Mosque shooting victim's daughter tells sentencing hearing about losing 'the best father ever'

Azzeddine Soufiane's 14-year-old daughter left almost everyone in a Quebec City courtroom in tears on Thursday when she shared the last conversation she had with her father, who has been hailed as a hero for trying to stop Alexandre Bissonnette's shooting rampage.

Azzeddine Soufiane tried to disarm Alexandre Bissonnette during shooting rampage

Azzeddine Soufiane went on a pilgrimage to Mecca with his family in December 2016, weeks before the deadly shooting. (Submitted by Soufiane family)

The 14-year-old daughter of Azzeddine Soufiane stood at the front of a courtroom filled with familiar, supportive faces Thursday, her back to the man who shot and killed her father more than a year ago.

Soufiane's eldest daughter was the final witness to speak on behalf of the victims of the Quebec City mosque shooting, as the Crown prosecutor wrapped up sentencing arguments.

Alexandre Bissonnette, 28, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in the deaths of Soufiane and five other men, and six counts of attempted murder for his shooting rampage in the mosque on Jan. 29, 2017.

Seated in the prisoner's box, Bissonnette appeared to break down as the teen spoke — one of the few displays of emotion the killer showed during the seven days it took the Crown to lay out its evidence in the sentencing hearing.

A first-degree murder conviction carries an automatic life sentence with no possibility for parole before 25 years. With six convictions, Quebec Superior Court Justice François Huot can decide to hand down consecutive sentences, making Bissonnette ineligible for parole for 150 years. Legal experts say it would be the longest sentence ever in the country's history. 

Bissonnette's defence team, which will argue for concurrent sentences instead, will start presenting its arguments Monday.

The teen, whose first name is under a publication ban, recalled the last evening she spent with her father, the night he was killed.

She said before heading out to close up his halal grocery store, Soufiane sat down with her to talk about her future and what studies she wanted to pursue.
Azzeddine Soufiane, pictured here inside his grocery store in the Quebec City neighbourhood of Sainte-Foy, went to close up his business before attending Sunday prayers at the nearby mosque. (CBC)

"We didn't even have time to finish our conversation," she said, crying.

Before leaving for the shop, called Assalam, which means "peace" in Arabic, Azzedinne Soufiane hugged his daughter.

Then he turned to her younger sister, who was six at the time.

"Bye bye, ma princesse," he said.

'So proud'

The teenager said it took her several days to comprehend that the man she always turned to with her questions was truly dead.

It wasn't until the following Friday, when she saw his casket being brought into the Quebec City convention centre at a public service for Soufiane and two other victims, cousins Ibrahima Barry and Mamadou Tanou Barry, that she realized it wasn't a dream.

"That's when it became real," she said.

In the aftermath of her father's death, her mother has had to sell the beloved grocery store they ran together.

"The store was our whole world. But there were too many memories," the 14-year-old said.

Speaking on behalf of her entire family, the teen explained how her 16-year-old brother has been struggling to cope with the loss of his father, "the only other man in the house."

She said she is also saddened that her sister, now seven, had to lose him at such a young age — robbed of the chance of receiving his advice, as she had.

"He was the best father ever. He helped everyone. He was generous."

That's how so many have described Azzeddine Soufiane countless times over the past 15 months.

Several witnesses recounted how in his last moments, he tried his best to help others one last time, charging toward Bissonnette in an effort to disarm him.

"I am proud. Proud of my father, of his action," his daughter declared, asking why he deserved to die in such a manner.

'A giant'

While the hearing has often been emotionally charged for those seated in the audience, the 14-year-old's testimony had  everyone — court clerks, journalists and prosecutors — in tears.

Huot called for a short break after Soufiane's testimony, but not before turning to her with a strong message.

"I did not have the privilege of knowing your father," the judge began.

"But it is important for you to know that your father, as he proved by his actions, was an exceptional man."

Huot said her testimony made it clear she carried some of Azzeddine Soufiane's strength.

"Your father belonged in the league of giants. He was a hero, and you can be proud of this for the rest of your life."

In the days following the shooting at the Sainte-Foy mosque on Jan. 29, 2017, customers left flowers and messages on the front steps of the Assalam grocery store in honour of its owner. (Julia Page/CBC)

About the Author

Julia Page

Journalist

Julia Page is an online journalist with CBC News, based in Quebec City.