Supreme Court agrees to hear appeal on Quebec City mosque shooter's sentence
MONTREAL -- The man that murdered six people at the Centre Culturel Islamique de Quebec in Quebec City on Jan. 27, 2017 may have to wait up to 50 years before seeking parole.
The Supreme Court announced Thursday it has agreed to hear the appeal filed by the Quebec Attorney General in the case of the 31-year-old killer.
In its application, the Attorney General is asking the highest court to impose a minimum of 50 years imprisonment.
An excerpt from the application reads, "In the event that the Court finds that section 745.51 of the Criminal Code is constitutionally valid, Her Majesty the Queen will argue that, because of the circumstances in which these crimes were committed, a parole ineligibility period of 50 years, which is the cumulative period for two counts of first-degree murder, is just and appropriate and should be imposed."
Alexandre Bissonnette, who was 27-years-old at the time of the killings, pleaded guilty to 12 charges, including six of premeditated murder.
The sentence for premeditated murder is automatic life in prison with no possibility of parole for 25 years.
However, in 2011, Stephen Harper's Conservative government introduced a provision in the Criminal Code, section 745.51, which allows for the accumulation of sentences for multiple charges.
In February 2019, Superior Court Judge François Huot sentenced Bissonnette to an unprecedented sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole for 40 years.
Although section 745.51 would have allowed him to impose a minimum of 150 years imprisonment, or 25 years for each count of premeditated murder, which the Crown was demanding at the time, the judge found such a sentence unreasonable, considering that "when incarceration exceeds life expectancy, the objectives lose their relevance."
According to Justice Huot, the section in question violates the Canadian Charter of Rights, in particular section 12, which prohibits "cruel and unusual treatment or punishment."
Instead, he chose to approach it with a broad interpretation that allowed him to impose consecutive periods of less than 25 years.
The magistrate thus determined a minimum sentence of 25 years for the first five counts of murder and added 15 years for the sixth count, giving a total of 40 years before being eligible for parole.
Bissonnette could then have applied for release at the age of 67.
However, last November, the Quebec Court of Appeal ruled that the cumulative sentencing provision was unconstitutional, but the state of affairs completely invalidated section 745.51.
As a result, the second-instance court reduced his sentence to the previous standard of imprisonment without possibility of parole for 25 years.
The three-judge panel called the Conservatives' provision in the Criminal Code "absurd," "evil" and "degrading," seeing it as an expression of a "vengeful spirit" that has no place in "a civilized sentencing system."
Quebec appealed the decision to the highest court, also asked the Supreme Court to rule on the constitutionality of section 745.51.
The attack at the Quebec City mosque shook the province and reverberated around the world. The killer showed up with two guns, a semi-automatic rifle and a pistol, murdering six people and seriously injuring five others before fleeing.
He was captured quickly after making a 911 call to surrender about ten minutes after the shooting.
-- This report by The Canadian Press was first published in French on May 27, 2021.