The man who opened fire on a group of Muslim worshippers in Quebec City, killing six, will serve a life sentence and won’t be eligible for parole for 40 years.
Alexandre Bissonnette was driven by a “visceral hatred” of Muslims, Quebec Superior Court Justice Francois Huot told a courtroom packed with 250 onlookers Friday morning, essentially declaring the massacre a hate crime. However, the judge did not consider the killings an act of terrorism, and in his reading of the decision did not specify why.
Huot spend a significant portion of his sentencing decrying a 2011 sentencing law brought in by the Harper government which forces 25-year blocks of parole eligibility per committed murder to be stacked. In order to get around this Huot amended the law to allow for another 15 years of parole ineligibility.
Dressed in a white shirt and navy jacket, Bissonnette, 29, who had pleaded guilty to six counts of first-degree murder and six of attempted murder, remained silent as he listened to his fate. Bissonnette will be 67 when he is first eligible for parole.
On January 29, 2017, Bissonnette walked into the the Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec City and opened fired on the congregation. He walked throughout the mosque and shot and killed six men and severely injured five more—including one man who is now paralyzed after being shot seven times. When the firing stopped, Bissonnette fled the mosque but eventually surrendered himself to police later in the night.
With his guilty plea, Bissonnette received an automatic life sentence. What was up in the air on Friday was his parole eligibility. While the Crown asked the judge for 150 years (25 years for each of the six men he killed) without parole—which would have been the longest sentence in Canadian history—Huot said he found it unreasonable to sentence someone longer than their life expectancy and that a country needs to trust its parole system. Bissonnette’s defence argued that a 150 year sentence was tantamount to sending the 29-year-old to death—execution by incarceration—and described it as “cruel and unusual punishment.” His lawyer requested 25 years, but Huot said he didn’t find this reasonable either. The judge said he felt a suitable punishment would fall between 35 and 42 years without parole but was forced to choose between 25 years, which he felt was too lenient, and 50, which he felt was too excessive.
Shortly before announcing the sentence, the judge read out several aggravating factors which led to the punishment being longer than the minimum, such as the premeditation of the massacre, his targeting of a place of worship, the number and vulnerability of the victims, the fact their were children in the mosque at the time of the shooting, and Bissonnette’s “visceral hatred” of Muslims.
Bissonnette initially pleaded not guilty to the the charges against him for killing Azzeddine Soufiane, Aboubaker Thabti, Abdelkrim Hassane, Ibrahima Barry, Khaled Belkacemi, and Tanou Barry but reversed it to guilty in March 2018, saying he didn’t want to drag the families of those he killed through a long trial. One Crown prosecutor called Bissonnette’s killings “a black eye, a scar on our Canadian values.”
Justice Huot said in his 246 page decision—the reading of which lasted about six hours—that the day Bissonnette walked into the mosque with a .223-calibre rifle and a 9-mm Glock pistol will be one “written in blood.” During the reading he described, in detail, how each man murdered by Bissonnette died, causing some of the family members to leave the room in tears. The judge also stated that, when speaking to a psychiatrist after the killings, Bissonnette said that he regretted not killing more people.
Bissonnette’s murders are one of the deadliest connected to the far-right in Canada’s history. Alongside an obsession with mass killers like Dylann Roof and Elliot Rodger, Bissonnette had a fixation on Muslim immigration and refugees coming to Canada. In an interview with police after the shooting, Bissonnette claimed he was protecting his family because he was scared of Canada becoming “like Europe”—referring to the far-right idea that Europe is overrun by refugees. He was convinced there was at least one Islamist terrorist in the mosque.
These ideas were seemingly the result of spending hours on far-right websites and frequently listening to right-wing or far-right pundits like Ben Shapiro, Paul Joseph Watson of Infowars, or Tucker Carlson of Fox News, and members of what’s colloquially known as the alt-right or new-right like Baked Alaska, Stefan Molyneux, and Richard Spencer. What allegedly triggered Bissonnette to take action was media coverage of Trudeau’s much-maligned tweet welcoming refugees.
“I was listening to TV and I learned that the Canadian government was going to take more refugees, you know, who couldn’t go to the United States, and they were coming here," Bissonnette said in the interview, according to The Globe and Mail.
“I saw that and I like lost my mind. I don’t want us to become like Europe. I don’t want them to kill my parents, my family.”
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