The Liberal government says that while it supports a longer period of parole ineligibility in cases like the Quebec City mosque shooting, it will respect the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision to limit Alexandre Bissonnette’s parole ineligibility to just 25 years.
Justice Minister David Lametti made the remarks after the top court ruled unanimously Friday that Bissonnette — who killed six people in a Quebec City mosque in 2017 — would not be forced to wait more than 25 years for parole eligibility.
Crown prosecutors had asked the country’s top court to impose a 50-year wait for parole eligibility on Bissonnette, who pleaded guilty to six counts of first-degree murder and six counts of attempted murder for his attack on worshippers at the Islamic Cultural Centre on Jan. 29, 2017. He was 27 at the time.
“I want to acknowledge the hurt and anger that today’s decision may rekindle among all the victims of the horrific attack in Quebec City, especially survivors, families and friends, and the Muslim community in Quebec and across the country,” Lametti said in a media statement.
“Our position was clear, we supported a sentencing judge’s discretion to impose a longer period of parole ineligibility where appropriate. However, we will respect the court’s decision and carefully review its implications and the path forward.”
A sentencing provision introduced in 2011 by the Harper Conservatives gave judges discretion to hand out consecutive, 25-year blocks of parole ineligibility in cases where an offender has committed multiple first-degree murders.
After Bissonnette pleaded guilty in 2018, the Crown advocated for that option and asked the Quebec Superior Court judge to impose a parole ineligibility period of 150 years — 25 consecutive years for each of the six people he murdered.
The judge handed down a life sentence with no chance of parole before 40 years — a decision that was overturned in 2020 by the Quebec Court of Appeal, which unanimously decided to set Bissonnette’s period of parole ineligibility to 25 years.
The Supreme Court’s decision released Friday agreed with the Court of Appeal’s ruling. It ruled that the Harper government’s changes to the law “are intrinsically incompatible with human dignity because of their degrading nature.”
Former prime minister Harper issued a statement shortly after the ruling, saying that the decision amounts to a “grave injustice that calls for action from Parliament.”
Today’s decision by the Supreme Court of Canada in the case of mass murderer Alexandre Bissonnette devalues the lives of his victims. This is a grave injustice that calls for action from Parliament. My thoughts are with the victims’ families and grieving loved ones.
Conservatives demand action
“Today’s decision by the Supreme Court of Canada is extremely disappointing and fails to stand up for the rights of victims,” Conservative MPs Rob Moore and Pierre Paul-Hus said in a media statement.
“This ruling means that families of victims will be forced to sit through years of parole hearings with their family member’s killer, adding to the trauma they face and putting them through another cycle of revictimization.”
The MPs said the decision fails to recognize the value of victim’s rights and allows for sentences that do not fit the crimes.
“Conservatives are calling on the federal government to use whatever means it has available to them to ensure the perpetrators of mass shootings serve sentences that reflect the severity of their crimes,” they said.
NDP deputy leader Alexandre Boulerice said the ruling must have been very difficult for Quebec’s Muslim community to hear. He said his party will also respect the top court’s decision.
“The NDP respects the independence of the Court, but as federal legislators we have a responsibility to take action to tackle hate head-on and to do everything in our power to avoid such a senseless tragedy from happening again,” Boulerice said in a media statement.
Two candidates running for the leadership of the federal Conservative Party — Patrick Brown and Pierre Poilievre — issued statements condemning the decision and pledging to use the Constitution’s notwithstanding clause to overturn the ruling should they become prime minister.