In a ruling that could set a sentencing benchmark for the country’s most serious crimes, the Supreme Court of Canada is set to announce the number of years the shooter who killed six people at a Quebec mosque will have to spend time in prison before becoming eligible for parole.
Alexandre Bissonnette pleaded guilty to six counts of first degree murder and six counts of attempted murder for his attack on worshipers at the Islamic Cultural Center on January 29, 2017.
In deciding the minimum number of years Bissonnette should serve in prison before being eligible for parole, nine justices of the Supreme Court of Canada considered the constitutionality of a sentencing provision introduced in 2011 by Stephen Harper’s Conservative government.
This provision gave judges the discretion to award consecutive blocks of parole ineligibility periods for multiple first degree murders.
Shortly after Bissonnette’s guilty plea in 2018, Crown prosecutors had asked that his parole ineligibility period be set at 150 years – 25 years for each person he murdered.
It would have been the harshest Canadian sentence handed down since the abolition of the death penalty.
Instead, he was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for 40 years – the longest period of parole ineligibility ever imposed in Quebec.
That decision was overturned in November 2020 by a unanimous Quebec Court of Appeal decision, which reduced Bissonnette’s parole eligibility wait to 25 years.
Crown prosecutors are now asking Bissonnette to wait 50 years before being eligible for parole.
Before rendering their decision, the Supreme Court justices had to determine whether prolonging a person’s stay in prison by stacking consecutive blocks of parole ineligibility violates the following sections of the Canadian Charter of Rights and freedoms:
- Article 12, which states that “everyone has the right not to be subjected to cruel and unusual treatment or punishment”.
- Section 7, which states that “everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person; this right may not be impaired except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice”.
Judges could also find that a violation is justified under section 1 of the Charter, which subjects rights and freedoms to “reasonable limits prescribed by law and demonstrably justifiable in a free and democratic society.” “.
Friday’s ruling could change the fate of other convicted murderers like Justin Bourque, who is serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole for 75 years for killing three RCMP officers in Moncton, N.B. , in 2014.
The Supreme Court’s decision will be released shortly before 10 a.m. ET.