Alexandre Bissonnette’s parents say ‘very severe sentence’ denies all hope of rehabilitation

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Manon Marchand and Raymond Bissonnette issued an open letter Monday evening, questioning the severity of the minimum 40-year sentence handed down to their son Alexandre Bissonnette Friday and blaming the Crown for encouraging a « desire for revenge. »​

On Friday, Alexandre Bissonnette, 29, was sentenced to at least 40 years in prison for killing six men at a Quebec City mosque two years ago. He will be 67 before he’ll be eligible to seek parole.

Bissonnette’s parents point out the 40-year minimum sentence is the heaviest sentence ever imposed in Quebec since the death penalty was abolished in 1976. « We consider this to be a very severe sentence, » they write.

They say the position of the Crown — which had sought six consecutive periods of 25 years of parole ineligibility — amounted to circumventing the abolition of the death penalty and extinguishing all hope of rehabilitation.

« Why deny convicts even the faintest hope? » they ask.

Bissonnette’s parents said last summer when they spoke publicly for the first time that they didn’t realize until it was too late how years of intimidation and bullying had affected their son’s mental health.

In Monday’s open letter, they point out their son suffered psychological and physical bullying « which had devastating effects on his personality. » 

They say the solution to prevent another tragedy like the one perpetrated by their son is to « not lock someone up forever, but rather try to better understand and prevent bullying. »

Appeal of sentence likely

Legal experts said Quebec Superior Court Justice François Huot’s sentence is likely to be appealed all the way to the Supreme Court.

Quebec Islamic Cultural Centre Imam Hassan Guillet expressed sympathy for Alexandre Bissonnette’s parents after the sentence was rendered.

« They are as destroyed as we are, » said Guillet Friday, after seeing them in the courtroom.

Survivors of the Quebec City mosque shooting and the families of the slain men expressed their disappointment that children of the victims will have to revisit the case in 40 years, when Bissonnette is at last able to apply for parole.

Read the full letter from Manon Marchand and Raymond Bissonnette below:

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Judge to decide serial killer Bruce McArthur’s sentence Friday morning

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After hearing new details about the murders of eight men, then carefully listening to the pain inflicted by their deaths, an Ontario Superior Court judge is expected to sentence serial killer Bruce McArthur Friday morning.

McArthur, 67, convicted of eight counts of first-degree murder, faces an automatic sentence of life in prison with no chance of parole for at least 25 years.

The men Bruce McArthur killed: They are, top, from left to right: Kirushnakumar Kanagaratnam, Majeed Kayhan, Skandaraj (Skanda) Navaratnam and Abdulbasir Faizi; and bottom, from left to right: Selim Esen, Soroush Mahmudi, Dean Lisowick and Andrew Kinsman.
The men Bruce McArthur killed: They are, top, from left to right: Kirushnakumar Kanagaratnam, Majeed Kayhan, Skandaraj (Skanda) Navaratnam and Abdulbasir Faizi; and bottom, from left to right: Selim Esen, Soroush Mahmudi, Dean Lisowick and Andrew Kinsman.  (Star Wire Services)

Citing the unique enormity of McArthur’s crimes — “even amongst those who commit multiple murders” — Crown prosecutor Craig Harper earlier this week asked for a parole ineligibility period of 50 years. McArthur would be 116, effectively assuring he would die in prison and sparing his victims’ families a parole hearing.

McArthur’s lawyer, James Miglin, argued before Justice John McMahon that, given McArthur’s guilty pleas and his age, 25 years of parole ineligibility is appropriate.

Either way, McArthur will be in prison until he is at least 91 years old, factoring in credit for time served in jail since his arrest.

As many of those statements were read out in court, McMahon listened intently, thanking each person for sharing their loss and grief.

McArthur pleaded guilty in court late last month, admitting to murdering eight men with ties to Toronto’s Gay Village between 2010 and 2017. He showed little expression throughout the two-day sentencing proceedings, even as victims’ family members, friends and members of Toronto’s LGBTQ community spoke about how he has shattered their lives and sense of safety. On Tuesday, he waived his opportunity to address the court.

The sentencing hearing saw a fulsome agreed statement of fact read out in court, detailing for the first time the manner and location of McArthur’s murders and new details about how he posed and photographed his victims after death.

Court heard the serial killer maintained digital folders of images of each of his eight victims — photos taken before and after their deaths — and had created a ninth folder for a Middle Eastern man police found handcuffed to McArthur’s bed on the morning of his Jan. 18, 2018, arrest.

McArthur, court heard, selected victims with certain commonalities, seeking out and exploiting certain vulnerabilities to “continue his crimes undetected.”

