MONTREAL — The man who killed six worshippers inside a Quebec City mosque in 2017 could receive the longest prison sentence in Canadian history when he appears before a judge Friday.
Alexandre Bissonnette, 29, faces a sentence of up to 150 years before being eligible for parole in what is being watched as a possible landmark decision. He will learn his fate at the Quebec City courthouse in a ruling by Superior Court Justice Francois Huot.
Bissonnette pleaded guilty last March to six counts of first-degree murder and six of attempted murder after he walked into the mosque during evening prayers on Jan. 29, 2017 and opened fire.
The charges resulted from his Jan. 29, 2017 attack on the Islamic Cultural Centre that left six men dead: Mamadou Tanou Barry, 42; Abdelkrim Hassane, 41; Khaled Belkacemi, 60; Aboubaker Thabti, 44; Azzeddine Soufiane, 57; and Ibrahima Barry, 39.
Witnesses described the former Universite Laval student entering the mosque and calmly opening fire on the crowd of men who were gathered there for evening prayers.
In addition to the men killed, five other men were struck by bullets, including Aymen Derbali, who was shot seven times and was paralyzed from the waist down. The sixth attempted murder charge related to others who were nearby in the mosque.
The first-degree murder charges carry an automatic life sentence with no chance of parole before 25 years. But under a new provision of the Criminal Code adopted in 2011, a judge can now order that the sentences be served consecutively in cases with multiple victims.
The Conservative government of the day said the change was needed to bring an end to “discount sentences” for mass murderers.
At Bissonnette’s sentencing hearing, Crown prosecutor Thomas Jacques argued that the six sentences should be served consecutively, totalling 150 years before he could seek parole. He called for a sentence “that reflects the scale of the crimes committed.”
Bissonnette’s lawyers said he should be eligible for parole after 25 years in prison. They called a 150-year sentence the equivalent of a “death sentence by imprisonment” and said it would be “contrary to human dignity.”
They are seeking to have the section of the Criminal Code permitting consecutive sentences declared unconstitutional, arguing that it infringes the protection against cruel and unusual punishment contained in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.