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
WATCH LIVE @ 9 A.M.
CTVNews.ca Top Stories
Boris Johnson was due to resign as Britain's prime minister on Thursday, bringing an end to a turbulent two and half years in office and triggering a search for a new leader.
Several vaccine manufacturers are racing to develop formulas that take into account the more infectious Omicron variant now driving cases, while policymakers are laying the groundwork for another large-scale vaccine blitz.
A well-known Ukrainian paramedic who was held prisoner by Russian and separatist forces for three months after being captured in the southeastern city of Mariupol has accused her guards of psychological and physical torture during her time in captivity.
Video has emerged showing a worker dangling in the air above a Toronto construction site after accidently getting entangled in a tagline attached to a crane.
The federal government has no intention of dropping the controversial ArriveCan app because it gives the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) key health information about travellers who test positive for COVID-19 through testing at airports and land borders, senior government sources tell CTV News.
Patrick Brown is alleging political corruption played a role in his disqualification from the Conservative Party of Canada's leadership race, a move that came following allegations that his campaign violated election financing rules.
Jailed American basketball star Brittney Griner returns to a Russian court on Thursday amid a growing chorus of calls for Washington to do more to secure her release nearly five months after she was arrested on drug charges.
Despite being disqualified by the Conservative Party of Canada from becoming its next leader, ousted candidate Patrick Brown's name will still appear on the ballot.
'I cannot get any rest': Residents complain of sleepless nights after alleged nightclub opens up under condo
Residents living in Toronto’s west end say they have been left utterly exhausted after an alleged nightclub opened up at the base of their condominium.
Ontario has likely entered a new wave of the pandemic driven by the more infectious BA.5 subvariant, the province’s science advisory table says.
A mother from Nova Scotia is speaking out about her recent travel experience through Toronto Pearson Airport after a WestJet flight delay left her and her daughters sleeping on a nursing room floor.
A person has been taken to hospital with serious injuries following a shooting in Halifax Wednesday night.
Halifax Regional Police and fire crews are investigating after receiving reports of a missing swimmer in Dartmouth.
The ex-boyfriend of Cassidy Bernard has been sentenced to 15 years in prison for manslaughter and a consecutive three years for child abandonment in connection with the young mother's death.
An inside look at a lavender farm near Teeswater, Ont.
The London Police Services Board is looking for community feedback as it works towards drafting a letter to the Government of Canada on femicide.
Christ the King Church in Sudbury is looking for your scrap vehicle.
Whether you’re looking for a change of pace, a breath of fresh air, or a glimpse into nature, northern Ontario has an outdoor oasis waiting to be discovered.
The chair of the Station Mall Merchants Association says news of the mall's sale to a southern Ontario holding company brings to a close years of uncertainty regarding the future of the property.
Calgary drivers might be asking why the price of gasoline is more expensive in their energy rich province where oil is refined and extracted than in Ontario, but one retail expert claims to have the answer.
Police are investigating after receiving reports of shots fired late Wednesday afternoon in Bankview.
Blackfalds RCMP were called to the scene of a serious hit and run collision Wednesday evening.
Police said a stabbing was reported Wednesday night near the University of Waterloo.
Once again due to staff shortages, the emergency departments at both Listowel and Wingham hospitals will be closed overal several upcoming dates.
Break-ins targeting restaurants, salons, dress shops and cannabis stores have been reported in Kitchener, Waterloo and Woolwich.
Someone in British Columbia could be sitting on a lottery ticket worth a whopping $15 million – but there's only a few weeks left to claim the jackpot.
For the second consecutive day, emergency resolutions related to a conflict between the Assembly of First Nations National Chief and the organization's executive council threw the agenda into chaos.
The large logs that have lined the water’s edge at many Vancouver beaches have been a favourite lounging spot for sun worshipers for over 50 years.
Wade Stene, who admitted to kidnapping and sexually assaulting an eight-year-old Edmonton girl, was sentenced to 15.5 years behind bars Wednesday afternoon.
Emergency crews were called to a Mill Woods school on Wednesday after a security guard reportedly experienced irritation on their hands after finding a white powder.
Blackfalds RCMP were called to the scene of a serious hit and run collision Wednesday evening.
Temperatures will feel slightly above average in Windsor-Essex on Thursday.
Emergency crews were on scene after a pedestrian was struck by a train late Wednesday afternoon in east Chatham.
The city’s executive committee discussed possible upgrades for Regina’s recreation facilities and event venues during a meeting Wednesday.
'I feel like I have everything to lose': Riders' Tevin Jones looks to maintain place on active roster
Wide Receiver Tevin Jones got his first regular season Canadian Football League (CFL) start in week four and will look to continue the momentum against Ottawa.
SaskEnergy has gained ownership of its Regina head office building following a decade long legal battle.
NEW THIS MORNING
NEW THIS MORNING | Bluesfest is back today after two years of COVID-19 cancellations
Fans will be packing into the grounds at LeBreton Flats tonight for the first in-person Bluesfest since 2019.
An Ottawa senior citizen says he lost his life savings after investing with a real estate development firm that has been charged with fraud.
Ottawa police are on the scene of a shooting that injured one person in the city's west end.
A crash involving a fire hydrant was the first in a chain of events that led to a chaotic scene in a Saskatoon intersection.
Starting Thursday, riders looking to take Access Transit to get to their destinations will notice a shift in service over the next three weeks.
Two Ukrainian refugees, a brother and sister, are settling into their new home in Saskatoon.