“Most of the deceased had traits that made victimization more likely or harder to detect. Some were forced to live parts of their lives in secret because of their orientation. Some lacked stable housing,” reads the agreed statement of fact.

In his submissions to McMahon, Harper, the Crown lawyer, called McArthur a serial killer said the term was in fact “woefully inadequate to describe his moral blameworthiness … and heinousness of the offences.”

With files from Alyshah Hasham

Wendy Gillis is a Toronto-based reporter covering crime and policing. Reach her by email at wgillis@thestar.ca or follow her on Twitter: @wendygillis

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Omar Khadr trying new way to get out from under ‘indefinite’ sentence and bail

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Former Guantanamo Bay prisoner Omar Khadr is asking Alberta youth court to order his release and declare his eight-year sentence — imposed by a widely maligned military commission in the United States — to have expired.

In a separate application before Federal Court, Khadr is attempting to force national parole authorities to grant him a hearing at which he would argue for release.

The overriding idea, Khadr’s Edmonton-based lawyer said in an interview Tuesday, is to ensure an end point to the eight-year sentence the commission imposed on him in 2010.

Had Khadr, 32, remained in custody, his sentence would have expired this past October.

However, the clock stopped ticking when an Alberta judge freed him on bail in May 2015 pending his appeal of his military commission conviction for war crimes — a years-long process that still has no end in sight.

« The bail order does interrupt the ticking of the clock but practically speaking, the guy has served his sentence now, » lawyer Nate Whitling said from Edmonton.

« The youth court judge does have the authority to just simply terminate the sentence and say, ‘It’s now over’. »

Application to be heard this month

The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled the punishment handed Khadr for alleged acts committed in Afghanistan when he was 15 years old to be a youth sentence.

His application, to be heard this month, asks a youth judge to release him under supervision for a single day, then declare his sentence served.

One hurdle Khadr must overcome is proving the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench has jurisdiction because the international treaty under which he was transferred to Canada from Gitmo could be interpreted as precluding such a review. If that view prevails, his application asks the judge to declare that part of the treaty unconstitutional.

In a separate application, Khadr wants Federal Court to order the Parole Board of Canada to grant him a hearing — something the board has refused to do on the basis that it only has jurisdiction over inmates in custody.

« As with everything in Omar’s case, there’s no precedent, » Whitling said. « (But) we’re confident that if he were to be given a parole hearing, he’d be an extremely strong candidate for full parole with minimal conditions. He’s been out all this time under these conditions and under close supervision. »

A Justice Department lawyer did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

Bail conditions indefinite

Since his release on bail in 2015, Khadr has lived in Edmonton and Red Deer, Alta., without incident. While the courts have eased some of his initial bail conditions, several remain in place despite his efforts — most recently in December — to have them lifted.

Those conditions include withholding access to a Canadian passport, a ban on unsupervised communication with his sister Zaynab who lives in Georgia, and a requirement to notify his bail supervisor before leaving Alberta.

« He’s got these conditions on him and essentially right now, they’re going to be there indefinitely, » Whitling said. « We would like to get Omar’s clock ticking again. We want this sentence to actually start ticking, so it will expire. »

Kate Porterfield, a prominent American psychologist who has worked extensively with Khadr over the years, has written in support of his applications — pointing out that the bail restrictions and never-ending sentence are psychologically harmful and akin to the situation Khadr faced at the U.S. naval prison.

Under their rules, the Americans could have detained Khadr indefinitely — even if the commission had acquitted him. Khadr has said he pleaded guilty to the war-crimes charges only as a way out of Guantanamo.

Khadr was sent to the notorious U.S. military facility in Cuba just months after he was captured as a badly wounded 15 year old in Afghanistan in July 2002.

The U.S. accused him of throwing a grenade that killed an American soldier.

In 2010, the Supreme Court ruled Canada violated his rights while he was a U.S. captive, leading the government to pay him $10.5 million in compensation in July 2017.

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After McArthur’s guilty plea, a devastated family of one of his victims wants him punished to the ‘maximum sentence’

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The “devastated” family of one of Bruce McArthur’s victims says they want the serial killer punished to “the maximum sentence,” and are renewing calls for a public inquiry into police handling of the case.

Ferhat Cinar listened in from his home in London, England, Tuesday as McArthur, 67, pleaded guilty to killing his brother, Selim Esen, and seven other men in Toronto between 2010 and 2017, most of the killings sexual in nature.

Esen, a 44-year-old native of Turkey, was McArthur’s seventh victim, killed in April 2017. Esen’s DNA was located in McArthur’s van, as well as on the murder weapon, which was not specified in court Tuesday. A statement of facts read out said police found “evidence of the use of a ligature.”

