Supreme Court rules Quebec City mosque killer to be eligible for parole in 25 years
Canada's highest court has ruled that Alexandre Bissonnette, who murdered six people at the Quebec City mosque in 2017, will be eligible for parole after 25 years.
The unanimous ruling, handed down by the Supreme Court of Canada on Friday, determined that imposing consecutive periods of parole ineligibility in cases of multiple first-degree murders is unconstitutional.
Bissonnette, who is serving a life sentence, will now get a chance at parole in his early 50s.
The court said it must render "invalid immediately" a provision in the Criminal Code passed by Stephen Harper's government in 2011 that allowed judges to impose consecutive periods of parole ineligibility in cases of mass murderers, rather than imposing them concurrently.
"The conclusion that imposing consecutive 25-year parole ineligibility periods is unconstitutional must not be seen as devaluing the life of each innocent victim," the Supreme Court wrote in its 92-page decision.
"Everyone would agree that multiple murders are inherently despicable acts and are the most serious of crimes, with consequences that last forever," the decision said.
"This appeal is not about the value of each human life, but rather about the limits on the state's power to punish offenders, which, in a society founded on the rule of law, must be exercised in a manner consistent with the Constitution."
Bissonnette was 27 when he stormed the Centre Culturel Islamique de Quebec, the province's largest mosque, on Jan. 29, 2017 armed with a semi-automatic rifle and a pistol, and murdered six worshippers following evening prayers. He also seriously injured five others.
The six murder victims were Mamadou Tanou Barry, 42, Abdelkrim Hassane, 41, Khaled Belkacemi, 60, Aboubaker Thabti, 44, Azzeddine Soufiane, 57, and Ibrahima Barry, 39.
People hold photos of the victims during a vigil, Wednesday, January 29, 2020 in Montreal to commemorate the third anniversary of the mosque shooting in Quebec City that left six people dead.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
The mosque's leadership said it was disappointed by the ruling, saying in a statement that it "fails to give due consideration to the atrocity and scourge of multiple murders, as well as the hateful Islamophobic and racist aspect of the crime."
"While we welcome this decision of the highest court in the land, it brings this judicial chapter to a close and we now and we now wish to focus on the future," it said.
Speaking to reporters in Quebec City Friday morning, Mohamed Labidi, co-founder and former president of the Quebec City mosque, said he would have preferred the original 40-year period of parole ineligibility because it balanced the "atrocity of the situation" with the constitutional concerns.
"Our deep concern is about the orphans that will see the murdering person in the roads of Quebec City 25 years after this tragedy," Labidi said.
The Supreme Court also underscored that Bissonnette's offences were "heinous crimes" that were "of unspeakable horror and left deep and agonizing scars in the heart of the Muslim community and of Canadian society as a whole."
Bissonnette's defence lawyer, Charles-Olivier Gosselin, said Friday he was "extremely happy" with the high court's judgment, which he said meant his client can start on a path to rehabilitation.
"I talked to my client, Mr. Bissonnette, and his family, and they are relieved," Gosselin said in a press scrum after the Supreme Court's decision was released.
"It was a long process of five years so they can move forward now, look forward for the future and Mr. Bissonnette can have some hope now that he can take time to rehabilitate himself and… prove to himself and to other people that rehabilitation is possible even if we commit an extremely grave crime."
ORIGINALLY SENTENCED TO LIFE WITH NO PAROLE FOR 40 YEARS
The landmark ruling is one that was closely watched as it will have implications going forward for all offenders convicted of multiple first-degree murder charges, including those currently before the courts.
Bisonnette pleaded guilty in 2018 to 12 charges, including six counts of first-degree murder.
He was originally sentenced in 2019 to life in prison with no eligibility for parole for 40 years. The judge relied on a revised law in 2011 that gave judges discretion to impose sentences one after the other rather than concurrently.
That would mean the sentencing judge could have technically imposed a 150-year-sentence for parole ineligibility in Bissonnette's case.
Believing that such a sentence would be "cruel and unusual" punishment, he imposed concurrent sentences of no parole for 25 years for five of the six murders. On the sixth murder count, he added another 15, bringing the total to 40 years.
