, Alta., where a wildfire destroyed one-third of the community.

Friday was the fourth and last day of the couple's visit to Canada. They arrived in Toronto on Tuesday and made a quick visit to Winnipeg before heading to Saskatchewan.

Sophie dedicated a park in Edmonton on Friday before she flew to Fort McMurray, while Edward handed out the Duke of Edinburgh International Award, named after his father, to young people in Calgary.

The royal couple's visit to Canada was to conclude with a gala reception at the National Music Centre in Calgary.



Canadians fearful in Britain

Canadians living and working in Britain say they're considering changing long-standing plans after the results of Thursday's referendum.

The nationwide decision to withdraw from the European Union has many of them speculating about the impact the pending changes will have on their work and residency status in the country.

They fear that losing access to other EU countries may curtail their career prospects, and some even harbour fears that they may find themselves rejected.

The nationalist, anti-migration sentiment that characterized elements of the "leave" campaign was not directed at Canadians, but some wonder if that may change down the road.

They say they fear they may soon be classed with other foreign nationals who have been discussed in unflattering terms during the divisive campaign.

Aleisha McLean, 28, said she woke up Friday morning considering an option she had never previously entertained — moving back to Canada.

She and her British husband had long planned to remain in his home country, where McLean also gained her master's degree and launched her career.

The referendum came as a shock to her, McLean said, adding the "remain" campaign that she helped to canvass for appeared to have strong support in her circles.

The anti-immigration rhetoric from the "leave" side is of particular concern to her now that the country has opted to withdraw from the EU, she said.

She said she and others fear the unwelcome attitude towards migrants from Europe may eventually extend to those who have traditionally been embraced with open arms.

"There's been a lot of hurtful messaging around immigration, and although that hasn't been directed towards Canadians or other Commonwealth citizens, it's still being felt," McLean said in a telephone interview. "We feel like we're almost a target as well. We feel like we could be the next to be targeted by these sentiments."

Similar fears are behind Nicola Hastings' recent decision to expedite her return to Canada.

The 26-year-old made use of her dual citizenship to pursue a university degree in the U.K. and is currently living in Edinburgh with her fiance.

Hastings said she's been struck by the contrasting approach towards migrants demonstrated by politicians campaigning to leave the EU and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who has spearheaded a massive initiative to bring Syrian refugees to Canada.

"I'm feeling a little disillusioned here," Hastings said, adding she and her fiance are moving up their plans to return to her home country. "We want to live in a country that isn't afraid of immigration and with what the Canadian government is doing with Syrians, it seems like a good time to come home."

Heather McMillan is taking a more cautious approach, saying she does not expect anyone's residency status to change in the country for at least a couple of years.

Her own job with a head-hunting company is secure, as she is sponsored by her employer. But she, too, is disappointed by the outcome and the impact she believes it may have on work prospects for those who aren't as fortunate.

"It's just the closing of the doors to very qualified people, or people just looking for better opportunity or a better way of life or to learn more about different cultures," McMillan said. "Putting all these restrictions could be scary for other people."

Debora Rexho said it's her own professional prospects that are now in doubt as a result of the referendum.

Her long-held hopes of becoming a permanent resident were based in part on the increased access to European countries that a U.K. passport would have granted her. She said the triumph of the "leave" camp has ensured that if she obtains her residency, she will now find it harder to fulfil her dream of working in other European countries.

Rexho said she doesn't anticipate much short-term change, but said she fears the repercussions of Thursday's vote will resonate much more in the coming years.

Citing reports suggesting the "remain" vote was largely championed by a younger demographic, she lamented the fact that a potentially life-altering decision was made by those who may not be around to watch the scenario play out in full.

"Obviously the younger people are the people who are going to have to live with this decision for much longer," she said. "It is a bit of a shame, especially because the voter turnout, I think, was higher for the older generation."



On trial for swearing

In a case one civil libertarian warns could set a "very chilling precedent," a Nova Scotia man will face trial for swearing in public.

Joseph Currie was arrested during a Halifax protest against the Conservatives' anti-terror legislation, Bill C-51, last year, and charged with "unlawfully (causing) a disturbance ... by swearing."

The 26-year-old's lawyer said his client, who is alleged to have shouted obscenities into a megaphone, has no criminal record and will defend his "right to criticize the government publicly."

"The only way a message gets out is if concerns are broadcast," Gordon Allen said. "Some people in public wouldn't want to hear that or pay attention. They just want to go about their day, but that's the nature of democracy."

Currie is due to appear in court for a pre-trial hearing next Wednesday and his trial is set to begin on Oct. 6.

According to police reports, Currie was one of 200 protesters in the Spring Garden Road area last June. Two other protesters were arrested for blocking traffic by sitting on a crosswalk, but police only laid charges against Currie.

A video of the arrest on YouTube shows a handcuffed Currie telling police he "won't swear again" as an officer takes off the activist's Guy Fawkes mask and puts him in the back of his car. Fellow protesters heckle the officer, who tells them he received "numerous" complaints about the disturbance.

