Quebec mosque shooter Alexandre Bissonnette seeks reduced sentence

QUEBEC — A lawyer representing convicted Quebec City mosque shooter Alexandre Bissonnette says the killer was not motivated by deep-seated racist beliefs.

In a hearing before the Quebec Court of Appeal today, Bissonnette’s lawyer argued he should be eligible for parole after 25 years.

Defence lawyer Charles Gosselin said Quebec Superior Court Justice Francois Huot made several errors when rendering the sentence last year.

Bissonnette was sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole for 40 years after pleading guilty to killing six people and wounding several others on Jan. 29, 2017, after opening fire at evening prayers.

The Crown is arguing in favour of lengthening the ineligibility period to 50 years, with prosecutor Thomas Jacques telling court Bissonnette committed possibly the worst hate crimes in Canadian history.

But Gosselin called the four-decade prison term handed down to Bissonnette unreasonable.

He said three aggravating factors identified by Huot took on excessive and undue importance in sentencing.

Gosselin argued that, contrary to the ruling that highlighted Bissonnette’s “hatred” and “racism,” the crimes were not motivated by prejudice against Muslims — saying there was no evidence of that presented.

Instead, he argued that attacking Muslims was a way for Bissonnette to rationalize his actions and, in his mind, make them more acceptable. He argued that the judge made a selective reading of the evidence in his ruling.

Gosselin also disputed that the crimes were “highly planned,” arguing instead that Bissonnette had an idea, but it only came together in the days and hours before the attack.

A third aggravating factor disputed by the defence was the presence of minors at the mosque.

Gosselin argued that Bissonnette never targeted children, but the appellate court justices hearing the case questioned why Bissonnette had pleaded guilty to an attempted murder charge involving children if the judge had erred.

Bissonnette’s parents as well as several members of Quebec City’s Muslim community were present for arguments before the three-judge panel of Quebec’s highest court.

The Crown initially sought six consecutive life sentences totalling 150 years in prison.

An association of defence attorneys has been granted intervener status and will argue that the Criminal Code section allowing to stack sentences in the case of multiple murders contravenes the Charter of Rights and Freedoms by allowing judges to impose consecutive life sentences for multiple murders rather than have them served concurrently.

Bissonnette, 30, was not present Monday as arguments were presented at the Quebec City courthouse.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 27, 2020.

Caroline Plante, The Canadian Press

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