Bobbi Jo Vader’s testimony at her brother’s murder trial last week shed little light on her own involvement with the investigation.
She spoke about whether Travis Vader may have had firearms in his truck the day after he’s alleged to have murdered Lyle and Marie McCann and whether he was using drugs in the summer of 2010, but she spoke very little of the RCMP sting operation she was the target of in 2011.
Crown prosecutor Ashley Finlayson did not ask her about it at all, but defence lawyer Brian Beresh questioned her about it during his cross-examination.
Bobbi Jo Vader said she had been heavily using crack cocaine in the summer of 2010, and suggested she couldn’t give honest answers to specific questions about what she did or told to police in July, August and September. Beresh raised the issue of drug relapse to introduce the so-called “Mr. Big” operation targetting her in 2011.
“Somebody was giving you money and offering you advancement in a particular world,” he said. “You were being paid thousands of dollars for not much work.”
She agreed to his suggestion those people knew she was spending the money on drugs, despite court-ordered release conditions which she was subject to in November 2011.
Nothing else has been said about the operation so far at trial, but details of the undercover operation were released to several media outlets in December 2015 as part of a substantial Crown disclosure package.
While the St. Albert Gazette has not reviewed that disclosure, media reports at the time referred to “Operation Kontrail IV,” an undercover operation designed to get more information about the investigation.
Bobbi Jo Vader apparently socialized with and worked with some undercover operatives, including during a trip to Calgary during which she stopped to visit her brother at the Red Deer Remand Centre.
Another part of the operation reportedly had her transporting a package to Winnipeg on the train, which provided information not provided in her 2010 interviews with police.
“She said she believed Travis was involved in the murders and she saw guns wrapped up in blankets that could have come from the McCanns’ motorhome,” media reports quote those documents as saying.
At trial, she has maintained she can’t remember if she saw those guns wrapped in a blanket in the back of a truck Travis Vader was driving July 4, or if she just told police that after a friend had “planted the idea in my head.”
“Everything I told them I thought was true in my head,” she told Finlayson. “Some things could have been messed up because I was using (cocaine).”
Travis Vader’s sister’s testimony at his murder trial last week conflicted so significantly with statements she made to police in 2010 that the Crown is seeking to enter those interviews as evidence.
Crown prosecutor Ashley Finlayson applied Friday afternoon to have the recordings and transcripts from three interviews Bobbi Jo Vader gave to police in summer 2010 entered as full exhibits before the court.
Typically, while witnesses can refer to transcripts of interviews during their testimony the transcripts themselves are entered as exhibits for identification only.
If Justice Denny Thomas grants the application, it will mean he will consider evidence she gave in those statements as well as what she said on the witness stand – but as part of the process, all three interviews must be played in their entirety to the court.
For the most part the interviews covered the investigation itself and the evidence Bobbi Jo Vader discussed on the stand – Vader’s drug use, whether there were firearms in the truck he was driving July 4.
But she also spoke about her past, and that of her brother, in a July 16 interview.
“I can say in the last two years, Travis has really changed,” she said.
She spoke of a troubled upbringing in Niton Junction with her father and stepmother after he parents split up when she was three and her brother was seven. They had an older brother who died of a blood disease when he was 14, and a younger sister who died as a baby.
Bobbi Jo Vader said their home life was fairly difficult, with her father being out working away from home for long stretches of time and her stepmother being physically, verbally and emotionally abusive. She said she left home at 16, while she believed her brother had left when he was 17.
She described her brother as the kind of guy who would take part in school sports and spend free time in the outdoors fishing and hunting. He would go out drinking with his friends, but always said anyone who did drugs was a “loser.”
Bobbi Jo Vader said she had an on-again-off-again relationship with her brother, who married in 1997. She described his family relationship as mostly happy one, with Vader working hard as an oilfield consultant to support his wife and seven kids, who he took care of very well with access to a swimming pool, quads, music lessons and sports.
“Those kids had everything you could ever have imagined,” she said. “When he was home, he spent every second with his kids.”
After trouble in the marriage, apparently brought on by infidelity and run-ins with the law, he moved his family from the Edson area to Summerland, B.C.
Bobbi Jo said after splitting with his wife in around 2008 and being left with child support payments around $10,000 per month, Travis started to go downhill. He moved back to Alberta and started hanging around with people who were involved with drugs and crime.
“He went from having everything to nothing. No job, nothing. Absolutely nothing,” she told police. “He’s into meth; he calls himself a cook.”
She spoke with him in late 2009, while he was in jail, and said he spoke about “straightening his life out and seeing his kids.” After that, she said she didn’t have much contact with him but spent several days with him beginning July 4, 2010, while staying at a mutual friend’s house.