The man convicted of fatally shooting six Muslim men at a mosque in the Canadian province of Quebec in 2017 will be able to apply for parole in 25 years, an appeals court has ruled, saying Alexandre Bissonette’s previous sentence was unconstitutional.
In a decision on Thursday, the Quebec Court of Appeal said consecutive sentences such as Bissonnette’s – who was sentenced last year to life imprisonment without the chance of parole for 40 years – violate protections against “cruel and unusual” punishment in Canada.
The court reduced his sentence to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for 25 years.
“It is worth remembering that this is not a 25-year sentence, but rather life in prison without the possibility of applying for parole before 25 years. In other words, nothing guarantees that parole will be granted … in 25 years,” it said in its ruling.
Six men – Aboubaker Thabti, Abdelkrim Hassane, Khaled Belkacemi, Mamadou Tanou Barry, Ibrahima Barry and Azzedine Soufiane – were killed when Bissonnette opened fire inside the Quebec Islamic Cultural Centre in January 2017.
“Disappointment, that’s the word that comes to our lips,” Boufeldja Benabdallah, a spokesman for the Quebec City mosque, told local media on Thursday after the appeals court’s decision.
“We are not convinced that (the decision) has done justice to … the heinous crime,” said Benabdallah, adding that the families of the victims will now be forced to relive their pain.
‘Our hearts are breaking’
Bissonnette pleaded guilty to six counts of murder and six counts of attempted murder in relation to the attack and a judge sentenced him last year to life in prison without the possibility of parole for 40 years.
At the time, the judge said Bissonnette was motivated by a “visceral hatred” for Muslim immigrants
His lawyers, as well as prosecutors, had challenged the sentence, however, because the judge had invoked a section of the Canadian Criminal Code that allows periods without eligibility for parole to be served consecutively.
The appeals court said its decision did not reflect “the horror of Alexandre Bissonette’s actions on January 29, 2017, or the effect of his crimes on an entire community and society in general”, but rather on the constitutionality of the Criminal Code provision.
The question that many Quebec Muslims - (that) all Quebec Muslims - are asking today is whether the blood of Quebec Muslims (means) less
However, Yusuf Faqiri, a representative of the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM), a national Muslim advocacy group, said the court’s decision reflects a “fundamental double-standard”.
“Our hearts are breaking,” Faqiri told Al Jazeera in a phone interview, adding that the families of the victims and those who were injured are still struggling to cope in the attack’s aftermath.
“It’s as if their lives had less value than the rest of the population,” he said. “The question that many Quebec Muslims – [that] all Quebec Muslims – are asking today is whether the blood of Quebec Muslims [means] less.”
Faqiri added that NCCM would review the court’s decision and then make a decision on what next legal steps are available.
Asked about the court’s decision during a news conference on Thursday afternoon, Quebec Premier Francois Legault said the province’s justice minister would read the ruling and then comment.