Families of mosque attack victims ready to turn page on Bissonnette sentence

While disappointed that the Quebec City mosque shooter will be eligible for parole after 40 years, the families of the victims now say they will respect the decision.

'Justice has done its duty and we must be reasonable and accept the decision'

Boufeldja Benabdallah, president of the Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec, speaks to people at a Catholic mass in communion with the victims of the mosque shooting in January in Quebec City. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

Families impacted by the shooting at a Quebec City mosque want to turn the page on the sentencing of killer Alexandre Bissonnette.

The city's Muslim community was deeply disappointed by the decision that Bissonnette would be eligible for parole after spending 40 years in prison for his attack that killed six and left five badly injured. But in a statement released Monday, they say they accept the court's decision and will respect the choice of Quebec's Director of Criminal and Penal Prosecutions (DPCP) — to appeal the sentence or to let it stand.

"Justice has done its duty and we must be reasonable and accept the decision," said Boufeldja Benabdallah, the president of the Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec, where the attack occurred.

Bissonnette shot and killed six men at the mosque on Jan. 29, 2017. Five others were critically injured. On Feb. 8, Justice François Huot sentenced Bissonnette to life in prison with no chance of parole for 40 years. 

A 2011 change to the Criminal Code allows judges to give consecutive rather than concurrent sentences for multiple murders. The Crown recommended making the parole ineligibility periods consecutive, for a total of 150 years.

But the judge chose to make some of the sentences concurrent, saying that sending a criminal to die in prison would constitute "cruel and unusual punishment," and effectively modifying the 2011 change.

The DPCP has 30 days from judgment to appeal Huot's sentencing decision.

The decision caused great disappointment in the Muslim community.

Aymen Derbali, who was hit by seven bullets and is now paraplegic, said he almost fainted when he heard the judge's final decision.

"I would have liked to see justice served today," Derbali said.

Saïd El-Amari, who was shot twice during the mosque shooting, said he was "gutted" by the judge's decision to allow Bissonnette to ask for parole after a 40-year period. 

Since then, the mosque's president has said that families and community members want to turn the page.

"At the time (of the decision) we were in shock," said Benabdallah. He said the judge's six-hour reading of his decision was complex and overwhelming. "Imagine the families who were already deeply in grief."

He said that whether the DPCP decides to appeal the judgment or not, it will be justified.

"We defer to justice," he said.

No satisfaction or dissatisfaction

A section of the mosque's statement attributed to the bereaved families said they cannot speak of satisfaction or dissatisfaction, but rather of resilience.

"We simply want to return to normal life and protect our children," the statement said.

The families also asked the governments of Canada and Quebec to take measures to encourage tolerance, inclusiveness and peace for all communities. 

Seeking firearm bans

The mosque is campaigning for stronger measures to protect citizens against firearms like those used in the mosque attack.

Benabdallah, the president of the mosque, is in Ottawa today to give testimony at the Senate committee hearings on a proposal to tighten the rules on gun sales and licensing checks.

The perpetrator of the shooting had a semi-automatic weapon that jammed and that could have otherwise claimed more victims, Benabdallah noted in an interview with Radio-Canada.

"The individual came to the mosque with an assault weapon capable of shooting almost 50 bullets," he said. 

"We want to tell senators, imagine if this weapon hadn't jammed, it could have been much worse."

With files from Julia Page and Radio-Canada