The man who slaughtered six Muslims at a Quebec mosque will be eligible for parole after 25 years rather than 40, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled Friday, further striking down a 2011 amendment by the then-prime minister that allows judges to give consecutive sentences for “mass murderers,” which could have resulted in a 150 years sentence with no parole.
Andre Bissonnette was 27 when he went on a killing spree, shooting six worshippers at the Centre Culturel Islamique de Quebec mosque and injuring 19 others on Jan. 29, 2017.
He was sentenced in 2019 to 40 years in prison before becoming eligible for parole, which at the time was seen as insufficient by victims. Both the defense and the prosecution appealed the sentence. The former argued the time should be reduced to 25 years while the latter called for a stiffer parole ruling of 50 years.
While the court said in its ruling that the shootings “were of unspeakable horror and left deep and agonizing scars in the heart of the Muslim community and of Canadian society as a whole,” it also said the original 40-year sentence was unconstitutional.
“The conclusion that imposing consecutive 25-year parole ineligibility periods is unconstitutional must not be seen as devaluing the life of each innocent victim,” the Supreme Court wrote in its decision.
“Everyone would agree that multiple murders are inherently despicable acts and are the most serious of crimes, with consequences that last forever. This appeal is not about the value of each human life, but rather about the limits on the state’s power to punish offenders, which, in a society founded on the rule of law, must be exercised in a manner consistent with the Constitution,” the decision read.
The reduction in parole time was criticized by the Justice For All Canada Muslim organization.
“The events in 2017 were Canada’s worst act of terror and victims and their families deserve sympathy and justice,” Taha Ghayyur, executive director of Justice For All Canada, said in an email to Anadolu Agency (AA).
“The renewed leniency in Bissonnette’s sentencing does not send a strong message to such culprits of hate. His parole reduction also doesn’t help those bent on taking their hate to the next level. Considering how many mass shooters are inspired by Bissonnette, the world should look to Canada for deradicalizing mass shooters who continue to threaten minorities,” Ghayyur said.
The Conservative government of then Prime Minister Stephen Harper amended the criminal code in 2011 to allow judges to hand down consecutive sentences in the case of mass murders. That could have meant 150 years with no parole until the sentence was served – 25 years for each killing.
The judge in the Bissonnette case gave a concurrent sentence – 25 years in total for five murders then added 15 years for the other killing.
The Supreme Court ruling strikes down the Harper criminal court provision.
“Sentences of imprisonment for life without a realistic possibility of parole may also have devastating effects on offenders, who are left with no incentive to rehabilitate themselves and whose incarceration will end only upon their death,” the Supreme Court ruled.
The six murder victims were Mamadou Tanou Barry, 42, Abdelkrim Hassane, 41, Khaled Belkacemi, 60, Aboubaker Thabti, 44, Azzeddine Soufiane, 57, and Ibrahima Barry, 39.