Allen said the use of foul language has become so commonplace that in some ways the F-word was an "appropriate" expression of his client's contempt for the former Harper government's policy.

"He could have said, 'Golly, darn it! Gee, don't like the government!' And people would think, OK, he's channelling Ned Flanders," he said. "When you hear this, it's the type of expression that makes people pay attention and that's the point of protest."

Allen cited the long history of artists using swear words to voice political discontent, including songs by The Who, Rage Against the Machine, and N.W.A.

Josh Paterson of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, who himself participated in protests against Bill C-51, said he worries restricting what people can and cannot say during political speech could set a "very chilling precedent."

"If you feel strongly about something and those kind of words are the ones that suit your sentiment then you should be free to use them," said the lawyer and executive director of the civil liberties organization. "We don't have the criminal law to guard against people being offended by the use of indelicate language."

Without knowing the ins and outs of Currie's case, Paterson said this kind of a charge "simply makes no sense."

"If what we've read about what happened is true ... that would then call into question the ability of Canadians right across the country to express themselves politically in public," he said.

Halifax police Staff Sgt. Mark Hobeck would not comment on the specifics of the case, but said their response to a profanity-laden protest would depend on where it is, who is being affected, and if there are complaints.

As public safety unit commander, Hobeck said his team ensures protesters have the right to express themselves. His team was not at the Bill C-51 protest, but said the patrol officers made a "discretionary decision" based on the complaints they were receiving.



Rejoicing over beheadings

Abu Sayyaf extremists rejoiced as they watched two Canadians being beheaded in the jungles of the southern Philippines, said a still-shocked Filipino hostage who was freed Friday.

Marites Flor tearfully recalled to reporters the moments when Canadians John Ridsdel and Robert Hall were handcuffed and led away to a nearby jungle clearing to be separately decapitated in April and early this month by the ransom-seeking militants.

She said that Hall, who was killed last week, was her fiance. Ridsdel was beheaded by the militants in April.

"It's so painful because I saw them moments before they got beheaded," Flor told reporters in southern Davao city, where she was flown to meet President-elect Rodrigo Duterte after her release in nearby Sulu province.

"They were watching it and they were happy," she said of the militants, adding that she did not witness the killings.

Flor said she was slapped and threatened and her fellow hostages were beaten when the militants disliked what they were doing. "They told me, 'Robert's head has been chopped off. You're next,'" she said. "They treated us like dogs, like children."

Flor was abducted with Hall, Ridsdel and Norwegian Kjartan Sekkingstad from a resort on southern Samal island in September last year and taken to the jungles of the predominantly Muslim island province of Sulu. The militants killed the two Canadians after ransom deadlines lapsed.

The captives were among some two dozen people held by the Abu Sayyaf this year.

On Friday, Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said seven Indonesians were abducted by armed men who raided their tugboat and taken to Sulu, in a third such recent attack. Six others were released with the vessel, she said.

Duterte said he was told that Sekkingstad may already be on the way out of captivity, but did not provide details and appeared unsure of his statement. He later went into a meeting with the Norwegian ambassador.

Duterte cut short his speech in a nationally televised police ceremony when officials arrived and brought the 38-year-old Flor, who appeared still distraught, to the stage. Duterte tried to console her and quietly asked a few questions.

Shortly before facing Flor, Duterte asked the Abu Sayyaf militants to stop ransom kidnappings, which he said have given the country "a very bad image." He warned people against joining the Abu Sayyaf, suggesting a major offensive was forthcoming.

"There will be, I said, a reckoning one of these days," he said.

It was not immediately clear if a ransom was paid to secure the freedom of Flor, who appeared in Abu Sayyaf videos tearfully pleading for her life and those of her companions. In a final video, she called on Duterte to save their lives before the extremists killed Hall a few days later.

Rebels belonging to the larger Moro National Liberation Front and a Sulu official, Abdusakur Tan, helped negotiate Flor's release with an Abu Sayyaf commander identified as Hatib Sawadjaan, two officials from the military and police who monitored the talks told The Associated Press.

They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to reporters.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau condemned the killings and called on other nations not to pay ransoms if their citizens are abducted to discourage the militants from carrying out more ransom kidnappings.



Doing its bit to control GHG

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley says she told an environmental review panel on the Trans Mountain Pipeline that her province is doing its bit to control greenhouse gas emissions.

Notley says she told the three-member panel that Alberta's climate plan will cap oilsands emissions to 100 megatonnes and phase out coal-fired electricity by 2030.

"Alberta has done its own homework and is on it," Notley told reporters at the legislature Thursday, after meeting with the panel earlier in the day.

"This particular pipeline application ought to be considered on the basis of its individual merits, not as a symbol for this much larger issue (of greenhouse gas emissions in Alberta)."

