NEWS

Justin Bourque's sentence sparks questions about crime control

11/03/2014 10:17 EST | Updated 01/03/2015 05:59 EST
The knowledge that Justin Bourque will spend at least the next 75 years in prison — if he lives that long — is drawing mixed reaction.

Bourque's period of parole ineligibility for killing three RCMP officers in Moncton and wounding two others is the longest ever handed out in Canada.

George Robertson of Saint John has a daughter in the RCMP and he understands the public mood for retribution.

But Robertson told the CBC Radio's phone-in show Maritime Connection that he thinks Bourque's sentence is too stiff.

"He is a troubled young man, and then when he gets the psychological assessment and treatment that he requires, the full impact of what he's done is going to strike home and that penalty is going to be really severe on that young man," said Robertson.

Bourque received five automatic life sentences after pleading guilty to three counts of first-degree murder and two counts of attempted murder. 

The life sentences are all stemming from his June 4 rampage in a Moncton neighbourhood when he gunned down the RCMP officers with a high-powered rifle as they responded to numbers 911 calls about a man dressed in camouflage with weapons walking through the area.

In 2011, the federal government passed legislation to stop "sentence discounts" for those convicted of multiple murders. Under the new law, a judge can impose consecutive periods of parole ineligibility for multiple murders.

It is through that legislation that Court of Queen's Bench Chief Justice David Smith was able to sentence Bourque to life in prison with no change of parole for 75 years. That means Bourque will be 99 years old before he can even apply for parole, should he live that long.

James Lee of Bass River also told Maritime Connection that Bourque's life is already over.

"Seventy-five years incarceration takes away any light at the end of that tunnel," said Lee.

Daniel St. Louis of Moncton knows Bourque's family and believes the sentence is too long.

"Maybe if they'd have gone with a 50-year and an appeal, but they've essentially given him a death sentence," said St. Louis.

Brian McNichol of the Saint John area said anyone who kills a police officer deserves a death sentence.

"In the process of doing their duty to protect the public, the person that kills that person in uniform should be executed, no questions asked," said McNichol.

Roger Brown, commanding officer of the RCMP in New Brunswick, said if Bourque's sentence would have been 50 years, there would have been as many callers saying "it's not enough."

"I think that speaks to the complexity of the case and the difficulty that the judge had in arriving at that particular decision," Brown said on Information Morning Fredericton on Monday.

"The judge described it, and rightly so, as an ambush," said Brown.

"My three members that night didn't have a chance."

In an opinion essay for CBC News, Karla O'Regan, an associate professor of criminology at St. Thomas University in Fredericton, questions the move to lengthier prison terms.

"The social science evidence on these questions is clear and unequivocal; not only do longer terms of imprisonment fail to see a reduction in crime, they have been proven to increase both the rate of recidivism and the severity of the offences that are committed by those who re-offend," writes O'Regan.

"In other words, increasing punishment has proved to have very little effect on the reduction of crime. Rather, in most cases, it increases it."

O'Regan said studies have shown parole eligibility "serves to decrease violent behaviour among prison inmates, particularly those serving lengthy sentences."

O'Regan also notes Allan Legere, Robert Pickton and Paul Bernardo have all committed multiple murders and been sentenced to life in prison with no parole eligibility for 25 years..

"Each faces an infinitesimal likelihood of ever seeing the outside of a prison wall again," states O'Regan.

"Yet it is this infinitesimal likelihood that marks the difference between Bourque's case and others like it, and serves to explain its importance to Canadian crime control policy."

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