McArthur and Bissonnette were sentenced on Friday.
Both pleaded guilty to two of the worst incidents of violence in Canadian history, and both were given concurrent sentences.
Bissonnette, 29, opened fire inside a Quebec mosque just over two years ago, killing six men and injuring several others. Crown lawyers had asked that he serve a sentence of up to 150 years — 25 years per victim — before being eligible for parole in what would have been a landmark decision.
McArthur, 67, pleaded guilty last week to murdering eight men with ties to Toronto’s predominantly LGBTQ community. The Crown sought a life sentence with no chance of parole for 50 years.
Ontario Justice John McMahon explained his decision on Friday, citing McArthur’s age and his guilty plea.
“If the accused either had a trial or had been a younger man, I would have had no problem accepting … the argument,” he said.
WATCH: Alexandre Bissonnette arrives for sentencing in Quebec City mosque shooting
Quebec Superior Court Justice François Huot also chose not to give Bissonnette consecutive sentences. The judge said Friday he took all 24 past decisions of consecutive sentencing into account before rendering his decision.
Huot concluded demanding consecutive sentences was “constitutionally invalid” and is calling for the federal government to reform the law.
First-degree murder sentences in Canada
First-degree murder carries an automatic life sentence with no chance of parole for 25 years, but when there are several convictions, the court can impose consecutive periods of parole ineligibility.
That means they occur one after the other, rather than concurrently — or simply put, at the same time.
Consecutive sentences are part of a new provision of the Criminal Code adopted in 2011.
Toronto-based lawyer Jordan Donich explained to Global News that judges consider several factors when deciding between consecutive and concurrent sentencing — and those factors are largely “independent” of emotions.
“When you’re dealing with highly emotional, public and heinous offences such as these, it’s easy to forget that there’s more to the sentencing framework that the judge must consider than simply jail,” Donich said.
He explained some of those factors include whether the killings occurred together or in separate instances, the overall time-frame, and whether treatment and rehabilitation are possibilities for the offender.
Cases that used consecutive sentences
Since being adopted, consecutive sentencing has been used in Canada several times.
For example in 2017, Douglas Garland was sentenced in Alberta to life in prison without parole for 75 years for killing Alvin and Kathy Liknes and their five-year-old grandson Nathan O’Brien. Garland was 57 at the time of his sentencing in March 2017.
Justin Bourque, who killed three RCMP officers and wounded two others in June 2014 in Moncton, N.B., was served a similar 75-year sentence. He was 24 when he was sentenced in October 2014.
These have been some of the longest sentences in Canada to date — 75 years without parole eligibility.
The use of consecutive orders has been controversial, though.
WATCH: Quebec City mosque shooter’s lawyers to argue against consecutive life sentences
‘Death sentence by imprisonment’
At Bissonnette’s sentencing hearing, Crown prosecutor Thomas Jacques had argued a consecutive sentence would reflect “the scale of the crimes committed.”
His defence argued that sentence would be akin to a “death sentence by imprisonment,” making it “contrary to human dignity.”
The defence is seeking to have the section of the Criminal Code permitting consecutive sentences declared unconstitutional, arguing that it infringes the protection against cruel and unusual punishment contained in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
They said even two consecutive sentences would violate the Charter because it would exclude any possibility that the accused could be rehabilitated and re-enter society.
Criticism of consecutive sentences
Legal professionals in Canada have also spoken out about consecutive sentences in the past.
Donich explained that it’s important to note that Canada’s judicial system is inherently different from the U.S. legal system, where consecutive sentences are much more common.
WATCH: Dellen Millard handed third consecutive life sentence for murdering his father
“The criticism is really the root of our Canadian judicial system and our sentencing history in Canada,” he said.
“Our sentencing framework is known to be more liberal, it’s known to be softer than the U.S. It’s also known to focus more on treatment and rehabilitation and reintegration.”
He noted that with the criticism surrounding consecutive sentencing, it’s almost inevitable that the law will be challenged in court.
“There are too many people now with consecutive sentences that have a lot of life ahead of them, and they have nothing to lose so they might as well fight it,” he said.
— With files from The Canadian Press
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