TORONTO - A man who gunned down two people in a crowded downtown food court was sentenced Thursday to at least 30 years behind bars — an unprecedented sentence for second-degree murder.
Ontario Superior Court Justice Eugene Ewaschuk, who denounced the crimes as horrific and outrageous, decided Christopher Husbands will be ineligible for parole for 15 years for each killing. Ewaschuk also decided the periods of parole ineligibility should be served consecutively.
"It's an unprecedented sentence for second-degree murder in Canada— it's literally never been given," defence lawyer Dirk Derstine said.
"He's in shock because of the sentence."
Husbands was convicted of two counts of second-degree murder for the shooting at the landmark Eaton Centre in June 2012 that also critically injured a 13-year-old boy.
The 26-year-old was also convicted of five counts of aggravated assault, one count of criminal negligence causing bodily harm and one count of recklessly discharging a firearm.
The murder convictions carry an automatic life sentence with no parole for at least 10 years. However, the federal government recently changed the law to allow periods of parole ineligibility in murder cases to be consecutive, rather than concurrent.
Husbands' defence team had launched a constitutional challenge to the sentencing provisions, arguing they amounted to cruel and unusual punishment, but Ewaschuk rejected the challenge.
Derstine said he planned to appeal both the conviction and sentences.
The Crown, which argued he was a menace to public safety, had wanted Husbands to serve at least 20 years on each of the two murder counts consecutively in the deaths of Nixon Nirmalendran, 22, and Ahmed Hassan, 24.
The shooting — captured on surveillance video — sparked mayhem in the mall and left Connor Stevenson, who was shot in the head, clinging to life. He would need four surgeries and still has bullet fragments in his head.
His father, Craig Stevenson, called the sentencing appropriate, saying it reflected the horror inflicted on the victims.
"We really have to stand up and show that we're not going to put up with gun violence, so kudos to the judge for making that hard decision," Stevenson said.
"We've got to make sure we put the punishment in place to deter the crimes."
Derstine noted that Justin Bourque was sentenced under the new provisions in October to three periods of 25 years of parole ineligibility for the first-degree murders of three RCMP officers in Moncton, N.B. That means he will have to serve at least 75 years.
"The sentence is longer than anyone could reasonably consider his life to be," Derstine said.