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MANDEL: Supreme Court hearing on mosque shooter may impact Minassian

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Toronto van attack killer Alek Minassian sits in a prison cell, any possibility of future freedom dependent on a crucial Supreme Court hearing Thursday that will determine whether murderers guilty of multiple slayings can be sentenced to more than 25 years before they’re eligible for parole.

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For Minassian, it would potentially mean 25 years for each of the 10 victims he deliberately ran down four years ago, meaning the young man would never see the light of day.

Can a Canadian life sentence actually mean life? Or is it cruel and unusual punishment to sentence a multiple killer to consecutive periods of parole ineligibility, as the law currently allows?

The test case being heard by Canada’s highest court is that of Alexandre Bissonnette, who was convicted of killing six worshippers at a Quebec City mosque in 2017. The sentencing judge felt it violated the Charter to go as high as six consecutive periods of 25-year parole ineligibility and sentenced Bissonnette instead to 40 years before he can apply for release.

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But the Quebec Court of Appeal found even that was too much, ruling that sentencing a multiple murderer to a term that may outlast his lifespan was cruel and unusual punishment. They declared the law unconstitutional — and varied his sentence to the usual life with no parole for 25 years.

That’s the right sentence, argues Bissonnette, who pleaded guilty and blamed the mass murder on mental health issues. Anything longer, he insists in his factum filed ahead of the Supreme Court hearing, is “unfair, inappropriate, excessive, crushing and grossly disproportionate.”

Others, including Ottawa, the Ontario government, the National Council of Canadian Muslims, and the families of slain Leslie Mahaffy, Kristen French, Michael Sweet and Todd Baylis argue otherwise.

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Until 2011, a life sentence for first-degree murder meant killers could apply for parole after 25 years regardless of whether they killed one victim or 20. And so schoolgirl killer Paul Bernardo, convicted in the murder of Mahaffy, didn’t have to do one extra day for the subsequent sex slaying of French, and has applied for parole twice in the last three years, a torturous retraumatizing experience for the girls’ families.

“The offender convicted of multiple murders was effectively given a ‘free pass’ for each subsequent murder,” Tim Danson argues on behalf of the families, the Toronto Police Association and the Canadian Police Association.

“This was an unacceptable insult to murder victims and their families. It devalued and marginalized the lives of murder victims for the benefit of the very person who had so brutally taken their lives – an injustice that was unacceptable to most Canadians.”

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That changed with the Harper government’s “Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders Act,” which gives judges the discretion to stack the periods of parole ineligibility for multiple killings. In 2013, Edmonton armoured car guard Travis Baumgartner, 21, was the first at the receiving end of the new law when he got life without parole for 40 years for killing three co-workers, the harshest sentence for a murderer since the abolishment of the death penalty in 1962.

The National Council of Canadian Muslims is urging the Supreme Court to uphold the ability for judges to impose consecutive parole ineligibility periods for mass murderers like Bissonnette.

“Courts must not offer a ‘discount’ to offenders found guilty of multiple murders,” writes Sameha Omer in her factum, “and must carefully set a precedent when determining whether the impugned punishment outrages society’s sense of decency in the context of hate-motivated killing.”

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In recent Ontario cases, courts have differed on what to do about multiple killers: for serial gay village killer Bruce McArthur, a judge chose not to impose consecutive parole ineligibility periods because 25 years would already take him to age 91. Triple murderer Dellen Millard, though, was sentenced to 75 years before he can seek parole — he’ll be 102.

If the Supreme Court rules it’s unconstitutional, Minassian will be sentenced as if he killed just one pedestrian that horrible day — and not 10 souls.

And what is “cruel and unusual punishment” is being slain by a mass killer and having your life mean nothing at all.

[email protected]

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Comments

Postmedia is committed to maintaining a lively but civil forum for discussion and encourage all readers to share their views on our articles. Comments may take up to an hour for moderation before appearing on the site. We ask you to keep your comments relevant and respectful. We have enabled email notifications—you will now receive an email if you receive a reply to your comment, there is an update to a comment thread you follow or if a user you follow comments. Visit our Community Guidelines for more information and details on how to adjust your email settings.


