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150 years in prison for Quebec mosque shooter would deprive him of hope: defence

Last Updated Jun 21, 2018 at 3:20 pm PST

Alexandre Bissonnette, a suspect in a shooting at a Quebec City mosque, arrives at the court house in Quebec City on February 21, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mathieu Belanger - POOL

QUEBEC – All Canadians have rights, including murderers like Quebec mosque shooter Alexandre Bissonnette, and they also have the capacity to be rehabilitated, the convicted killer’s lawyer argued Wednesday.

The Crown wants Bissonnette to serve a 150-year prison term, but his defence team has countered he should be eligible for parole after 25 years.

After two days of sentencing arguments, the courtroom debate shifted to whether the trial judge should be able to hand Bissonnette consecutive sentences.

Bissonnette, 28, pleaded guilty earlier this year to six charges of first-degree murder and six of attempted murder after he walked into a mosque in the provincial capital in January 2017 and opened fire.

A single first-degree murder conviction carries an automatic life sentence with no chance of parole for 25 years.

Quebec Superior Court Justice Francois Huot, however, can use section Section 745.51 of the Criminal Code, and multiply the sentence for one murder conviction by six — representing the six men Bissonnette murdered — and send the young man to prison for 150 years.

Bissonnette’s defence team has tabled a motion in court asking the judge to declare Section 745.51 unconstitutional and invalid.

Defence lawyer Charles-Olivier Gosselin argued Section 745.51 — a part of the Criminal Code since 2011 — contravenes Article 12 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which protects citizens from cruel and unusual treatment.

“It denies outright the possibility of humanity for a person,” he told Huot on Wednesday. “Without hope, what is the meaning of a life? There isn’t any.”

Bissonnette was shackled, dressed in black and given permission by the judge to remove his handcuffs and take notes.

Holding Bissonnette behind bars for the rest of his life and “throwing away the key” would have a disastrous effect on him, given his young age, Gosselin said.

The defence lawyer cited studies about prisoners’ life expectancy and suicide risk.

Gosselin was also critical of the Stephen Harper government, which was responsible for changing the Criminal Code to allow consecutive prison terms, describing the reforms as “penal populism” and that changes were more of a “political slogan.”

“When we are told that significant penalties must be imposed so that Canada does not end up with mass murder problems as in the United States, it is clearly not supported by any evidence whatsoever, other than penal populism,” Gosselin said.

The Crown will present its arguments in favour of consecutive sentences on Thursday.

On Wednesday, lawyers for the Attorney General of Quebec argued that cumulative sentences were constitutionally valid and reasonable punishment for crimes where the accused was held to a higher level of moral condemnation.

Bissonnette’s parents, who greeted him discreetly Wednesday and blew him a kiss before leaving the courtroom, could address the media at the end of the hearing on Thursday.

The judge isn’t expected to sentence Bissonnette until sometime this fall.