Sentencing arguments were held last week for Alexandre Bissonnette, who pleaded guilty to six counts of first degree murder and six counts of attempted murder for the January 2017 shooting in a Quebec City mosque. The Crown prosecutor on the case has asked Justice François Huot to hand down, in addition to the mandatory life imprisonment sentence, impossibility of parole for 25 years for each of the victims. This would be the harshest sentence in Canadian history since the last instances of capital punishment, in 1962.
The defense team has submitted a challenge to the constitutionality of consecutive sentences, on the grounds that it constitutes cruel and unusual punishment as precluded by Section 12 of the Canadian Charter. According to the Montreal Gazette, “the lawyers contend that even a 50-year term would be unconstitutional because it would eliminate any possibility of rehabilitation or social reintegration — both of them goals of the prison system. They also argue article 745.51 also denies a convict one of the fundamental principles of justice — the ‘hope’ of possible parole.” They have stated that it would be the equivalent of a “death sentence by incarceration”.
Consecutive sentences for murders are permitted by the Criminal Code since 2011 and have been used in the sentencing of infamous murderers like Justin Bourque (shot and killed three RCMP officers in Moncton in 2014), John Paul Ostamas (murdered three homeless and intoxicated men in Winnipeg in 2015) and Derek Saretzky (murdered three people and cannibalized their remains in Alberta in 2015). However, judges usually refrain from doling out consecutive sentences when the murder convictions stem from a “single criminal enterprise.”
The Attorney General of Quebec has defended the constitutionality of consecutive sentences, stating that they recognize the value of each life that was taken. According to her, the disposition simply allows for broader judicial discretion and permits the punishment of offenders whose crimes are seen with the highest level of disapproval, as well as the protection of the population.
The sentence is to be expected in October.
This blog post was written by a CCLA student. Opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCLA.