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Crime

Quebec mosque disappointed with ruling allowing killer to seek parole after 25 years

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QUEBEC — Families of the victims of the Quebec City mosque shooter say they fear Friday’s Supreme Court ruling means the 17 children who lost a father could one day meet the killer in the streets of Quebec’s capital.

Canada’s high court ruled that the killer who went on a deadly shooting spree at a Quebec City mosque in 2017 can apply for parole after 25 years behind bars. The court declared unconstitutional a 2011 Criminal Code 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.

Mohamed Labidi, president of the Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec, where the killer shot dead six men on Jan. 29, 2017, said families of the victims expressed real concern the killer would be a free man within a relatively short period of time.

“Maybe parole (officials) will delay this release a bit (and) will take that into account, but that’s our real fear,” Labidi told a news conference.

The Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec said in a statement Friday the high court decision did not give due consideration to “the atrocity and scourge of multiple murders” or to the hateful, Islamophobic, racist nature of the crime.

Members of the mosque said they were disappointed with the decision from the court, but they added it allows them to close the legal chapter and focus on the future.

“Philosophically, yes, we would like to turn the page and I, personally as an individual, want to turn the page,” mosque co-founder Boufeldja Benabdallah told reporters. “I have been hurt enough and I have cried enough.”

Benabdallah said the Supreme Court decision “breaks the balance” between a criminal’s chance at reintegrating society and his or her victims’ sense of justice.

“We take into account the rehabilitation of an individual … and to not give a punishment that is inadmissible, unusual or cruel,” Benabdallah said. “But at the same time, the families who have been affected must also feel that they have won their case, that the killer is being punished for his crimes.”

Alexandre Bissonnette pleaded guilty to six counts of first-degree murder and was sentenced to life in prison. Five others were seriously injured in the January 2017 attack, including one man who was left paraplegic and confined to a wheelchair. The six men who were shot dead left behind 17 children.

A trial judge found the 2011 parole ineligibility provision unconstitutional but did not declare it invalid, ultimately ruling Bissonnette must wait 40 years before applying for parole.

Quebec’s Court of Appeal said the trial judge erred in making the ineligibility period 40 years and that the court must revert to the law as it stood before 2011, resulting in a total waiting period for Bissonnette of 25 years. The Crown appealed that decision.

The Supreme Court said the 2011 law violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and that in order to ensure respect for the inherent dignity of every individual, the Charter requires Parliament to leave a door open for rehabilitation, even in cases where this objective is of secondary importance.

One of Bissonnette’s lawyers, Charles-Olivier Gosselin, said his client was relieved by the ruling.

“It’s a second chance, a second life that Mr. Bissonnette can hope for to demonstrate to society that he can be an asset, that he can work on himself, move on and look forward,” Gosselin said at the courthouse in Quebec City.

Daniel Bélanger, the chief prosecutor for Quebec City, said he would not comment on the decision out of deference to the high court, but he spoke of the victims and their families.

“This day marks for them the end of a long judicial process, but we are aware that it is not the end of their grieving and healing process,” Bélanger said, reading from a prepared statement.

He said the Crown and police in Quebec City were diligent in their work all the way to the Supreme Court, demonstrating the capacity for the judicial system to conclude complex cases in the public’s interest.

Bélanger reminded reporters in Quebec City that Bissonnette received a life sentence and it will be up to the parole board to decide whether he is released, which now won’t come before 2042. The killer, he said, would be subject to strict conditions and surveillance by a parole officer for the rest of his life in the event he is freed from prison.

“Although this case has become a constitutional debate regarding the provisions of the Criminal Code, we need to remember, in closure, the six people murdered and the other victims of this attack on Jan. 29, 2017,” Bélanger said.

“Our thoughts are now with the victims and their families and the community affected by this crime that has marked the collective consciousness. We praise their courage, their resilience and their dignity in this moment.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 27, 2022.

— By Sidhartha Banerjee in Montreal, with files from Caroline Plante in Quebec City.

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Alberta

Fatality inquiry begins into death of Calgary teen who weighed 37 pounds

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CALGARY — An Alberta judge is looking for answers in the case of a 15-year-old boy who died in his Calgary home weighing less than 37 pounds.

Alexandru Radita died in May 2013 of bacterial sepsis brought on by complications due to untreated diabetes and starvation.

His parents, who had moved from B.C. to Alberta, were found guilty in 2017 of first-degree murder.

Witnesses at the trial testified that the Raditas refused to accept their son had diabetes, failed to treat his disease and kept him isolated at home.

Alberta provincial court Judge Sharon Van de Veen said Monday the fatality inquiry will seek to find out what could have been done to save the boy’s life and prevent other cases like this from happening again.

There were government officials involved throughout this child’s life, including child and family services in the province of British Columbia and doctors and pharmacists,” Van de Veen said.

“I will not be reviewing the facts relating to the horror of this child’s life. My purpose is going to be to review to what extent the state itself could have intervened in the life of this child to save his life.”

Van de Veen said the inquiry, which is scheduled to run all week, will see if protocols between the children’s services ministries in Alberta and B.C. would help in similar cases. She also questioned if a pharmacists association could provide assistance when insulin is accessed sporadically for patients.

The first day of the inquiry focused on whether Alex’s lack of attendance in his home-schooling could have alerted officials.

He was enrolled in a Catholic home-schooling program in September 2009 for Grade 5, but not a single piece of work from him was submitted. Teachers and a principal attempted to contact his parents through phone calls and letters throughout the school year but were not able to reach them.

Michel Despins, vice-principal of the School of Hope online school, said 25 attempts were made to reach the Raditas. Neither Alex nor his three siblings ever submitted school work.

Despins said there are now electronic records for each student, but any information about a student not registering is only available in Alberta.

Despins offered some possible solutions, including that a previous school board get an alert if a student is no longer registered anywhere.

He said there needs to be a protocol on what to do if that happens and parents can’t be reached.

“If in September we get an alert and we contact the parents and they register somewhere else, no problem. But if they do not, what’s the standard protocol to do with that?” he asked.

“Do you submit it to social services?”

Van de Veen said the inquiry will only hear from witnesses from Alberta, even though there were protection orders for Alex in place in B.C.

Emil Radita, Alex’s father, is watching the proceedings from prison in B.C.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 19, 2022.

Bill Graveland, The Canadian Pressfficials involved throughout this child’s life, including child and family services in the province of British Columbia and doctors and pharmacists,” Van de Veen said.

“I will not be reviewing the facts relating to the horror of this child’s life. My purpose is going to be to review to what extent the state itself could have intervened in the life of this child to save his life.”

Van de Veen said the inquiry, which is scheduled to run all week, will see if protocols between the children’s services ministries in Alberta and B.C. would help in similar cases. She also questioned if a pharmacists association could provide assistance when insulin is accessed sporadically for patients.

The first day of the inquiry focused on whether Alex’s lack of attendance in his home-schooling could have alerted officials.

He was enrolled in a Catholic home-schooling program in September 2009 for Grade 5, but not a single piece of work from him was submitted. Teachers and a principal attempted to contact his parents through phone calls and letters throughout the school year but were not able to reach them.

Michel Despins, vice-principal of the School of Hope online school, said 25 attempts were made to reach the Raditas. Neither Alex nor his three siblings ever submitted school work.

Despins said there are now electronic records for each student, but any information about a student not registering is only available in Alberta.

Despins offered some possible solutions, including that a previous school board get an alert if a student is no longer registered anywhere.

He said there needs to be a protocol on what to do if that happens and parents can’t be reached.

“If in September we get an alert and we contact the parents and they register somewhere else, no problem. But if they do not, what’s the standard protocol to do with that?” he asked.

“Do you submit it to social services?”

Van de Veen said the inquiry will only hear from witnesses from Alberta, even though there were protection orders for Alex in place in B.C.

Emil Radita, Alex’s father, is watching the proceedings from prison in B.C.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 19, 2022.

Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press

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Crime

Day parole extended for woman who killed Victoria teenager Reena Virk 25 years ago

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Vancouver – Day parole has been extended for a woman convicted of murdering Victoria teenager Reena Virk almost 25 years ago.

A Parole Board of Canada decision says 40-year-old Kerry Sim, who was formerly known as Kelly Ellard, has been authorized to remain on day parole but with numerous conditions.

Sim was 15 years old when she and a group of teenagers swarmed and beat Virk, and her trial heard she and a co-accused later followed the 14-year-old girl to continue the beating and drown her in the Gorge waterway.

The parole board’s decision, released Friday, says Sim has remained focused on her two sons since her parole was revoked for two months last year over a positive drug test, her confession that she’d sipped wine and indications of mutual violence in her relationship with her partner.

Day parole was reinstated last October and the two-member panel now says Sim has made progress in her reintegration, although there’s concern that when she’s faced with multiple stressors it can result in poor decision-making.

In addition to conditions imposed not to consume drugs or alcohol and not to have contact with certain people, the board ordered Sim to follow psychiatric treatment to address her anxiety and other mental health issues.

The board also suggests that she look for employment, saying in the decision that she seems reluctant to move ahead with the steps necessary to find work.

Sim’s case management team also recommended her day parole be extended, the decision says.

“You have positive community support from your mother, (community residential) staff, and the family of your partner. The same special conditions currently in place are recommended for this new period of day parole.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 16, 2022.

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