- Portrait series honours victims of Quebec mosque shooting
- Five years later: Vigils honour victims of Quebec mosque shooting
Both the Crown and the defence appealed the sentence. The Quebec Court of Appeal agreed with the Superior Court judge that consecutive sentencing was a violation of the Charter, but also ruled that the judge erred in rewriting the law by allowing a 40-year period for parole eligibility.
The panel of judges on the appeal court finally ruled last year that the appropriate sentence would be what the law allowed for before the 2011 amendment, which meant Bissonnette can apply for parole after serving 25 years.
Quebec's Attorney General appealed the ruling to the country's highest court. In March, prosecutors argued before the Supreme Court, saying that preventing Bissonnette from seeking parole after just 25 does not fit the severity of the crimes he committed.
They asked for it to be raised to 50 years, when Bissonnette would be 77 years old.
'INCOMPATIBLE WITH HUMAN DIGNITY'
Such long sentences would have brought the administration of justice into disrepute, however, according to the Supreme Court's judgment.
"They are intrinsically incompatible with human dignity because of their degrading nature, as they deny offenders any moral autonomy by depriving them, in advance and definitively, of any possibility of reintegration into society," the ruling stated.
"Sentences of imprisonment for life without a realistic possibility of parole may also have devastating effects on offenders, who are left with no incentive to rehabilitate themselves and whose incarceration will end only upon their death."
Supreme Court of Canada in Ottawa on Wednesday, May 11, 2022. The court released its long-awaited decision Friday in the matter of Alexandre Bissonnette, who must now serve a life sentence with no chance of parole for 25 years in the killing of six people at the Quebec City mosque in 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
GETTING FULL PAROLE AFTER 25 YEARS 'UNHEARD OF': LAWYER
Steven Slimovitch, a criminal defence lawyer based in Montreal, said the Supreme Court dealt "another blow" to the former Harper government by striking down the 2011 amendment to the Criminal Code.
"The whole idea of putting one life sentence on top of another, so essentially you could have 100, 120, 150 years, it's -- in my opinion, it's completely un-Canadian," Slimovitch said, adding that he diagrees with the notion of "warehousing" criminals for decades.
In cases of first-degree murder, getting full parole is extremely rare in any case, he said.
"It's unheard of," Slimovitch said.
"You'll be eligible, [but] you're not going to get it the first couple of times because the odds are you haven't fulfilled what the parole board looks at as being a requirement," he said.
"Although it is true, you are eligible… you may get a highly restricted parole, but not full parole."
Montreal Top Stories
CTVNews.ca Top Stories
Canada's chief of defence says Russia's invasion of Ukraine is going to change the course of history.
G7 leaders opened their summit Sunday with a discussion about shaping the global economy at a time when conflict and unrest are driving up prices and access to key goods around the world.
Russia attacked the Ukrainian capital early Sunday, striking at least two residential buildings, the mayor of Kyiv said, as elsewhere Russian troops fought to consolidate their gains in the country's east.
The latest on the G7 summit: The Group of Seven leading democratic economies has formally launched at its annual summit a global infastructure and investment partnership aimed at pushing back China's influence in the developing world.
David Cohen has been the United States' Ambassador to Canada since November 2021, and in the time since, both Canada and the United States have experienced a series of shared challenges. In an interview at his official residence in Ottawa, Cohen opens up about the state of the relationship.
Norway's prime minister and members of the royal family joined mourners at a memorial service Sunday at Oslo Cathedral for the victims of a shooting attack as the capital held its annual LGBTQ Pride festival.
Republicans are heading into a November midterm election that is poised to swiftly become a referendum on the court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, as voters decide which party should control Congress
Cat and dog owners who cuddle their pets when infected with COVID-19 could end up making the animals sick with the virus, according to a Canadian study.
New research looking at the frequency of heavy rainfall across the globe shows that a drastic increase in downpours is expected over the years to come.
Tens of thousands of people are expected to march in today's Pride parade in downtown Toronto, marking the return of in-person festivities for the annual LGBTQ celebration.
