Skip to main content

A Halifax man convicted of strangling an off-duty police officer and using a compost bin to dispose of her body will spend at least 13 and a half years in prison, a Nova Scotia Supreme Court judge ruled Tuesday as he detailed how Christopher Garnier killed Catherine Campbell and “treated her remains like garbage.”

Garnier was convicted in December of second-degree murder and interfering with a dead body in the death of the 36-year-old Truro, N.S., police officer.

The conviction carries an automatic life sentence, but Justice Joshua Arnold decided Tuesday that Garnier would be able to apply for parole after serving 13 and a half years – less 699 days for time served.

Garnier, 30, showed no emotion as the decision was read. As he was escorted out of the courtroom by sheriffs, he looked toward his family and nodded.

He had met Campbell for the first time at a downtown Halifax bar, and hours later she was dead in a north end apartment.

“On Sept. 11, 2015, as shown on the surveillance video from the (Halifax Alehouse), Catherine Campbell was expecting romance and affection on the evening she was murdered. She was vulnerable,” said Arnold, standing at a podium at the head of a windowless courtroom.

“For reasons unknown, Mr. Garnier punched her in the face, broke her nose, strangled her to death, and then, in an effort to hide his crime, treated her remains like garbage.”

Arnold detailed how Garnier attempted to cover up the murder.

“After she was strangled to death, Mr. Garnier put Ms. Campbell’s body in a green bin. He put garbage bags on top of her body, and in the green bin, to hide her body. He then wheeled her throughout the north end of Halifax, dropped her down a small cliff, dragged her through brush, and eventually put a large box used to house feral cats on top of Ms. Campbell’s remains.”

Arnold noted that Dr. Matthew Bowes, Nova Scotia’s chief medical examiner, had told the jury it would take between two and six minutes to cause death by strangulation.

“Therefore, Ms. Campbell’s death was not akin to a single punch that results in death, a quick squeeze of a trigger, or even the quick stroke of a knife,” he said.

“Mr. Garnier intentionally squeezed the life out of Ms. Campbell over a number of minutes, and such action was not merely a split-second lapse of self-control.”

Arnold said although Garnier had no criminal record, led a prosocial lifestyle and had positive character references, those factors did not outweigh the aggravating factors of the case.

He also noted that Campbell was a trained police officer, and women with less self-defence training would be “deeply troubled by this crime.”

During his trial, Garnier repeatedly told the jury he did not remember using a large green compost bin to dispose of the body near the bridge, where it stayed undetected for nearly five days.

Garnier had also argued that Campbell died accidentally during rough sex that she initiated.

But Arnold noted the jury “clearly rejected” his testimony.

He sentenced Garnier to four years in prison for interfering with human remains, to be served concurrently with his life sentence.

The Crown had argued Monday that Garnier should serve 16 years before he’s able to apply for parole, while the defence argued Garnier should become eligible for parole after serving 10 years.

Crown attorney Christine Driscoll said she respects Arnold’s decision, and noted that Garnier is serving a life sentence, regardless of when he can apply for parole.

“He is supervised for the rest of his living days,” said Driscoll outside of court. “It does not mean that he necessarily gets out at 13 and a half years. Some people who commit homicide never are paroled, and some are. It depends on how he uses his time while in custody.”

Defence lawyer Joel Pink said his client had been “expecting this for some time.”

“He knew that he had been sentenced to life imprisonment,” Pink said. He knew he was going to be credited for every day he spent inside, so he was facing the end result.“

Garnier is appealing his conviction in part because he says police interview tactics elicited a false confession.

Interact with The Globe