By Ismail Shakil
OTTAWA (Reuters) -Canada’s Supreme Court on Friday upheld a decision by a lower court to speed up the parole eligibility for the man convicted of gunning down six people in a mosque in 2017 and deemed a 2011 law that allowed lengthy parole sentencing as unconstitutional.
Canada’s top court was adjudicating on the case challenging a 2020 decision by a Quebec court to lower Alexandre Bissonnette’s parole eligibility to 25 years from the original sentence that required him to wait much longer for the possibility of parole.
The matter at dispute was a 2011 law that allowed judges to bar convicts from applying for parole for multiple 25-year periods, based on the number of murders committed.
The Supreme Court said that such a punishment removes a realistic possibility of parole and called it “incompatible with human dignity.”
“It is degrading in nature in that it presupposes at the time of its imposition that the offender is beyond redemption and lacks the moral autonomy needed for rehabilitation,” the top court said in the judgment.
The court struck down the law from the time of enactment, meaning people already sentenced to wait for 50 years or more of parole ineligibility can apply for a remedy.
Bissonnette, 32, pleaded guilty to six counts of first-degree murder and six counts of attempted murder for the attack on members of a Quebec City mosque in 2017 in one of Canada’s rare mass shootings.
He was sentenced to life in prison with eligibility for parole after 40 years behind bars in 2019 before a Quebec appeals court lowered that, describing the original sentence as “cruel and unusual.”
At the time of the attack, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau denounced the shooting as a terrorist act. The judge in the original trial said Bissonnette’s actions – entering the mosque at the end of prayers and shooting congregants – was motivated by prejudice, particularly toward Muslim immigrants.
Mass shootings are rare in Canada, where gun control laws are stricter than in the United States.
Canada’s rate of firearm homicides is 0.5 per 100,000 people, far lower than the U.S. rate of 4.12, according to a 2021 analysis by the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.
(Reporting by Ismail Shakil in Ottawa; Editing by Mark Porter and Diane Craft)