Travis Baumgartner, the former armoured car guard who shot four of his co-workers, three fatally, in a robbery on the University of Alberta campus in June 2012, was sentenced Wednesday to life in prison with no chance of parole for 40 years.

It’s the harshest sentence handed down in Canada since Arthur Lucas was executed in 1962 for the murder of a police informant.

Associate Chief Justice John Rooke described Baumgartner’s crime as unspeakable, outrageous, cowardly and cold-blooded.

"These are absolutely some of the most horrendous crimes that anyone can imagine," he said in a three-hour ruling Wednesday. "It's hard to put into words the revulsion of society, of this court, of the public."

Rooke said he could not believe "these assassinations and executions were carried out by a cold-blooded killer, all with the simple motive of robbery."

Baumgartner, showing "absolutely no compassion for life," executed the guards in cold blood, shooting three in the back of the head at point blank range, Rooke said.

The fourth guard was "ambushed, taken by surprise with no chance."

Rooke said Baumgartner has shown little to no understanding or acknowledgment of the seriousness of his crimes.

While Rooke’s voice cracked as he quoted excerpts from the victim impact statements, Baumgartner remained expressionless in the prisoner's box.

In his decision, Rooke considered two aggravating factors: that the crime was planned and was a breach of trust, saying Baumgartner was hired specifically to keep his colleagues safe.

He did give Baumgartner credit for his guilty plea, which prevented what likely would have been long and difficult case, one that might have taken as long as five years.

Rooke agreed to a joint request from the Crown and defence that Travis Baumgartner, 22, be sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 40 years, setting a precedent under legislation passed in 2011 that allows judges to hand out consecutive sentences to multiple murderers.

Reaction to sentencing

Chief Crown prosecutor Steve Bilodeau said the sentence sends a message that in cases of multiple murder, it matters that more than one person has died.

Bilodeau said Baumgartner’s sentence indicates how strongly the community feels about the victims of violence, adding that the legal change came about because past victims felt that justice wasn’t being done.

Outside the courtroom, the families of the victims spoke about the ruling, many expressing support for the judge’s decision.

"

[Rooke] gave us some hope that within our justice system we can count on the fact that when there is a multiple murder … there is going to be honouring of more than one victim, more than one loss of life," said Brian Ilesic’s aunt, Janet Stosky.

"I'm not sure that when you are going through this level of pain if you can ever feel satisfied with the justice that is available … but I do believe they worked very hard for us and I think that we're grateful. And I think that we've been honoured today."

However, Eddie Rejano’s brother Joseph said nothing will replace the loss of his brother, who was also the father of two.

"They're growing up without their father. You can't explain that to a child," he said.

"It's the system" he said. "You call it justice, sure, justice — but my way of justice is back in the old days you hang them. That's justice for what he did."

"It’s one of the better sentences we’ve ever had in Canada, considering the death penalty is out now," said Victor Shegelski, "but my wife is still dead. And now I get to contribute my tax money to keep her killer alive – so that’s definitely disappointing."

Baumgartner pleaded guilty Monday to one count of first-degree murder, two counts of second-degree murder and one count of attempted murder in the robbery and shooting deaths of Michelle Shegelski, 26, Eddie Rejano, 39, and Brian Ilesic, 35, at HUB Mall, a student residence and indoor food court.

A fourth guard, Matthew Schuman, was critically injured in the shooting.

Baumgartner was arrested days later at a U.S. border crossing in British Columbia.

With files from CBC's Janice Johnston, Briar Stewart, Marion Warnica