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Some Alberta murderers could be on the streets sooner than thought due to Supreme Court of Canada ruling

The flag flies in front of the Supreme Court of Canada in Ottawa, on Thursday, June 17, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

Mass murderers can now serve life sentences concurrently rather than consecutively, meaning instead of having to wait up to 25-years for every additional murder they committed before being able to seek parole, they can now be eligible for parole after 25-years.

This comes as the Supreme Court of Canada unanimously struck down life without parole for mass murderers on Friday.

“The Supreme Court got this wrong, and I’m calling on parliament to restore parole ineligibility for those who are convicted of committing multiple murders by using the not-withstanding clause to hold multiple murders to account,” said Justice Minister Tyler Shandro said in a one-on-one interview with CityNews.

“I think it betrays anybody’s sense of justice, in particular, those of us here in Alberta,” said Shandro.

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The unanimous high court decision came Friday in the case of Alexandre Bissonnette, allowing him to seek parole after serving 25 years behind bars for fatally shooting six people at a Quebec City mosque in 2017.

The Supreme Court declared unconstitutional a 2011 provision that allowed a judge, in the event of multiple murders, to impose a life sentence and parole ineligibility periods of 25 years to be served consecutively for each murder.

“Quite frankly, I don’t think that Albertans care — and I don’t — that this idea that a life time imprisonment is a hardship on someone who is convicted of or pleaded guilty to a mass murder,” said Shandro.

The court said the provision violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantee against cruel and unusual treatment because it can deny offenders a realistic possibility of being granted parole before they die.

“I think it’s a good sign. It’s important. I also think it’s morally the only possible decision,” said lawyer Julius Grey.

“I don’t think there should be people who have no faint chance at all. [Of course] there are some people who are very unlikely ever to be released, obviously Paul Bernardo for instance, very unlikely to be released. But, I don’t think we should legally say that there can be no hope.”

“For one thing, it makes prisons more dangerous, for another, I don’t think there’s any such thing as a person who cannot be redeemed.”

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“I think Harper basically messed up criminal law, and the courts have been trying to undo the terrible things he did. I think morally and socially, it is better to leave the faint hope,” Grey added.

“It doesn’t increase [the] danger that the fact that somebody might get out after 25 or 30 years, it will only show that society can forgive if the person demonstrates that he can be trusted. So, there is no risk to anything from an eventual release.”

The decision will apply retroactive to 2011, meaning many other killers now also have the hope of being released.

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That includes several Alberta murderers like Douglas Garland, sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 75 years after killing a couple and five-year-old child in Calgary; Edward Downey, who murdered a Calgary woman and her five-year-old daughter; Travis Baumgartner, who shot four of his co-workers at the University of Alberta, killing three; and Jason Klaus and Joshua Frank, who shot Klaus’ father, mother, and sister and then burned their bodies in a house fire near Castor.

Grey reiterates that this change does not mean these killers will be guaranteed parole, only that they will be eligible to apply, and that some may or may not get it.

Meanwhile, Calgary Nose Hill MP Michelle Rempel Garner says the government has a duty first and foremost to stand with those victims and to ensure this decision does not stand.

“Today’s ruling is also in contradiction to a decision made last year by Alberta’s highest court. The Alberta Court of Appeals ruled there should be no “volume discount” for heinous multiple murders. I agree with this principle,” she said.

“I call upon Parliament to correct this injustice. All options should be considered, including changing the criminal code to ensure sentencing focuses on punishment as opposed to rehabilitation in the case of mass murderers, or the potential use of the notwithstanding clause,” shared Garner.

“Throwing our hands up and saying we can’t do anything in light of this ruling should not be an option.”