On Friday afternoon, a few hours after Toronto serial killer Bruce McArthur was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years, Quebec mosque killer Alexandre Bissonnette received his sentence in the city where he shot dead six Muslim men in the midst of Sunday prayers: life without parole for 40 years.
The disparity in the killers’ sentences illustrated the discretion judges have in cases of multiple murders — and, in Bissonnette’s case, Quebec Superior Court Justice Francois Huot’s unwillingness to exercise a relatively new provision of the Criminal Code that allows for parole ineligibility periods to be imposed consecutively in certain cases.
While the Crown wanted Bissonnette, 29, barred from seeking parole for 150 years — six consecutive 25-year periods for each of the first-degree murder counts to which he pleaded guilty — Huot opined that a sentence that long would be “cruel and unusual” and thereby contravene Bissonnette’s Charter rights.
Prosecutors in McArthur’s case, meanwhile, sought a “measured” penalty of two consecutive sentences, or 50 years without parole. But Ontario Superior Court Justice John McMahon went with the defence’s recommendation, basing his decision on McArthur’s advanced age of 67 and the fact he decided to plead guilty.
Below is a breakdown of the judge’s sentencing rationale in four recent high-profile cases of multiple murders: McArthur, Bissonnette, Dellen Millard and Elizabeth Wettlaufer.
Bruce McArthur, 67
Pleaded guilty to eight counts of first-degree murder
Sentenced to life without parole for 25 years on Feb. 8, 2019
If McArthur were younger or if he had insisted on submitting the families of his victims to a long, nightmarish trial, McMahon said he would have sided with the Crown, which had called for McArthur to serve two consecutive sentences — a penalty that would have left him unable to apply for parole until the age of 116.
But the presence of those two mitigating circumstances convinced the judge to impose all eight sentences concurrently.
McArthur admitted in court last week to killing and concealing the dismembered remains of eight men in Toronto between 2010 and 2017. His victims were mostly immigrants of Middle Eastern or South Asian descent and members of the city’s gay community.
Alexandre Bissonnette, 29
Pleaded guilty to six counts of first-degree murder and six of attempted murder
Sentenced to life without parole for 40 years on Feb. 8, 2019
Believing 25 years without parole to be too lenient and 150 years to be unconstitutionally long, since it far exceeds Bissonnette’s expected lifespan, Huot instead settled on five concurrent sentences and 15 additional years of parole ineligibility on the sixth first-degree murder count.
In court on Friday, Huot did call Bissonnette’s crimes gratuitous and insidious and said the day of the murders — Jan. 29, 2017 — “will forever be written in blood in the history of this city, this province, this country.”
On that evening, Bissonnette walked into Quebec City’s Islamic Cultural Centre with two guns and 108 rounds of ammunition and proceeded to kill six Muslim men who’d been praying.
Dellen Millard, 33
Serving three consecutive life sentences (no parole for 75 years) for three counts of first-degree murder
Toronto-born Millard, who like McArthur is considered a serial killer because he committed his murders at different times, won’t be eligible for parole until he turns 102 in 2088. The judges in each of his last two murder trials decide to impose the sentences they issued consecutively.
Along with Mark Smich, Millard was found guilty of murdering Laura Babcock in 2012 and Tim Bosma in 2013. Separately, Millard was convicted two months ago in the 2012 shooting death of his father, Wayne Millard.
“A consecutive period of parole ineligibility is related to the sentencing objectives of denunciation and retribution. Such a sentence is required to reflect the heightened moral culpability of Mr. Millard,” Ontario Superior Court Justice Maureen Forestell wrote when she sentenced Millard for killing his father.
“It is necessary to impose a further penalty in order to express society’s condemnation of each of the murders that he has committed and to acknowledge the harm done to each of his victims. It is not unduly long and harsh.”
Elizabeth Wettlaufer, 51
Pleaded guilty to eight counts of first-degree murder, four of attempted murder and two of aggravated assault
Sentenced to life without parole for 25 years on June 26, 2017
When he sentenced McArthur to 25 years with no chance of parole on Friday, McMahon drew a parallel between the case before him and that of Wettlaufer, the former southern Ontario nurse who confessed to murdering eight senior-aged patients of hers with lethal doses of insulin.
Like Wettlaufer, McArthur’s murders included an obvious planning element, McMahon said on Friday. Additionally, both serial killers pleaded guilty. But while Wettlaufer and McArthur were each sentenced concurrently, the judges in their cases arrived at those decisions for different reasons.
Though McMahon accounted for McArthur’s age and guilty plea in opting for the minimum punishment, he noted that McArthur is unlike Wettlaufer in that she was brought to justice as a direct result of her choice to willingly come forward and admit to her crimes.
Consequently, the Crown and the defence jointly submitted to Superior Court Justice Bruce Thomas that Wettlaufer should be barred from pursuing parole for 25 years. Thomas agreed: “Without her confessions, I’m convinced this offender never would have been brought to justice.”
— With a file from The Canadian Press