Moncton Mountie killer can seek parole 50 years earlier after appeal
The man who killed three Mounties in Moncton will be able to seek parole decades sooner after a ruling by the New Brunswick Court of Appeal.
The court decision issued Thursday reduces Justin Bourque's parole eligibility by 50 years. The 33-year-old could seek parole at age 49 instead of 99.
The decision notes that while a person may be eligible for parole, there's no guarantee the Parole Board of Canada would grant it.
The Appeal Court decision was all but certain following a Supreme Court of Canada ruling last year that struck down "parole-stacking." That decision was in the case involving Alexandre Bissonnette, the man who shot six people at a Quebec City mosque in 2017, and applied retroactively to 2011.
"The Supreme Court's decision in Bissonnette makes the sentence imposed on Mr. Bourque one that is neither permitted by law nor constitutional," the appeal court decision states.
Crown prosecutors acknowledged in filings ahead of the decision that the Supreme Court ruling means Bourque's eligibility must be reduced.
Bourque fatally shot constables David Ross, Fabrice Gevaudan and Douglas Larche and wounded constables Darlene Goguen and Eric Dubois on June 4, 2014.
He not only left families devastated, but also left the local community and the law enforcement communities in a state of pain and anguish. - Court of Appeal decision
The brief decision says "we observe that Mr. Bourque committed horrendous crimes that damaged the very fabric of our society. Fuelled by hatred for authority, he took the lives of three innocent victims and injured two more.
"He not only left families devastated, but also left the local community and the law enforcement communities in a state of pain and anguish."
Angela Gevaudan, Fabrice Gevaudan's widow, wrote in a victim impact statement filed last month about the continuing effects his death has had on her and their daughter.
She wrote that she didn't subscribe to an eye-for-an-eye way of thinking or vengeance. But she felt relief knowing the killer would spend his life in prison, that she wouldn't be re-traumatized by processes revisiting the case. Then came the higher court ruling. It felt, she wrote, like the life sentence was taken from the killer and given to the victims.
"I am a police widow in Canada," Gevaudan wrote in the four-page statement.
"A victim of violence. This reality, the fact that I am a victim who will now forever be linked to my late husband's aggressor feels cruel. It feels like an unusual punishment. My life sentence. One without possibility of parole."
In an email to CBC on Thursday, Gevaudan said the justice system focuses on criminal rights and should evolve with knowledge of how trauma impacts people's minds and bodies.
"We need to strike a balance between criminal and victim rights," she said.
Union seeks sentencing review
In a statement released following the decision, the RCMP union said it respects the authority of the Supreme Court of Canada even when it disagrees with a specific decision.
Brian Sauvé, president of the National Police Federation, said in the statement that the union is calling on the federal government to address the root causes of crime and should consider reviewing and modernizing sentencing guidelines.
Bourque's lawyer, David Lutz, said in an interview that he filed the appeal because it was what was required after the Supreme Court ruling.
"The Crown did not have any choice about agreeing to the necessity of the appeal, and the Court of Appeal didn't have any choice about granting the relief that was sought," Lutz said.
He echoed the point that eligibility for parole doesn't mean a person will get parole.
The rampage, as it was described at Bourque's sentencing, began the evening of June 4, 2014, in Moncton's suburban north end.
Officers responding to a call about a man with a gun were ambushed. The five officers were shot within 20 minutes. Bourque disappeared, prompting a lockdown and search of the area. He was found and arrested about 28 hours after the initial call.
The judge at his sentencing said Bourque only stopped because he was thirsty, tired and outgunned.
Bourque was 24 when he pleaded guilty in 2014 to three counts of murder and two counts of attempted murder.
A person convicted of first-degree murder is ineligible for parole for 25 years.
When Bourque was sentenced, the law allowed judges to impose life sentences for multiple murders consecutively instead of concurrently. The judge did so, resulting in Bourque being ineligible for parole for 75 years.
In the Bissonnette case, the Supreme Court found the 2011 law allowing consecutive periods of parole ineligibility violated the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The Bourque decision by Chief Justice Marc Richard, Justice Kathleen Quigg and Justice Denise LeBlanc cites a passage of that ruling saying it shouldn't be read as devaluing the lives of victims.
"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 Supreme Court decision states.
Bouque's sentence by David Smith, at the time chief justice of the Court of Queen's Bench, was considered the most severe in Canada since the abolition of the death penalty.
While Bourque pleaded guilty, avoiding the need to hold a trial, a two-day sentencing hearing included a detailed timeline of the killings.
Smith said in an interview with CBC after he retired in 2019 that it was the most difficult case he heard in his 26 years as a judge.
"Police officers put their lives on the line for us. I felt each one of them, their loss, deserved a life sentence. That was my feeling on it."