Bruce McArthur

Sentence of Life With No Parole for 40 Years for Quebec Mosque Shooter

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

Last week two sentencing decisions were made in two high profile criminal cases in Canada. In both decisions, the court was left to decide how many years the accused will have to wait until he can apply for parole given the multiple counts of first-degree murder.

As we wrote in our blog last week, Bruce McArthur (“McArthur”), 67 years old, pleaded guilty to eight counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of eight men who disappeared between 2010 and 2017 in Toronto’s Gay Village. Justice John McMahon sentenced McArthur to life in prison for each of the eight counts. Justice McMahon did not order consecutive periods of parole ineligibility and instead decided that McArthur was not eligible for parole for 25 years.

Justice McMahon, in his sentencing reasons, stated:

Due to the accused’s age, I am satisfied that when dealing with the protection of the public, concurrent periods of parole ineligibility can adequately address the protection of the public. It would not be until Mr. McArthur is 91 years of age that he could apply for consideration for parole.

In Quebec, Alexandre Bissonnette (“Bissonnette”), 29 years old, pleaded guilty to killing six men at a Quebec City mosque on January 29, 2017. He was sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole for 40 years.

WHAT HAPPENED AT BISSONNETTE’S SENTENCING HEARING?

In March 2018, Bissonnette pleaded guilty to six counts of first-degree murder and six counts of attempted murder as a result of his actions on the evening of January 29, 2017.

Bissonnette, armed with a .223-calibre rifle, a 9-mm Glock pistol, and 108 bullets, shot into a crowded prayer room at the Islamic Cultural Centre as Sunday prayers were ending.

The Crown prosecutor argued before the Quebec Superior Court that the parole periods should be consecutive, which would result in a total of 150 years with no chance of parole. This would have been the longest prison sentence in Canadian history. To date, the longest prison sentence of 75 years without parole has been handed down in five cases involving triple killings. For example, in the case of Justin Bourque who murdered three RCMP officers in New Brunswick in 2014.

Bissonnette’s lawyer argued that his client’s sentences should be served concurrently. This means Bissonnette could seek parole after 25 years in prison. Bissonnette was described by his lawyer as an “anxious” man suffering from depression who required alcohol in order to reduce his inhibitions on the night of the killings. He has been described by his own defence team as a “sick young man” who can be rehabilitated and has shown remorse and shame.

WHAT WAS THE JUDGE’S RULING ON SENTENCING?

Before providing his sentence to Bissonnette, Justice Francois Huot addressed the offender by stating:

By your hate and your racism, you destroyed the lives of dozens and dozens of people, and have irredeemably ruined your own and those of the members of your family.

Justice Huot then proceeded to provide a detailed account of Bissonnette’s actions on the night of the shooting.

In his ruling, Justice Francois Huot rejected the Crown’s argument and instead imposed a concurrent life sentence of a 25-year parole ineligibility period for the first five counts of murder and added a 15-year period of ineligibility for the sixth count. This means that Bissonnette will not be eligible for parole for 40 years.

Justice Huot reasoned that sentences that exceed an offender’s life expectancy and offer no hope of release are “grossly disproportionate and totally incompatible with human dignity” and would constitute cruel and unusual punishment under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Although Justice Huot did not strike down the section of the Criminal Code which allows for consecutive life sentences, he used his discretion to hand down a consecutive life sentence that was less than the traditional 25 year block (as first-degree murder carries a life sentence with no possibility of parole for 25 years).

According to Justice Huot, the following aggravating factors justified a sentence harsher than the 25-year period:

  • He planned his attack carefully;
  • He targeted vulnerable and unarmed people in their place of worship; and
  • He took aim at Canada’s right to freedom of religion.

Justice Huot also considered that Bissonnette had been struggling with mental health problems in the time leading up to the shootings. He also considered the fact that Bissonnette had no previous criminal record, he pleaded guilty, and he expressed remorse.

Lawyers for both the Crown and the defence will be reviewing Justice Huot’s lengthy 246-page decision to decide whether to appeal the sentence. We will continue to follow this case and will report any developments that occur in this blog.

In the meantime, if you have any questions regarding charges laid against you or your legal rights, please contact the experienced criminal lawyers at Affleck & Barrison LLP online or at 905-404-1947. Our skilled criminal lawyers have significant experience defending a wide range of criminal charges and protecting our clients’ rights. We offer a 24-hour phone service to protect your rights and to ensure that you have access to justice at all times.

