MONTREAL, May 28 ― Canada’s Supreme Court yesterday ruled that life sentences without the possibility of parole for mass murderers are unconstitutional, as they violate the right not to be subjected to “cruel and unusual punishment.”
The landmark ruling strikes down a criminal code provision enacted in 2011 that allowed for such sentences.
“Such a sentence is degrading in nature and thus incompatible with human dignity, as it eliminates any possibility of reintegration into society,” the highest Canadian court ruled, paving the way for a series of judicial reviews.
The highly anticipated and unanimous decision came during the review of the case of Alexandre Bissonnette, prosecuted for the murder of six worshippers in a Quebec City mosque in 2017.
The ruling means that Bissonnette will now have a chance at parole after 25 years in prison. Before 2011, the maximum sentence allowable under Canadian law was life imprisonment with no possibility of parole before 25 years.
But after a Conservative government reform of the criminal code, murderers who killed multiple people could be sentenced to unlimited periods of hard time. “Under this unconstitutional provision, offenders have been sentenced to imprisonment for life without eligibility for parole for 50 or even 75 years,” said the ruling, written by Chief Justice Richard Wagner.
The court concluded that a prison sentence that “greatly exceeds the life expectancy of any human being is degrading because of its absurdity, and hence incompatible with human dignity.”
Bissonnette, a white supremacist who was 27 at the time of the massacre, opened fire on worshippers gathered at the Quebec City mosque in 2017, killing six people and seriously injuring five others.
“While we are disappointed in this ruling by the highest court in the country, it allows us to put an end to this legal chapter and we would like to focus on the future from here on,” the mosque said in a statement.
Bissonnette’s attorney, Charles-Olivier Gosselin, told AFP he was “very happy and relieved” by the decision, adding that it sent an “important message of hope.” “This is a second chance for him to show that he is something beyond the crime he committed,” Gosselin said. ― AFP