Montreal

40 years for Bissonnette is too long, defence says. Crown says it's not long enough

The Quebec City mosque shooter’s defence says  Alexandre Bissonette sentence of 40 years without parole is unconstitutional. Prosecutors, on the other hand, are insisting on a stiffer penalty.

Prosecutors, defence file reasons for appeal of Quebec City mosque shooter's sentence

Alexandre Bissonnette arrives at the Quebec City courthouse on Oct. 27, 2018. He was later sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for 40 years. (Radio-Canada)

The Quebec City mosque shooter's sentence of 40 years without parole is unconstitutionally long, according to Alexandre Bissonnette's defence, but prosecutors say it's not long enough.

Both legal teams have filed for appeal and the reasons for appeal have since been submitted, outlining each side's argument against the sentence.

Bissonnette, 29, was sentenced in Superior Court last February after he pleaded guilty to killing six men and seriously wounding five others in January 2017. The defence and prosecutors had 30 days to appeal.

The deadline for filing reasons for appeal was last week. Prosecutors filed on time, but the defence was delayed until Wednesday morning.

The defence says a law established in 2011 that allows judges to hand down back-to-back sentences without the eligibility of parole is unconstitutional. It is too long to spend behind bars, they say.

They also say there is no proof the previous system of re-assessing prisoners every 25 years wasn't working.

The defence says the judge exaggerated the "hateful" nature of the crime and that Bissonnette was acting out of "rage" built up over years.

The defence says Bissonnette chose a target he deemed "more acceptable" because of his mental state — imagining that he might rid the world of a "terrorist" when he took his guns to a house of worship.

When filing Bissonnette's appeal in March, lawyers Jean-Claude Gingras and Charles-Olivier Gosselin said the judge erred in applying a 40-year sentence before the shooter would be eligible for parole. They called it "illegal."

The appeal seeks to have the sentence reduced to a minimum of 25 years served before Bissonnette is eligible for parole.

Crown wants stiffer sentence

Crown prosecutors, on the other hand, filed their reasons for appeal last week, several hours ahead of the deadline. They are insisting on a stiffer sentence.

They say the judge who put Bissonnette behind bars for 40 years made several mistakes in a judgment they consider too lenient.

The Crown will argue that the judge should never have assumed Bissonnette would die in prison if he were sentenced to 50 years before being eligible for parole.

The prosecution will also argue Bissonnette's mental health issues were over-represented in the ruling  because Bissonnette had acted with a clear mind when he shot the first two men he encountered, point-blank like a "hitman."

Alexandre Bissonnette, who shot and killed six people at a Quebec City mosque two years ago, will be in prison until he is 67. (Hélène Bernier)

The Crown had recommended a 150-year prison sentence made up of consecutive 25-year periods, which would have been the longest ever handed down in Canadian history.

Justice François Huot rejected this idea, arguing that a sentence of 50 years or more would constitute "cruel and unusual punishment" under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Sentences that exceed an offender's life expectancy and offer no reasonable hope of release are "grossly disproportionate and totally incompatible with human dignity,'' he wrote in his 246-page decision.

With files from Catou MacKinnon

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.