McArthur Pleads Guilty and Awaits His Sentence

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

Last week, Bruce McArthur (“McArthur”) pleaded guilty to eight counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of eight men who disappeared between 2010 and 2017 in Toronto’s Gay Village.

At his sentencing hearing this week, an agreed statement of facts was presented to the court. In the statement, McArthur admitted that he intended to kill all eight men and afterward dismembered the men to avoid getting caught. He admitted that six were sexual in nature and that he kept some of his victims’ personal items as “souvenirs” and “staged” some of his victims.

AGREED STATEMENT OF FACTS

The following are some of the facts included in the Agreed Statement of Facts that were presented before Justice John McMahon in the Ontario Superior Court:

  • McArthur intended and caused each of the eight deaths;
  • Each of the murders was planned and deliberate and the murders were committed in the course of sexually assaulting the victims or committed while the victims were unlawfully confined;
  • The investigation found a duffle bag in McArthur’s bedroom containing duct tape, a surgical glove, rope, zip ties, a black bungee cord, and syringes;
  • To avoid detection, McArthur dismembered his victims’ bodies; and
  • McArthur disposed of the body parts at 53 Mallory Crescent in Toronto, where he worked as a gardener, placing some of the body parts in planters or in the ravine adjacent to the property.

ACCEPTANCE OF A GUILTY PLEA

According to the Criminal Code, a conviction or finding of guilt is not entered until the court accepts the plea.

Under section 606(1.1) of the Criminal Code, a plea of guilty can only be accepted if the Court is satisfied of the following:

  • That the accused is making the plea voluntarily; and
  • That the accused understands that the plea is an admission of the elements of the offence; and
  • That the accused understands the nature and consequences of the plea; and
  • That the accused understands that the court is not bound by any agreement made between the accused and the Crown prosecutor.

Therefore, for a guilty plea to be valid it must possess all of the following features:

  • Voluntary;
  • Unequivocal;
  • Information of the nature of the allegations; and
  • Informed of the consequences of the plea.

Justice McMahon began McArthur’s court proceedings last week by confirming that McArthur understood what is meant to plead guilty and warned him that he could not plead guilty to things he did not do just to get his case over with. McArthur replied “Yes”, when asked if he understood that he was giving up his right to a trial.

McArthur confirmed that he was not pressured by family, friends, lawyers or police officers to plead guilty.

Justice McMahon explained that McArthur would be sentenced to life imprisonment. He specifically asked, “So, you understand you’ll have to serve at least until you’re 91 before you could be eligible to apply for parole?” McArthur responded, “Yes, your honour.”

Once a guilty plea has been entered, there is no burden on the Crown prosecutor to prove the charge beyond a reasonable doubt. Furthermore, a guilty plea also terminates any procedural rights, rights of appeal or the ability to challenge the ruling of guilt.

PROSECUTORS SEEK CONSECUTIVE LIFE SENTENCES

Crown prosecutors have asked the Superior Court of Justice to sentence McArthur to two consecutive life sentences for the eight murders that McArthur committed. This means that McArthur will be behind bars until he is 116 years old, without a chance for parole.

Assistant Crown attorney Craig Harper (“Harper”) argued that McArthur’s crimes were heinous, he preyed on the vulnerable and “[h]e spread fear in a community that, regardless of its multiple strengths, struggles with a tenuous sense of safety.”

In support of his request for two consecutive life sentences, Harper also put before the court that permitting McArthur a parole hearing in 25 years would mean that the families of his victims may have to face him again in court.

McArthur’s lawyer, on the other hand, requested that the court sentence his client to serve all eight sentences concurrently. This would mean that McArthur would serve all the sentences at the same time.

It is the position of McArthur’s defence lawyer that due to his age it is not necessary to extend his parole eligibility beyond the minimum 25 years, which comes with a life sentence. This means he would not be able to apply for parole until he was at least 91 years old. He argues that a longer sentence will be “unduly harsh”.

Justice McMahon will soon make a decision on McArthur’s sentence and we will provide updates in this blog as the information becomes available.

In the meantime, to speak with an experienced criminal defence lawyer about charges laid against you or your legal rights, please contact Affleck & Barrison LLP online or at 905-404-1947. We offer a free consultation and are available to help you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. We are available when you need us most.