Found in McArthur’s apartment was a notebook kept by Esen, who was described by his family as a lover of sociology and philosophy who had an “inquisitive mind.”

“We can’t come to terms with his savage murder,” Cinar said in a statement sent to the Star Thursday, on behalf of Esen’s family, many of whom remain in Turkey.

Submissions are scheduled to begin at Ontario Superior Court Monday, where McArthur’s lawyers and Crown prosecutors will begin deliberations on McArthur’s sentence. First-degree murder carries an automatic life sentence with no chance of parole for 25 years, when McArthur will be 91 years old.

The hearings will decide whether McArthur serves the sentences for each first-degree murder concurrently, or if he will be granted consecutive sentences, pushing his parole eligibility far into the future.

Next week’s proceedings will hear at least two dozen victim impact statements, including from Esen’s family.

“We feel and think strongly that the murderer must be punished with the maximum sentence,” Cinar said.

Renewing a call he made last year when he travelled to Toronto for Esen’s funeral, Cinar stressed that more needs to be done to determine how McArthur went undetected for years. The former landscaper killed his first victim, 40-year-old Skandaraj (Skanda) Navaratnam, in 2010, seven years before Esen.

In between, McArthur killed Majeed Kayhan, Soroush Mahmudi, Dean Lisowick, Abdulbasir Faizi, and Kirushnakumar Kanagaratnam. After Esen, McArthur killed Andrew Kinsman, his last victim.

“We think that a full independent public inquiry must be carried out in order to get into the bottom of this neglect over many years,” Cinar said.

“Lives could have been saved, including Selim’s, if there were proper investigation in time and place.”

Former Ontario Court of Appeal judge Gloria Epstein is conducting an independent review of how Toronto police handle missing person’s investigations. The probe was commissioned by the Toronto police board in the wake of controversy over the McArthur case and other high profile disappearances from the city’s Gay Village.

On Wednesday, Epstein wrote a letter to Toronto police board chair Andy Pringle asking that her review be broadened to allow her to examine the police investigation into McArthur himself. Currently, Epstein cannot review Toronto police handling of the serial killer — including past contacts with him — due to restrictions created to preserve McArthur’s fair-trial rights.

Pringle said the board will consider the request at a future meeting, considering McArthur’s fair-trial rights are now no longer a concern due to his guilty plea.

Toronto police spoke to McArthur twice in the years before his arrest, once during a previous investigation into the disappearances of his victims and again in 2016 after a man reported to police that McArthur had attempted to strangle him, but he was let go.

While many within Toronto’s LGBTQ community have praised the actions of the Toronto police officers whose work led to McArthur’s arrest, some feel a public inquiry could identify systemic issues that may have prevented McArthur from being caught sooner.

Mayor John Tory said this week there may be cause for a “broader inquiry” into the case — beyond Epstein’s missing persons review — and Ontario Premier Doug Ford said the province would consider it. A spokesperson for the Ministry of the Attorney General said Wednesday that any consideration of an inquiry would happen after McArthur’s sentencing hearing.

“A full independent public inquiry should help learn the lessons and put measures in place in order for people of any sexuality, whatever their background, feel free and safe to express themselves and live in harmony,” Cinar said.

Esen’s family described him as selfless, someone who loved playing with his cousins, supported his sister after her husband’s death, and borrowed money to help his friends when they needed financial support. He had many talents and interests, Cinar said, including “nature, growing trees, textile design, managing a café among many other things.”

“We all loved our youngest brother Selim and miss him so much.”

Wendy Gillis is a Toronto-based reporter covering crime and policing. Reach her by email at wgillis@thestar.ca or follow her on Twitter: @wendygillis

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Serial killer Dellen Millard appeals conviction and sentence for father’s murder

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Serial killer Dellen Millard is appealing his first-degree murder conviction and sentence for the death of his father, arguing the outcome of his case was unreasonable.

Millard was found guilty in September of murdering his dad, Wayne Millard, whose death in 2012 was initially ruled a suicide.

In December, Justice Maureen Forestell sentenced the 33-year-old to his third consecutive life sentence, which means he will serve 75 years in prison before being able to apply for parole.

Two days after being sentenced, Millard filed a notice of appeal disputing Forestell’s conclusions.

« The verdict is unreasonable, » Millard wrote in the document dated Dec. 20. « The sentence is unconstitutional. »

Millard, who had pleaded not guilty to the murder of his father, a wealthy aviation executive, is also appealing his first-degree murder convictions and sentences for the deaths of Hamilton’s Tim Bosma, a complete stranger, and Toronto’s Laura Babcock, his one-time lover.