Article content

Toronto van attack killer Alek Minassian sits in a prison cell, any possibility of future freedom dependent on a crucial Supreme Court hearing Thursday that will determine whether murderers guilty of multiple slayings can be sentenced to more than 25 years before they’re eligible for parole.

Advertisement 2

Article content

For Minassian, it would potentially mean 25 years for each of the 10 victims he deliberately ran down four years ago, meaning the young man would never see the light of day.

Can a Canadian life sentence actually mean life? Or is it cruel and unusual punishment to sentence a multiple killer to consecutive periods of parole ineligibility, as the law currently allows?

The test case being heard by Canada’s highest court is that of Alexandre Bissonnette, who was convicted of killing six worshippers at a Quebec City mosque in 2017. The sentencing judge felt it violated the Charter to go as high as six consecutive periods of 25-year parole ineligibility and sentenced Bissonnette instead to 40 years before he can apply for release.

Advertisement 3

Article content

But the Quebec Court of Appeal found even that was too much, ruling that sentencing a multiple murderer to a term that may outlast his lifespan was cruel and unusual punishment. They declared the law unconstitutional — and varied his sentence to the usual life with no parole for 25 years.

That’s the right sentence, argues Bissonnette, who pleaded guilty and blamed the mass murder on mental health issues. Anything longer, he insists in his factum filed ahead of the Supreme Court hearing, is “unfair, inappropriate, excessive, crushing and grossly disproportionate.”

Others, including Ottawa, the Ontario government, the National Council of Canadian Muslims, and the families of slain Leslie Mahaffy, Kristen French, Michael Sweet and Todd Baylis argue otherwise.

Advertisement 4

Article content

Until 2011, a life sentence for first-degree murder meant killers could apply for parole after 25 years regardless of whether they killed one victim or 20. And so schoolgirl killer Paul Bernardo, convicted in the murder of Mahaffy, didn’t have to do one extra day for the subsequent sex slaying of French, and has applied for parole twice in the last three years, a torturous retraumatizing experience for the girls’ families.

“The offender convicted of multiple murders was effectively given a ‘free pass’ for each subsequent murder,” Tim Danson argues on behalf of the families, the Toronto Police Association and the Canadian Police Association.

“This was an unacceptable insult to murder victims and their families. It devalued and marginalized the lives of murder victims for the benefit of the very person who had so brutally taken their lives – an injustice that was unacceptable to most Canadians.”

Advertisement 5

Article content

We apologize, but this video has failed to load.

That changed with the Harper government’s “Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders Act,” which gives judges the discretion to stack the periods of parole ineligibility for multiple killings. In 2013, Edmonton armoured car guard Travis Baumgartner, 21, was the first at the receiving end of the new law when he got life without parole for 40 years for killing three co-workers, the harshest sentence for a murderer since the abolishment of the death penalty in 1962.

The National Council of Canadian Muslims is urging the Supreme Court to uphold the ability for judges to impose consecutive parole ineligibility periods for mass murderers like Bissonnette.

“Courts must not offer a ‘discount’ to offenders found guilty of multiple murders,” writes Sameha Omer in her factum, “and must carefully set a precedent when determining whether the impugned punishment outrages society’s sense of decency in the context of hate-motivated killing.”

Advertisement 6

Article content

In recent Ontario cases, courts have differed on what to do about multiple killers: for serial gay village killer Bruce McArthur, a judge chose not to impose consecutive parole ineligibility periods because 25 years would already take him to age 91. Triple murderer Dellen Millard, though, was sentenced to 75 years before he can seek parole — he’ll be 102.

If the Supreme Court rules it’s unconstitutional, Minassian will be sentenced as if he killed just one pedestrian that horrible day — and not 10 souls.

And what is “cruel and unusual punishment” is being slain by a mass killer and having your life mean nothing at all.

[email protected]

Advertisement 1

Comments

Postmedia is committed to maintaining a lively but civil forum for discussion and encourage all readers to share their views on our articles. Comments may take up to an hour for moderation before appearing on the site. We ask you to keep your comments relevant and respectful. We have enabled email notifications—you will now receive an email if you receive a reply to your comment, there is an update to a comment thread you follow or if a user you follow comments. Visit our Community Guidelines for more information and details on how to adjust your email settings.

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