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Sean McCowan, brother of Erin Gilmour, speaks as brother Kaelin McCowan looks on during a press conference in Toronto in November, 2022.Chris Young/The Canadian Press

In a downtown Toronto court Monday, Sean McCowan glared at the man who admitted killing his sister 40 years ago and told him he’d been waiting for all his life to explain how the murder destroyed the fabric of his family.

“I have nothing but hatred for you,” Mr. McCowan said, glaring at George Sutherland, the 62-year-old Moosonee man being sentenced for the murder of McCowan’s sister, Erin Gilmour, and another woman, Susan Tice. The two were raped and murdered in home invasion attacks four months apart in 1983.

Mr. Sutherland confessed to the killings two years ago after police traced the DNA he left at the crime scene to the DNA of several of his brothers.

Mr. Sutherland was convicted of two counts of second-degree murder in a guilty plea late last year, which carries a life sentence. Ontario Superior Court on Monday heard arguments about how long Mr. Sutherland must spend in prison before being eligible for parole.

“I’m not a danger to society. I hope you have it in your heart to forgive me,” Mr. Sutherland tearfully said after the court heard impact statements from nine of his victims’ family members.

During his sentencing hearing, the prosecution and the defence were not arguing over much time. Canadian law is clear that Mr. Sutherland must serve a life sentence for his convictions. The only legal question is his parole-eligibility date, which defence lawyers want set at 18 years, while the Crown wants it at 20 to 22 years.

Justice Maureen Forestell is to release her decision on March 22.

On Monday, court heard two competing versions of intergenerational trauma.

Lawyers acting in Mr. Sutherland’s defence are arguing that he is an Indigenous victim of Canadian colonialism. The court has been presented with a report saying that he had been forced to attend a notorious Northern Ontario residential school between the ages of 7 and 12.

But court heard the Tice and Gilmour families also remain shaped and stunted by the murders 40 years ago. The crimes took away the two women they knew as mothers, sisters or aunts.

Christian Tice, a daughter of Susan Tice, said she has slept for decades with bedroom windows locked and baseball bat at the ready. Other relatives told the court they still have dreams about the women evaporating away.

When she was attacked in the summer of 1983, Ms. Tice, 45, was a recently separated mother of four. She had just bought a Toronto home when Mr. Sutherland, then in his early 20s, broke into it and attacked her.

“Why did you take the life of my mother? ... Why? I truly want to know why,” Ben Tice said to Mr. Sutherland on Monday during the victim-impact statements. “Why take from this world? What right did you have?”

The son asked Mr. Sutherland why his mother was stabbed 13 times. And like other family members, he vowed that he would denounce the convicted killer at any parole hearing he might ever attend.

Ms. Gilmour, 22, was killed five days before Christmas in a similar attack. The daughter of David Gilmour, a onetime business partner of famed entrepreneur Peter Munk, had just left her family to rent an apartment above a boutique she worked at in Toronto’s Yorkville neighbourhood.

Mr. McCowan was 13 at the time and he recalled how his sister took him shopping the day before she was killed. He said he still has her Christmas presents from 1983.

He praised the Toronto Police Service for never giving up on his sister’s case.

Mr. McCowan said that when Mr. Sutherland was arrested two years ago a friend gave him a bracelet with the number 14,219 stamped on it representing the days between the killer’s crime and his arrest.

Mr. Sutherland lived in Toronto for only a short time before he returned to his home community of Moosonee. He went to college, studied information technology, got jobs, married and had a son. By all accounts he lived a rich life, without ever being charged with any crimes until his 2022 arrest.

During his own statement, Mr. Sutherland apologized to the families. He said that he did not remember much about his crimes. But he did say that at one point he embarked on “spirit quests” where he tried to commune with the souls of the women he had killed.

Mr. Sutherland said Ms. Tice’s spirit was “warm and kind – she forgave me,” he said. But Ms. Gilmour was not welcoming, he said. “I found her spirit young and angry. She did not forgive me.”

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