Millard had pleaded not guilty to the murder of his father, a wealthy aviation executive. (Court exhibit)

He committed those two murders with his former friend, Mark Smich, who is also appealing the verdicts in those cases.

Forestell, who presided over the Wayne Millard case without a jury, found that Dellen Millard shot his 71-year-old father through the left eye as he slept on Nov. 29, 2012.

She found that Millard took steps to set up a false alibi by leaving his car, a cellphone and his credit card at Smich’s house while he took a taxi to his father’s place in the middle of the night.

Forestell said at sentencing last month that there was faint hope for Millard’s rehabilitation.

« Dellen Millard has repeatedly committed the most serious offence known to our law, » she said.

« He has done so with considerable planning and premeditation. In the murder of his father, he took advantage of the vulnerability of his father and betrayed his father’s trust in him. »

A sketch of Dellen Millard, left, in court. Lawyer Ravin Pillay, centre, represented him and Justice Maureen Forestell presided over the trial. (Pam Davies)

Millard’s lawyer argued the consecutive sentence without parole eligibility was unduly long and harsh but the judge disagreed.

« It is necessary to impose a further penalty in order to express society’s condemnation of each of the murders that he has committed and to acknowledge the harm done to each of the victims, » she said.

« Dellen Millard is capable of gaining the trust of friends, relatives and strangers. Mr. Millard has, however, used his ability to gain such trust as a vehicle for planned and deliberate killings. »

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After serving 30 years of a 160 year sentence, Derek Twyman is ‘clicking along’ in Toronto

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Looking around the tidy bachelor apartment in the Junction Triangle in east Toronto, you’d never know it’s the first time Derek Twyman has lived on his own. 

He’s hung up dozens of picture frames on his living room walls.

As he sips a glass of ginger ale, Twyman adjusts the autographed head shots of celebrities, like Al Pacino and Robert de Niro. 

He wrote to them, and dozens more, to anyone who would listen, who he thought could help him get out of prison. They’re also a reminder, he says, of how all those years behind bars in North Carolina have shaped him, though it’s clear they don’t define him. 

« Everything seems to be clicking along pretty good, » he said, with a gentle southern drawl. « This is actually a walk in the park. » 

160 year sentence

Life was anything but when Twyman was younger. At 15, his family moved to Winston-Salem, North Carolina. In his late teens, Twyman fell in with the wrong crowd, trying to fit in after moving from Oakville, Ontario, where he was brought up. 

He and another young man would go on to burglarize homes in an affluent area. They targeted precious metals that could be melted down and sold anonymously to local pawn shops. Police instructed the stores to buy it all, and take down licence plate of whoever sold it. The vehicle registered back to Twyman’s family. His partner in crime implicated Twyman as the mastermind behind all the crimes. 

At age 26, he was sentenced to 160 years—​four consecutive life sentences—​for that spate of non-violent robberies. 

From the time Twyman started his life behind bars, he was tireless in his efforts to raise awareness about his case. 
He wrote thousands of letters, to family and strangers alike. When one of those letters reached a young law student by the name of Shane Martinez, it started a decade-long intervention that featured legal help from Toronto, to Halifax, to Raleigh, North Carolina.

Their efforts finally paid off last year. Twyman flew back to Toronto in November 2017 nearly 30 years after he was first locked up. 

Life after prison 

In the year since, Twyman has been doggedly working to get back on his feet, starting with an apartment and a job. During that time, he lived with the friend of one of the lawyers who helped get him released.

« I was looking everywhere, » he said. 

For six months, he found no success. House hunting proved to be difficult. They were either all too expensive.  In one instance, he found a place by Lake Ontario and had the rental application filled out, but the landlord told him he wouldn’t be comfortable with Twyman living there. « It was ironic because, underneath the unit was a cannabis store, » he said. 

‘I never give up. »– Derek Twyman

Having a 30-year gap in his work experience didn’t lead to success on the job front, either, as he sent out dozens of applications, often never hearing back.

« You have to do it, » he said. « So, I never give up. I’ve been in worse situations before and haven’t given up. » 

Eventually, in March, he found a job in retail, but is reluctant to share any more publicly for fear his past will hinder the present once again. 

He also found the modest apartment that he’s made his own. The only personal photograph displayed is a framed photo of him and a blonde woman he proudly calls his girlfriend who he met at work. He hasn’t yet been able to reunite with his brother, whose bad health doesn’t allow him to travel to Canada just yet. His father recently moved to British Columbia from the States and hasn’t had a chance to visit. Mom died while Twyman was still in prison.

