Montreal

Quebec City mosque shooting 'loaded with racism,' says Crown expert, but terrorism ruled out

While Alexandre Bissonnette's crime was "loaded with racism," he did not carry out the Quebec City mosque shooting to promote any kind of ideology, a forensic psychiatrist hired by the Crown said Thursday, on the final day of the killer's sentencing hearing.

Alexandre Bissonnette’s crime was purely ‘egotistical,’ forensic psychiatrist tells court

'Was this crime terrorism? Absolutely not. It was too egotistical,' Gilles Chamberland, a forensic psychiatrist, told the court on Thursday. (Sûreté du Québec/Canadian Press)

While Alexandre Bissonnette's crime was "loaded with racism," he did not carry out the mass shooting in a Quebec City mosque to promote any kind of ideology, a forensic psychiatrist hired by the Crown said Thursday, on the final day of the killer's sentencing hearing.

Bissonnette pleaded guilty to six counts of first-degree murder and six counts of attempted murder in March, and could be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for 150 years — 25 years for each murder charge.

Dr. Gilles Chamberland met with the 28-year-old Wednesday afternoon, after the court heard from three mental health experts called by the defence during the sentencing hearing earlier this week.

Chamberland agreed with most of their findings but took issue with the opinion of forensic psychiatrist Marie-Frédérique Allard, who said Wednesday that Bissonnette was not Islamophobic.

He also cast doubt on the possibility Bissonnette could ever be rehabilitated and overcome his feelings of anxiety and his desire for revenge.

"He used these people as victims," purely based on racial prejudice, Chamberland said.

The psychiatrist, however, does not believe Bissonnette wanted to a promote a cause or an ideology through his crime.

"Was this crime terrorism? Absolutely not. It was too egotistical," said Chamberland, who also testified during the Luka Rocco Magnotta trial in 2014.

Mohamed Labidi, president of the Quebec Islamic Cultural Centre, said he felt vindicated to hear a Crown psychiatrist's confirmation that Alexandre Bissonnette's attack was motivated by racism. 0:54

The former president of the mosque where the massacre took place, Mohamed Labidi, said afterward he felt vindicated, hearing Chamberland confirm that Alexandre Bissonnette's attack was motivated by racism.

"It's a relief, and it implies society has work to do," said Labidi, who attended all 12 days of the grueling proceeding.

Personality led him to kill

Like his counterparts, Chamberland said Bissonnette was fuelled by a desire to kill several people before committing suicide, to show those who had bullied him in high school that "he was also able to assert himself."

During their four-hour conversation, Chamberland said Bissonnette told him that he was "excited" by the idea of being known as a mass shooter — a thought that he said had been gnawing at him since the 2014 massacre in Isla Vista, Calif.

This obsession with mass murderers such as Elliot Rodger was based on his sense of being connected to people who, like him, were bullied and intimidated in school, Chamberland said.

Given this aspect of his personality, the psychiatrist was critical of his colleagues' assessment that Bissonnette could potentially be released from prison in 25 years, if he were to follow therapy.

He said it is very hard to transform one's personality, which he said usually "is crystallized during early adulthood."

"It's his personality" that led him to carry out the mass shooting, Chamberland told Superior Court Justice François Huot.

Manipulating therapy

Bissonnette's lawyers attempted this week to demonstrate the 28-year-old is capable of showing remorse for his actions and should be eligible for parole after 25 years.

All three defence experts, who met Bissonnette on separate occasions, agreed the killer's immediate concern was for his own family. But they also concluded that, given the proper treatment, he showed potential for rehabilitation.

Psychologist Marc-André Lamontagne said based on scientific formulas used to determine whether a convicted criminal is likely to re-offend, Bissonnette presented a "moderate" threat — about one chance in three.

"Even if the risk was one in a million, it would be too high for me," Chamberland told the court.

Furthermore, he said that Bissonnette's intelligence worked against the correctional system.

Bissonnette pleaded guilty to six counts of first-degree murder and six counts of attempted murder in March. He could be sentenced to 150 years in prison without parole. (Francis Desharnais/ Radio-Canada)

While the defence said this intelligence allowed him to engage in long-term therapy, Chamberland said that it could also be used to manipulate parole board officers and therapists.

"He's good at theatre; he repeated it to me on more than one occasion yesterday," Chamberland said, explaining Bissonnette could learn tricks to figure out the right thing to say in therapy if he were eligible for parole after 25 years.

Decision not before September

Now that both sides have finished presenting their arguments, Huot will have to determine whether Bissonnette's periods of parole ineligibility will be concurrent or consecutive.

​Before adjourning, Huot spoke directly to Bissonnette, telling him that given the evidence presented to him, it was not out of the question that he could send him to prison for 150 years.

"As things stand, this is a possibility," said Huot.

Time has been set aside in June for a debate on whether consecutive periods of parole ineligibility are constitutional. Huot said given that, he doesn't expect to be able to render a decision before September.

The judge assured Bissonnette that he was conscious the delay might be hard on him, but that it was inevitable.

Bissonnette's defence lawyer, Charles-Olivier Gosselin, informed Huot he hoped his client could be transferred to a federal prison in the interim.

Gosselin said conditions are "difficult" at the provincial facility where his client is now being detained.

Clarifications

  • A previous version of this story stated that Bissonnette is facing consecutive life sentences. In fact, he will only receive one life sentence — at issue is whether the judge will decide to make his periods of parole ineligibility consecutive or concurrent.
    Feb 07, 2019 2:46 PM ET