A heat warning remains in place for the remainder of the weekend in Toronto, but temperatures are expected to cool down Sunday evening.
A 34-year-old woman has been arrested in connection with a carjacking in Toronto’s west end.
The inquiry into Nova Scotia’s 2020 mass shooting, says four pages of handwritten notes that sparked a political firestorm in Ottawa this week, weren’t immediately submitted when subpoenaed by its investigators.
'It’s in shambles': RCMP 'architects of own demise,' says criminologist after complaints in N.B. and N.S.
After a week of criticism and anger at the Mass Casualty Commission in Nova Scotia, and outcry in a rural area of New Brunswick, there are questions about the RCMP’s role in community policing.
Gas prices at over two dollars a litre may be too much for some drivers to ignore this summer.
Residents were able to safely escape a house fire Sunday morning in London.
They’re cooking up a storm this weekend at London’s Victoria Park.
You could find all kinds of colourful characters in downtown London Saturday as the Forest City ComiCon returned from its COVID hiatus.
A person was taken to hospital after a shooting on the Sheguiandah First Nation on Manitoulin Island Friday.
The future site of Canada Place will include a new walkway, seating and gardens meant to recognize diversity and inclusion.
Nipissing-Timiskaming Liberal MP Anthony Rota said he was shocked by Friday’s U.S. Supreme Court’s abortion ruling.
Organizers of a central Alberta rodeo and its parade committee are calling for calm after a float in this weekend's parade, which possessed a racist theme, was seen in the procession.
If you are looking for some more time on the slopes even though it's already summer, you might be please by an opportunity at Banff Sunshine Village.
Quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell threw for 321 yards and Malik Henry scored a third-quarter, go-ahead touchdown for the Calgary Stampeders in a 30-23 win over the visiting Edmonton Elks on Saturday.
Norfolk County OPP are asking for the public's help with an arson case from three years ago.
Many in Waterloo Region are reacting to the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade and what it could mean for Canada.
A fire at a townhouse complex in Kitchener Friday night has resulted in extensive damage.
While most of B.C. remains under a special weather statement as the summer's first hot weather rolls through, the advisory has been upgraded to a heat warning for the Lower Mainland.
The 96-year-old woman who died in the arms of firefighters now lingers in the memory of Chief Jim Ogloff of the Coquitlam Fire Department, a reminder of the impact of last summer's heat dome disaster on vulnerable residents of British Columbia.
As the first sustained heat of the season settles in across B.C.'s south coast, Environment and Climate Change Canada has issued a special weather statement advising people of high temperatures and humidex values through Monday.
People are getting ready to return to Wakamne, God's Lake, on pilgrimage when the Pope visits Alberta.
A heat warning continues into day two in Windsor-Essex, but residents will get relief from the sweltering heat Sunday evening.
Thousands of people flocked to Lakeside Park in Kingsville Saturday for the return of the Highland Games.
With two new dog parks on the way, the City of Windsor is looking for community feedback on design and amenities.
Over 400 people contributed to the Field of Dreams project, which led to the purchase of a large track of prairie grasslands for preservation.
The Saskatchewan NDP will elect its next leader at a convention on Sunday.
Saskatchewan RCMP are investigating after a two-vehicle collision occurred at the intersection of Highway 35 and Highway 5 in Wadena.
CTVNewsOttawa.ca looks at the Canada Day activities across the city of Ottawa, including at the new location at LeBreton Flats.
Ontario Provincial Police say minor injuries have been reported after a driver struck another vehicle on Highway 417 Saturday, causing it to roll.
The summer festival season in Ottawa kicked off this weekend with thousands gathering for events across the city.
When Ennio Muzzolini walked into Christies Mayfair Bakery in 1965 interested in purchasing the small bakery on 33rd Street, he never imagined he’d one day be looking on as hundreds of people lined the block to get their hands on a baguette, cinnamon bun or wood-fired pizza.
Organizers have decided to cancel the Elk Ridge Open due to an “inordinate amount of rain.”
Dozens of players competed in the largest quidditch tournament in western Canada on Saturday at the Edmonton Rugby Football Club.