A New Brunswick man who fatally shot three Mounties in Moncton in 2014 will now be able to apply for parole far sooner than the record-setting 75 years imposed by a judge after the triple slaying.
The New Brunswick Court of Appeal on Thursday reduced Justin Bourque’s parole ineligibility period to 25 years.
It based its ruling on last year’s Supreme Court of Canada decision involving Quebec City mosque shooter Alexandre Bissonnette, which struck down a 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 in Bissonnette makes the sentence imposed on Mr. Bourque one that is neither permitted by law nor constitutional,” New Brunswick’s Court of Appeal said. It added that the ruling by the country’s highest court is “binding on us” and governs the outcome of Bourque’s appeal.
In August 2014, Bourque pleaded guilty to three counts of first-degree murder and two counts of attempted murder after targeting RCMP officers on the night of June 4, 2014.
He was automatically sentenced to life in prison — a minimum 25-year term. As well, the judge decided that under a 2011 law, the 25-year parole ineligibility period required for each first-degree murder conviction would be applied consecutively, meaning Bourque would have to wait 75 years before he could apply for parole.
At the time he was sentenced, it was the harshest penalty imposed by a Canadian court since 1962 — the last time state-sanctioned executions were carried out.
With the reduction in his life sentence Thursday, Bourque — who was 24 at the time of the murders — should be able to apply for parole when he is 49 years old instead of 99.
The Court of Appeal said all other aspects of his sentence remain unchanged.
An agreed statement of facts said Bourque’s actions in Moncton were “planned and deliberate” when he used a semi-automatic rifle to kill constables Dave Ross, 32; Fabrice Gevaudan, 45; and Douglas Larche, 40. Constables Eric Dubois and Darlene Goguen were injured in the shootings.
At his sentencing hearing, the court watched a videotaped statement from Bourque, who said he wanted to encourage people to rise up against the “soldiers” that defend federal institutions and protect the rich from the poor. He mused about his strict Roman Catholic upbringing, climate change, evolution, social engineering, class warfare, tyrants and threats posed by the Russians and the Chinese.
In its decision in May 2022, the Supreme Court said the Criminal Code provision allowing consecutive sentences violated the Charter of Rights and Freedoms because it amounted to cruel and unusual punishment for offenders who faced no realistic possibility of being granted parole before they died. The top court also declared the law was invalid retroactive to when it was enacted.
The court said the Charter requires Parliament to leave a door open for rehabilitation. Chief Justice Richard Wagner, writing on behalf of the high court, said the 2011 law authorized the courts to impose “a sentence so absurd that it would bring the administration of justice into disrepute.”
That unanimous ruling was in response to an appeal filed by Bissonnette, who was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 40 years after he pleaded guilty to fatally shooting six people at a Quebec City mosque in 2017.
A judge found the parole ineligibility provision unconstitutional but did not declare it invalid. Quebec’s Court of Appeal subsequently ruled the provision invalid on constitutional grounds. And it said the court must revert to the law as it stood before 2011, meaning parole ineligibility periods are to be served concurrently instead of consecutively, resulting in a total waiting period of 25 years in Bissonnette’s case.
On Jan. 20, New Brunswick Crown attorney Patrick McGuinty filed a written submission to the New Brunswick Court of Appeal that 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.