On Thursday, a Canadian court reduced the life imprisonment sentence imposed on a Canadian who shot six worshipers in a mosque in Quebec in January 2017 to 25 years instead of forty, considering his life imprisonment unconstitutional.
Next week, Alexandre Bissonnet, who will turn 31, was sentenced to life in prison in 2019 with no possibility of parole for 40 years.
The Quebec Court of Appeals unanimously declared “unconstitutional”, an article that was included in the penal code amended in 2011 that allowed judges to impose punishment on the Quebec Bissonnet.
This article allows “the issuance of a number of successive sentences of life imprisonment of 25 years for the perpetrator of many crimes before it becomes possible to grant him conditional freedom for each crime.” The highest judicial authority in Canada deemed it a violation of Canadian rights and freedoms.
The prosecution had requested a prison sentence of 150 years, the longest in Canada, while the defense demanded that it be reduced to 25 years.
The judge who administered the Bissonnet trial settled the matter with a forty-year prison sentence because he deemed that “imposing a sentence in excess of the killer’s life expectancy” might “raise doubts about the credibility of the judicial system.”
Bissonnet was 27 at the time of his arrest.
In its decision, the Quebec Court of Appeal said that it agreed with the judge of the court of the first instance, that the article listed in the Penal Code is inconsistent with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which has constitutional value.
The three-judge panel of the court stated that the article “permits the imposition of a penalty that will be at all times cruel, unfair and unequal in an exaggerated manner.”
A spokesman for the Quebec Mosque, Bouflaja bin Abdullah, expressed his regret. Commenting on the decision, he said, “disappointment is the word that comes to our minds.” He added that the mosque “will need time to read the decision” before deciding on the issue of submitting an appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.
The prosecution also said that it would conduct a “careful analysis” of the ruling that poses “many complex legal questions”, stressing that it “thinks about the victims, relatives, and society who must re-live these tragic events at every judicial stage.”
On January 29, 2017, Bissonnet stormed the Quebec City mosque and shot forty men and four children who were performing evening prayers. During the trial, a witness said that Bisonette fired dozens of shots and then retreated to a safe area to reload his pistol at least four times, “as if he was playing a video game.”
Six people were killed and five others seriously injured in the attack. All the victims were immigrants to Canada from Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, and Guinea.
The Court of Appeal considered in its ruling that the first instance judge “made a mistake when rewriting the clause” in the penal code instead of “nullifying it.”
And it concluded that “Article No. 745.51 of the Criminal Code is unconstitutional and orders its abolition immediately and that any reformulation of it must be left to the legislature.”
She added, “We must therefore return to the law as it was before (…) and order that periods of inability to grant Bisonet parole (…) be introduced for a total period of 25 years.”
She states that “in fact, he was sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of requesting parole for a period of 25 years and it is not certain that he will necessarily be granted.”