Crown prosecutors have formally acknowledged that the sentence for a New Brunswick man who fatally shot three Mounties must be amended so he can apply for parole after serving 25 years.
Justin Bourque was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 75 years after he pleaded guilty to three counts of first-degree murder and two counts of attempted murder after targeting RCMP officers in Moncton, N.B., on the night of June 4, 2014.
Bourque’s lawyer applied in December to the New Brunswick Court of Appeal to have the precedent-setting sentence reduced after the Supreme Court of Canada struck down the law that made it possible for judges to extend parole ineligibility periods beyond 25 years for people convicted of multiple murders.
The Supreme Court’s decision involved the case of Alexandre Bissonnette, who murdered six men in a Quebec City mosque in 2017. He was originally sentenced to life with no chance of parole for 40 years, but the high court lowered the parole eligibility to 25 years.
A written submission from Crown attorney Patrick McGuinty on Jan. 20 to the Appeal Court said Bourque’s sentence must be similarly amended.
“In particular, the Crown recognizes Bissonnette has binding and direct implications for Mr. Bourque’s appeal,” McGuinty said.
“In light of Bissonnette, the Crown acknowledges that Mr. Bourque’s sentence appeal must be allowed, and his sentence be amended to a sentence of life imprisonment without eligibility to apply for parole for 25 years.”
Bourque’s case was on the Appeal Court docket Wednesday but no oral hearing was held and no decision released.
Angela Gevaudan, whose husband, Const. Fabrice Gevaudan, was among those killed in the shootings, said in a written victim impact statement that her physical and emotional health have suffered lasting damage.
She was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder within months of the shooting and has suffered physical illnesses ever since, including chronic inflammation in different parts of her body, she said.
In addition, she said, her difficulty sleeping has returned since the court decision last year that led to the potential earlier release of Bourque.
“I wake up in the middle of the night, unable to breathe,” she said. She said she had hoped to make progress, but the potential of being notified of parole hearings for her husband’s killer — and the awareness he may now be released — “made our worst nightmares a reality.”
She said that while she doesn’t believe in vengeance, she thought the original sentence made sense considering all the lives lost and altered. She noted her husband was 45 years old when he died, and that Bourque — who was 24 at the time of the killings — would not be much older when he can apply for parole if his sentence is reduced.
In a telephone interview Wednesday from her home in Ontario, Gevaudan said she believes Parliament needs to make legal changes that can withstand constitutional challenges to allow for longer sentences in cases of multiple murders.
“Now that we know so much more about trauma and its lasting impact on a victim of violence, I think our justice system isn’t reflecting a balanced approach in dealing with violent crimes,” she said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 15, 2023.
— With files from Michael Tutton in Halifax