Texas-based energy infrastructure giant Kinder Morgan is seeking federal approval to expand the existing Trans Mountain line in order to triple the capacity of diluted bitumen travelling from Alberta's oilsands to Burnaby B.C. The move would tanker traffic on the West Coast by about seven-fold.

The project has faced heated opposition from environmentalists, politicians, and indigenous groups in British Columbia worried about the environmental impacts of any spills.

It has been a long and complicated legal process.

The federal regulator, the National Energy Board, OK'd the project last month after two years of hearings and research, saying the ultimate benefit to Canadians outweighs the potential problems.

The final decision still rests with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government.

That decision is to come in December, but in the meantime, the federal government has struck the three-member review panel to further assess the environmental risks and to ensure that indigenous groups and others affected by the line have been consulted.

The three-member panel can't overrule the energy board's decision but its comments will be used by Trudeau's government in making its final decision.

Notley's government has been lobbying hard for pipelines to gain more access to ports to get Alberta's oil to distant markets to fetch a better price.

The worldwide slump in oil prices over the last two years has lopped billions of dollars off Alberta's bottom line and put its budgets deeply in the red.

The National Energy Board decision in May was a big hurdle to clear for Kinder Morgan, but that decision now faces legal challenges.

The City of Vancouver along with environmental groups and a B.C. First Nation are asking for a federal review of the decision, saying the energy board did not fully consult and did not properly assess all the environmental impacts.



To dam or not to dam

A controversial proposal for a dam designed to mitigate flooding in Alberta is undergoing a federal review.

The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency is asking for comment until July 25 about the impact of the Springbank reservoir project.

The project would see gates upstream of Calgary divert water during flooding into a canal that would lead to surrounding land.

The water would be channelled back into the Elbow River when the flood subsided.

Dozens of landowners would be affected and they have vocally opposed the plan.

The Alberta government has said the Springbank project is less expensive and has less environmental impact than alternatives.



What murders, says defence

The lawyer for a man accused of killing two great-grandparents, burning their motor home and hiding their bodies said the case against his client is just speculation.

"Where's the beef?" asked Brian Beresh Thursday in his closing arguments in defence of Travis Vader.

Beresh told an Edmonton court that the Crown has failed to prove the most basic elements of its case against Vader and is relying almost entirely on a theory that things "must have happened this way."

"'Must have happened his way' was the standard applied by vigilante groups that often executed the wrong person," Beresh told Justice Denny Thomas. "There is an absence of fundamental evidence in this case upon which you could ever convict Mr. Vader."

Vader, 44, has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder in the deaths of Lyle and Marie McCann, who were in their late 70s when they vanished while on their way to a family camping trip in 2010.

They were last seen July 3 of that year as they fuelled up their motorhome in their hometown of St. Albert, a bedroom community north of Edmonton, before they headed out to British Columbia.

Two days later their motorhome was found burning in the bush. The SUV they had been towing was later found hidden in some trees on a rural property.

The Crown has argued that Vader was a desperate drug user living in a makeshift camp when he came across the McCanns and killed them.

But Beresh — summing up his defence in front of a packed courtroom with many members of the McCann family present — pointed out that without the bodies of the seniors, a murder weapon or even much in the way of forensic evidence, there's no real proof the couple is even dead.

He took a similar tack with other pieces of Crown evidence. He said there's nothing to prove, for example, that Vader ever actually had the McCanns's cellphone, used the day of their disappearance to place calls to Vader's ex-girlfriend.

Beresh suggested that two key Crown witnesses, who identified an SUV Vader was driving as similar to one owned by the McCanns, had conspired against his client and lied about the identification. He said the keys to the SUV, later found in a truck that Vader had been driving, could have been planted there by police officers.

The keys, Beresh said, were discovered long after the truck was first found and searched.

"We suggest those keys were not present when the vehicle was taken to the storage yard."

DNA evidence placing Vader inside the SUV is sketchy at best, Beresh said, and doesn't prove anything more than Vader was at one time near the vehicle. Drops of Lyle McCann's blood, which were found on his hat, could have come from the nosebleeds to which the man was prone.

Beresh said there's no evidence to show that Vader was broke or out of money.

"This is an attempt to paint Mr. Vader as a bad person, which we say is being used as a substitute for any real evidence."

On Wednesday, prosecutor Ashley Finlayson acknowledged the Crown's case was circumstantial.

But he asked Thomas "to consider the totality of the evidence as a whole."

The trial began in March. Thomas has heard testimony from more than 80 witnesses and examined about 200 exhibits. He is expected to deliver his verdict on Sept. 15.

Outside court, Beresh said a persuasive circumstantial case would offer evidence that led to logical conclusions. The Crown, he said, is asking the judge to connect dots that don't necessarily lead to each other.

"Mr. Vader ... feels that this trial demonstrated how a transparent case can be seen by the public and how when you come to look at all the evidence, there's a much different complexion than there was before the trial started." 



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