When the sentencing process for Moncton, N.B., RCMP killer Justin Christien Bourque unfolds starting Monday, the legal community will be watching to see how new legislation applies to the case.
Bourque pleaded guilty to three charges of first-degree murder and two charges of attempted murder after shooting five RCMP officers on June 4 as he wandered through a Moncton neighbourhood in the early evening, dressed in camouflage and carrying a high-powered weapon.
Up until 2011, the maximum sentence a multiple killer could be given in Canada was life in prison with no parole eligibility for 25 years.
However, in 2011 the federal government passed the Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murderers Act. It allows judges to sentence offenders consecutively when convicted of more than one murder.
"It's kind of a clumsy title, but what it has done is said that in circumstances where a person is convicted of more than one murder the judge may determine to sentence the person consecutive," said Archibald Kaiser, who teaches at Dalhousie University's Schulich School of Law in Halifax.
"The Criminal Code now contains that option for the judge and it's very unusual that this legislation departed from the normal prior presumption, that it just meant life imprisonment and then there was the option of parole being considered after 25 years," said Kaiser.
A two-day sentencing hearing for Bourque is scheduled to begin Monday in Moncton. At that time, the court will receive victim impact statements and information about Bourque to take into account for sentencing.
When Bourque pleaded guilty to the five charges in August, the Crown gave notice it will seek three consecutive life sentences on the first-degree murder charges.
Kaiser said the judge will have to carefully weigh all of the information from the sentencing hearing.
"This crime is so severe that he will no doubt have to emphasize denunciation and deterrence and separation of the offender and examine the gravity of the offence and the degree of responsibility of the offender to make sure it's a proportionate sentence," said Kaiser.
"It can't be a vengeful sentence," he said. "When the public is understandably very agitated, a judge cannot be. A judge has to avoid vengeance."
Janet Austin, the associate dean of law at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton, said the 2011 legislation has not been tested, so it's possible whatever sentence is given could be appealed by the Crown or by Bourque.
"[The judge] does have to provide his reasons in writing for a decision to impose multiple life sentences or not," said Austin.
"That's in the legislation. He has to make his reasons known."
Because Parliament changed the law to give judges the ability to impose consecutive life sentences, Austin said, "I think it would be difficult in these circumstances for a judge to ignore that law and just impose 25 years [in the Bourque sentencing]."
The first case in which the 2011 law was used in sentencing was in 2013, when Travis Baumgartner received a 40-year sentence for killing three of his security company co-workers during a robbery.
Bourque was 24 at the time of the killings. If given three consecutive life sentences, he would be 99 years of age before becoming eligible for parole.
Bourque is represented by attorney David Lutz.
Chief Justice David Smith of the Court of Queen's Bench is scheduled to preside over the sentencing of Bourque.
The RCMP officers who were killed on June 4 were:
- Const. Douglas James Larche, 40, from Saint John.
- Const. Dave Joseph Ross, 32, from Victoriaville, Que.
- Const. Fabrice Georges Gevaudan, 45, originally from Boulogne-Billancourt, France.
The RCMP officers who were wounded on June 4 were:
- Const. Éric Stéphane J. Dubois.
- Const. Marie Darlene Goguen.
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