Losing track of time

At age 55, Twyman views his adjustment to life as a free man in mostly practical terms. At first, he got lost on public transit, but quickly learned most buses eventually landed him at a subway stop. He also had to learn how to upload an attachment in emails, and use smartphones.

His biggest challenge has been the cost of living. 

« I could buy a huge house in North Carolina for the rent I pay here, » he said. « You got rent, you have to buy food. » 

When talking about the change from a rigid prison schedule to managing it all on his own, it’s the only time he gets reflective. 

« [In prison] everything is the same, over and over. One day you wake up and 10 years has passed and nothing’s changed, » he said. « Here, it’s the same situation, except you’re in a different situation. You end up losing track of time. » 

Derek Twyman thought he might die in a U.S. prison. Then a N.B. law student took an interest in his bizarre case. 8:46

Still, Twyman keeps pushing on. For him, it means saving enough money to pay for a paralegal program at a career college in Toronto.

« It’s an accomplishment, helping someone, » he said. « In the end if you’re making a difference, you’re doing pretty good. » 

The college has already saved him a spot in the new year, but Twyman doesn’t know if he’ll be able to save up enough money to pay for it just yet. He’s not worried, though. 

« I always try to look at the good side of things, » he said. 

« If you look at things that way, life’s just a whole lot smoother. I guess you could say I’m the happiest man in Toronto. »

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Appeal court strikes down reduced, ‘artificial’ sentence for convicted refugee

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The Manitoba Court of Appeal has overturned a reduced sentence handed down by a Manitoba judge to prevent the deportation of a convicted refugee.

In its Oct. 31 decision, the court looked at « the extent to which a sentencing judge can craft a sentence in order to avoid collateral immigration consequences. »

Mustaf Ahmed Yare, 23, pleaded guilty to four charges after ramming a police car and then leading police on a chase before crashing into a sign post in September 2017.

The decision states that Yare threatened officers while he was being taken to the police station by saying: « I’m going to get my gang and I’m going to find you and kill you. I’m a real gangster and you will die. Trust me, you fucking goofs. »

The Crown sought a sentence of 18 to 19 months in jail, but ultimately the judge imposed a sentence of five months and 25 days of incarceration.

During the sentencing the judge concluded Yare « ought to be jailed for about a year for these charges, » according to the Court of Appeal’s decision.

Yare is a permanent resident of Canada, therefore subject to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, which requires a punishment of at least six months in connection with a serious crime.

The sentencing judge acknowledged that a term greater than six months might result in deportation.

The panel of three appeal court justices said in their view an artificial sentence had been imposed. They imposed a sentence totalling 13 months and 10 days incarceration, which had been served prior to the appeal.

Yare was arrested after his release and has a court appearance in the new year. He is charged with five offences including assault with a weapon and uttering threats. 

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Conservatives call for asylum for Pakistani woman released from blasphemy death sentence

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The Conservatives are calling on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to grant asylum to Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian woman who spent eight years on death row for blasphemy.

Bibi, 47, was convicted of the charges in 2010 for allegedly making derogatory remarks about Islam after neighbours objected to her drinking water from their glass because she was not Muslim. The case has divided Pakistan, with her conviction outraging Christians and her subsequent acquittal infuriating hardline Islamists.

She was acquitted Wednesday — prompting the ultra-right Tehreek-e-Labaik (TLP) party to block major roads in Pakistan’s largest cities and call for the murder of the Supreme Court judges who acquitted her.

The protests were called off late Friday after the TLP struck a deal with the government that would see Bibi placed on an « exit control list » to prevent her from leaving the country. A review of the verdict is planned as well.

Today, Conservative immigration critic Michelle Rempel said Canada’s humanitarian immigration system should prioritize helping the world’s most vulnerable people.

« Andrew Scheer’s Conservatives are calling on the Trudeau government to use every mechanism at their disposal to offer the Bibi family asylum, and to encourage the Pakistani government to allow Asia Bibi to travel freely in light of recent negotiations with the extremist TLP party which could see authorities bar her from leaving the country, » she said.

Rempel said while the Supreme Court decision in Pakistan to overturn the case is « heartening, » Asia’s life is still at risk as angry mobs have been protesting and calling for her death.

Not ’empty threats’

« We know that these are not empty threats as the Federal Minister for Minorities in Pakistan, Shahbaz Bhatti, was murdered in 2011 simply for calling for Bibi’s release from prison, » she said.

« If action is not immediately taken to ensure the safety of the Bibi family, I fear that their lives will also be in danger. »

Bibi’s husband, Ashiq Masih, has appealed to the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada for refuge and assistance.

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