Supreme Court effectively strikes down Moncton Mountie killer's life-without-parole sentence

·5 min read
Nine justices with the Supreme Court of Canada examined the case of Alexandre Bissonnette, the gunman who killed six worshippers and injured six others at a mosque in Quebec City in 2017.  (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Nine justices with the Supreme Court of Canada examined the case of Alexandre Bissonnette, the gunman who killed six worshippers and injured six others at a mosque in Quebec City in 2017. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press - image credit)

A decision released Friday by the Supreme Court of Canada will shave 50 years off Justin Bourque's parole eligibility.

Now, the man who killed three RCMP officers in Moncton in 2014 will be eligible for parole at the age of 49 rather than 99, which is what the sentencing judge imposed.

The Supreme Court of Canada unanimously struck down so-called "parole-stacking" for mass murderers. According to the decision, it takes effect immediately and is retroactive to 2011, when the law was created.

Section 745.51 of the Criminal Code was enacted in 2011 and gave sentencing judges the power to combine parole eligibility in cases of multiple first- and second-degree murder charges.

But Alexandre Bissonnette, the man who shot six Muslims at a mosque in 2017,  challenged the constitutionality of the law.

Chief Justice Richard Wagner wrote the decision for the court, saying it constituted cruel and unusual punishment.

RCMP
RCMP

Bissonnette will now become eligible for parole after 25 years, rather than the 40-year limit imposed by the sentencing judge.

Several other high-profile cases are affected by the decision, including Alek Minassian, who killed 10 people with a van on a busy Toronto sidewalk in 2018.

His sentencing has been delayed for months, waiting for the Supreme Court to render a decision on parole stacking. He will now be eligible after 25 years, rather than the 250 that was possible before the law was struck down.

Wagner wrote that by establishing parole ineligibility "for 75, 100, 125 or even 800 years, the conclusion is self‑evident: the individual is sentenced to die in prison, deprived of any possibility of one day recovering a portion of their liberty."

He then cited Bourque's case as an illustration that "such cases are far from being hypothetical."

'It's scary'

Nadine Larche's husband, Const. Doug Larche was one of the RCMP officers killed in 2014. She knows the case is far from hypothetical.

"It's constant in our lives," Larche said.

She said she had always been comforted to know that her husband's killer would never get out.

"In a strange way, it did give me comfort that I knew that there was no remote possibility of him coming out," she said when reached after Friday's decision was released.

"I'm hugely disappointed in the ruling. I respect the ruling, however, because I respect the court. But it scares me. It scares me that JB could eventually go free, even if it's unlikely."

Larche said the thought of having to start going to parole hearings in 17 years, "that's just going to re-traumatize me, the girls, the members involved, the community."

"I hope and I wish and I pray that it's remote — that he does not be given parole, but the possibility is there. So it just adds yet another trauma and fear to all of us."

'Ideal candidate' for parole

Bourque's defence lawyer called him an ideal candidate for parole, something that now will be available to him.

"He is the ideal candidate who can take advantage of rehabilitation,"  Hampton lawyer David Lutz said Friday

"He is not an uneducated man. He is not a man without … a sufficient IQ … So hopefully he will see this as a sign."

Radio Canada
Radio Canada

Lutz points out that the decision does not guarantee parole after 25 years — only the chance of parole if you've done everything right in prison.

"If you've done 25 years, hopefully you've spent that 25 years rehabilitating yourself so that when you come out — in Mr. Bourque's case that will be around 50 years old."

Lutz said he knows of offenders who were convicted of second-degree murder and were sentenced to life imprisonment with no possibility of parole for 10 years.

"But 30 years later, they're still there, as they did not rehabilitate themselves. They did not admit their crime. They did not show remorse or anything. And so they get to stay there.

"You go to prison to be rehabilitated. And if you don't get rehabilitated after 25 years, you don't get out. Clifford Olson never got out. "

Matthew Bingley/CBC
Matthew Bingley/CBC

Lutz said Bourque pleaded guilty, saving family members having to go through a trial, he showed remorse, "and he told the judge how sad he was for his behaviour." He was still handed a 75-year wait for parole eligibility.

Lutz said he spoke to Bourque twice since he was sentenced, including after Bissonnette appealed his parole eligibility as being unconstitutional.

"I spoke to him and I said, 'Let's not do anything now. Let's not complicate anything. Let's wait till the Supreme Court of Canada decides. And then we will do whatever is appropriate, given their decision.' And now it is appropriate."

Each victim 'deserved a life sentence'

The judge who sentenced Bourque in 2014 spoke about using the Criminal Code section that was struck down on Friday.

Just before he retired from the bench in 2019, David Smith talked about handing down three consecutive life sentences with no chance of parole for 75 years.

"There were three police officers," Smith said in an interview in his office the day before he retired from the court. "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."

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