Quebec mosque shooter Alexandre Bissonnette to be sentenced in February
At issue is whether Bissonnette, who killed 6 Muslims, should ever be eligible for parole
Alexandre Bissonnette will find out if he will ever be eligible for parole nearly two years to the day after he carried out one of the deadliest mass shootings in Canadian history.
The 28-year-old pleaded guilty in March to six counts of first-degree murder for killing six Muslims inside a Quebec City mosque on Jan. 29, 2017.
Superior Court Justice François Huot informed Bissonnette on Wednesday that he will be sentenced on Feb. 8, 2019.
By pleading guilty, Bissonnette was automatically sentenced to life in prison.
But Huot must now determine whether Bissonnette should be eligible for parole after 25 years, as the defence is asking, or whether the eligibility periods should be served back-to-back, adding up to 150 years.
Originally planned for October, sentencing was postponed when Huot asked the Crown and the defence questions about the constitutionality of stacking his parole ineligibility.
Both the defence and the Crown agreed on Wednesday that the eligibility periods had to be served in 25-year chunks. They also both said that Bissonnette's age when he committed the crime, 27, shouldn't sway Huot's decision.
Jurisprudence for serial murders
Earlier on Wednesday, the Crown argued that Bissonnette's intent — targeting a place of worship — had to be considered an aggravating factor.
"Any murder is horrible. Multiple murders are abominable. But what we are dealing with in this case is a racist, heinous, Islamophobic crime," said Thomas Jacques, adding it was "possibly one of the worst hate crimes in Canada's legal history."
In the questions Huot put before the court, he indicated he was aware of the jurisprudence he could be creating should he enforce Article 745.51 of the Criminal Code.
That section, introduced in 2011, allows for consecutive periods of parole ineligibility, and Huot asked the Crown how his ruling could be applied in future cases.
"What will the court do for serial murderers, or for someone who kills for money?" Huot asked.
Jacques replied that he did not want to give an opinion on hypothetical situations.
But Jacques also said that Article 745.51 would have been applicable to serial murderers like Robert Pickton, who was convicted of six second-degree murder charges in 2007
'Lawmakers made a mistake'
In his last opportunity to defend his client, lawyer Charles-Olivier Gosselin asked Huot to declare Article 745.51 unconstitutional.
He said the changes to the Criminal Code under Stephen Harper's Conservative government were made to score political points.
Gosselin argued Huot should invalidate the law, which would prevent arbitrary sentences from being handed down in the future.
"The intention of the lawmakers was clear, and the lawmakers made a mistake," Gosselin said.
Families await sentence
Megda Belkacemi, whose father was killed in the mosque shooting, said she hoped Huot will consider the social impact that mass murders can have, pointing to the 2018 van attack in Toronto.
"We need to send a clear message that mass murderers are not tolerated any more than serial killers are," Belkacemi said outside the courtroom.
She added that her own family is "at peace" while they await Huot's decision.
"The judge needed to clarify some points this morning. Justice is taking its course," said Belkacemi, herself a lawyer.
But the the president of the mosque where the shooting took place said he was anxious about the debate the sentence could provoke, especially since it will come only days after the two-year anniversary of the attack.
"We received this incredible wave of compassion [after the attack], but when this decision will come out it will, of course, stir up public opinion," Boufeldja Benabdallah said.
- 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 2:47 PM ET