The Moncton shooter has pleaded guilty to killing three Mounties and wounding two others, eliciting relief from mourning residents as they contemplate the prospect of Justin Bourque serving time until he is 99 – a sentence that could become Canada's harshest in decades.
The June 4 killings rocked the New Brunswick city, gripped the nation and prompted probes into whether anything can be done to make RCMP officers better prepared to confront heavily armed attackers.
Mr. Bourque, 24, on Friday pleaded guilty to killing Constables Dave Ross, Douglas Larche and Fabrice Gévaudan and to wounding Constables Darlene Goguen and Eric Dubois. It was one of the worst mass shootings the RCMP has ever seen, and the case could make legal history, too.
The Crown has given notice it will seek three consecutive life sentences for the first-degree murder charges, without parole. The request, which draws on a 2011 law that allows consecutive sentences in multiple murder cases, would amount to 75 years of jail time and could become Canada's most severe penalty since the last execution in 1962.
The sentencing hearing will take place over two days, Oct. 27 and Oct. 28, during which the evidence will be presented and victim impact statements submitted.
Mr. Bourque, wearing a plain grey T-shirt, sat emotionless during Friday afternoon's proceedings, his eyes barely visible through his shaggy brown hair. "By pleading guilty, you're admitting all the facts and essential elements of the offence," Chief Justice David Smith told the packed New Brunswick court. "There will be no trial."
When the judge asked for his plea on each charge, Mr. Bourque calmly said, "I plead guilty," or "Guilty." Members of his family refused to comment as they left the court, as did Superintendent Marlene Snowman, the top RCMP officer at the local detachment.
Witnesses, residents and police officers said they welcomed the plea as an alternative to a drawn-out court case, while a victims' family member lamented that no amount of jail time will return the three men to their grieving wives and children.
"For them to think that Dave's or anyone else's life is worth 25 years is disturbing, but that's the way the system works," said Raquel Vanderploeg, whose sister-in-law, Rachael, was married to Constable Ross and is pregnant with his child. "As a Christian family, though, we are called to forgive. One way or another, that's what we'll have to do."
Mr. Bourque was seen leaving his mobile home wearing military fatigues and carrying guns on the evening of June 4 – a night that brought the city of 69,000 to a virtual standstill as tactical officers from across the province descended to assist with the 30-hour manhunt. Mr. Bourque's family expressed concerns about his mental state to The Globe and Mail and to the court, but after a recent psychological assessment, he was deemed competent and fit to stand trial.
A spokesman for federal Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney on Friday said the government extends condolences and support to the victims' families, the injured officers and Moncton. "We expect that the perpetrator of these terrible shootings will face the full force of the law," Jason Tamming said in an e-mail.
The RCMP declined to comment, noting the case is still before the courts. Reached at home, Constable Dubois would not discuss the plea or reveal whether he will submit a victim impact statement.
Staff Sergeant Abe Townsend, the head of the Staff Relations Representative Program, an elected body for more than 22,000 RCMP members, said the expedited criminal proceedings will allow the force to heal and bring a speedier end to its hazardous-occurrence investigation, which could result in recommendations for preventing similar tragedies. He said the force's other probe – a rare and expedited internal review – is slated to conclude in early October.
Constable Travis Jones, a Saint John Police Force officer who transported Mr. Bourque from the arrest site, said the plea will bring the city some relief. "Every traumatic event requires a healing process," he said. "And a big part of that is the closure that comes with the final steps of the criminal proceedings."
With a report from The Canadian Press