Quebec City’s Muslim community is bitterly disappointed about the mosque killer’s sentence, which could allow him to leave prison after 40 years.
QUEBEC — Survivors and representative of this city’s tiny Muslim community expressed deep disappointment and bitterness that mosque killer Alexandre Bissonnette could be eligible to get out of prison after 40 years.
Emerging from an hour-long huddle with crown prosecutors on Friday after the life sentence was handed down, they gathered around a podium in the Quebec City courthouse.
The anger and emotions poured out with some even questioning the validity of the Canadian court system, saying they feel like second-class citizens.
“I was very disappointed and surprised,” said Aymen Derbali, who spoke from his wheelchair. Bissonnette shot him seven times, leaving Derbali paralyzed from the waist down.
The Quebec City community rallied to donate money so he could live in an adapted home.
“We wanted justice to be done, for the victims for all those who are dead,” Derbali said, noting that based on what the judge decided, Bissonnette will be eligible for parole at age 67.
“Why did he (the judge) pick 40 years? Why didn’t he pick 50 years or two 25-year sentences? We were very upset after this sentence.”
Next up were brothers and sister Amir and Megda Belkacemi. Their father, Khaled Belkacemi, was one of the six men slaughtered by Bissonnette in an attack Justice François Huot described as “premeditated, gratuitous and cold-blooded.”
“We are surprised and disappointed with the decision,” an emotional Megda Belkacemi said, brushing aside tears.
Benabdallah said the victims also wanted to express solidarity with the families of victims of Toronto serial killer Bruce McArthur, who got a 25-year sentence on the same day as Bissonnette got his sentence.
“We feel the same pain as they do,” Benabdallah. “Sincerely, we are completely floored. People in our community were completely demolished.”
“It is not anger that overwhelms us,” Benabdallah said. “It’s disappointment that overwhelms us.
“We appeal to the Quebec population to understand the pain we are feeling today, to understand our disappointment today. We are not singling out anybody. We want dignity for all citizens and Muslim citizens above all because they feel shunted aside.”
“After 40 years, Mr. Bissonnette will still be alive,” said Hassan Guillet, spokesman for the Council of Quebec Imans. “Very likely these orphans will still be alive and the debate will be open again and they will re-live what we lived today.”
“It seems to me the wound is still open.”
“Today I feel a Muslim Canadian citizen is worth less than another citizen,” said shooting survivor Saïd El-Amari, who was wounded in the shooting and survived.
“Today we spent the day asking why this man, who killed six Muslim citizens of the City of Quebec, and wounded five others and left 17 children orphans, gets the chance to (one day) get out and live in society.
“I am floored, I am thunderstruck, I am angry. I wonder whether we are treated in the same way as our fellow Canadian citizens. I lack words. I wonder if the laws are going to be adopted to whether a person has the Muslim faith or another.
“Today I witnessed the law being adopted so a person can be freed at the end of his sentence. It is a sad day. We are committing 17 orphans in a process that will last 40 years after which point they will have to step forward to try and keep this assassin inside (prison).
“The suffering starts today. It will last 40 years. I am 42 years old. In 40 years I will be 82. I will once again have to re-live this suffering and tragedy.”
“An orphan who is two years old today will be 42 when he gets out of prison,” said Ahmed Cheddadi, who witnessed Bissonnette’s attack that night. “That means he could run into him in the grocery store. Think about that. That’s rough.
Asked if he is happy with the sentence, Cheddadi answered: “I respect the decision of the judge. I understand he wanted to give what is fair and appropriate at the same time as not being cruel.”
But some in Quebec City seemed relieved this part of the ordeal is over, even though appeals court proceedings will continue.
In a statement, Quebec City Mayor Régis Labeaume expressed “relief” that the saga was coming to an end and people in the provincial capital can turn the page.
“My thoughts and those of the city council are with the victims of this tragedy,” Labeaume said. “I hope this verdict will allow people to complete their mourning and they can serenely continue commemorating their lost loved ones.”
“I am also thinking of Alexandre Bissonnette’s parents, collateral victims in this story and to whom I hope can find a certain peace.”