What happens to Justin Bourque (inset) if he is convicted of murdering three RCMP officers and wounding two others in New Brunswick? Will the 24 year old spend decades penned in a small concrete box, languishing there until he dies of old age? Maybe not. Bourque, who faces three counts of first-degree murder and two counts of attempted murder in a shooting rampage in Moncton, N.B., on June 4, 2014, could be a good candidate for parole, some day, given the bits and pieces of information that are now available. (UPDATE: On July 31, 2014, Bourque was declared fit to stand trial. SECOND UPDATE: On August 8, 2014, Bourque pleaded guilty to three counts of first-degree murder and two counts of attempted murder and was subsequently sentenced to 75 years in prison with no eligibility for parole, the first person in Canada to face such a sentence since changes to the criminal law in 2011 )
It’s early to consider Bourque’s long-term fate, given the Canadian justice system’s presumption of innocence, but that principle often seems little more than a charade and this is one of those occasions. Many people say Bourque did it – he cold-bloodedly hunted and murdered three police officers. All that’s left is an assessment of Bourque’s mental state and his fitness to stand trial, presuming that he pleads not guilty. Once convicted, the harshest punishment he can face is life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years, though the relatively new consecutive sentencing provisions in criminal law mean his sentences could be added together. Three convictions for first-degree murder could total 75 years. The harshest sentence handed out so far in Canada was 40 years for Travis Baumgartner, who killed three armored car guards in Edmonton in 2012. As a multiple murderer, Bourque would not qualify for a faint hope hearing, a process that could reduce the 25-year parole ineligibility. Consecutive sentencing for 25-year life sentences in a multiple killing case isn’t mandatory, but at the discretion of the judge. (Ottawa has said it would like to expand the provisions that allow for cumulative sentences.)
Bourque would certainly spend considerable time behind bars, but I believe he could be a good candidate for parole, at some point in the distant future, because:
1/ there’s ample precedent; that is, multiple murderers, even cop killers believe it or not, have been granted parole
2/ Bourque has not, according to some reports, led a violent life, and is not entrenched in a “criminal lifestyle,” a key factor that parole board members consider during hearings
3/ he’s young so there’s plenty of time for genuine repentance, remorse and rehabilitation
4/ he appears to be the product of a stable and supportive family, and parole board members always consider an offender’s background and community support
Cop killers who have been released from prison:
» In 2000, Richard Ambrose was freed from prison on full parole. He’s serving a life sentence for the cold-blood murders in 1974 of two Moncton city police officers. Ambrose, who has since changed his name to Bergeron in a bid to duck attention, had admitted shooting one of the victims in the head after the officers were forced into a shallow grave. The other killer, James Hutchison, died in prison in 2011 without ever winning parole. Ambrose and Hutchison were first sentenced to hang but the sentences were commuted to life in prison after the abolition in 1976 of the death penalty. Ambrose’s parole was revoked in 2005 and he was sent back to prison.
» In 2010, the parole board granted passes to Craig Munro, an imprisoned killer who, along with his brother Jamie, murdered Toronto police officer Michael Sweet in 1980. In 2011, the board continued Munro’s passes, despite public outrage. Jamie Munro was granted full parole in 1992 and in 1994 was granted permission to move to Italy.
» Laurie Ann Bell was released in 2008, after serving two thirds of her 10-year sentence for manslaughter in the death of RCMP officer Dennis Strongquill in 2001 though her release was not, technically parole. She was freed on statutory release, a mandatory form of freedom in which the parole board does not have a say. She and two men, Danny and Robert Sand, were on a 10-day crime spree across the Prairies in December 2001. They stole seven trucks in and around Edmonton, Alberta and robbed a bank. The trio broke into a farm and stole 10 weapons and hundreds of rounds of ammunition. On December 21, they were pulled over near Russell, Manitoba, in a routine traffic stop by RCMP officers Brian Auger and Strongquill. Robert Sand opened fire on the Mountie vehicle with a sawed-off shotgun. The officers drove off but the trio chased them, ramming the police vehicle. Auger was thrown out but Strongquill was trapped. Sand, in the words of one of Bell’s parole board reports, “fired four shotgun blasts into his upper torso.” At Bell’s trial, witnesses said she shouted “kill him! kill him!” Bell was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 10 years in prison, but was given credit for three years of pre-trial custody. Danny Sand was killed by police when the murderous threesome was cornered at a Saskatchewan motel. Robert Sand was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years. Bell’s released was revoked after she caught consorting with a male prison guard but she was freed again.
Here’s the complete Montreal Gazette story that suggests Bourque has a supportive family:
By Sue Montgomery
Montreal Gazette/MONCTON, N.B.
Victor and Denise Bourque had tried without success to get help for their son Justin, whom they described as a gentle person who had gone off the rails since he stopped going to church with his large, devout family.
“We even tried to get the police involved but they said they couldn’t do anything about it and that their hands were tied,” Victor Bourque said in a telephone interview Sunday, four days after their 24-year-old son allegedly shot and killed three Mounties, injured two others and gripped a locked-down city in fear as police scoured the woods for a heavily armed man. “It is sad. People are falling through the cracks and this is another one.”
The couple, described by friends as gracious, hard-working folks, say they have been holed up in an undisclosed place, away from prying and gossipy crowds, crying and traumatized by what their son is alleged to have done. Their hearts go out to the families of the dead and injured officers, gunned down Wednesday evening while responding to several panicked calls from residents of Moncton north who’d seen a man in army fatigues and with guns slung over his shoulders.
The Bourques had seen their son — number three in a string of seven children — a few hours before tragedy struck at about 7 p.m. but haven’t spoken to him since he was captured early Friday, ending a tense 30-hour manhunt, and taken into custody. He faces three counts of first-degree murder and two of attempted murder — his first run-in with the law.
“We are devastated,” Victor Bourque said, not wanting to go into detail about what might have led to his son’s violent path for fear of jeopardizing the court case. “It’s the worst nightmare that any parent can go through.”
Bourque said he is well aware of the unkind and sometimes false things that are being said about him and his family, and that people may be blaming the parents for what happened. But like everyone in the community and especially as parents of the accused, they are doing some deep soul-searching, weighing all the what-ifs and if-onlys, desperate for answers to the mystery their son had become.
“For anyone who says you didn’t raise your son right, that would be nothing less than ignorance,” he said. “I went all out and did everything possible.
“If someone from your family rejects what you taught them, that’s their choice and they live with the consequences,” he said. “But I hope (Justin) will still have something from his upbringing that will help him.”
Perhaps, said the father, his son will rediscover God while locked up, like so many inmates do.
As the Bourque family remained hidden, their congregation gathered as usual for Sunday mass at Moncton’s Eglise Christ-Roi, the large Roman Catholic Church on Dominion St. Father Edmour Babineau read two letters of condolence to the mourning congregation — from the Archbishop of Moncton, Valery Vienneau, and Paul-Andre Durocher, the Archbishop of Gatineau and president of the Archbishops of Quebec.
Both expressed solidarity and support for the people of Moncton, but the Bourque family was not mentioned in either letter, nor throughout the mass. Babineau said he was replacing the church’s regular priest, who was on a retreat, and therefore didn’t know the Bourques.
A woman attending the service, who gave her name only as Irene, said Justin Bourque, whom she described as timid, came to mass with the rest of his family every Sunday but stopped about three or four years ago. She said his parents were gracious and kind and Victor Bourque worked two jobs for 35 years to support his seven children — five daughters and two sons.
Irene said that during her time working in a support network, helping families deal with tragedies, she met people “time and again” who couldn’t get the proper help for mental illness.
“We dealt with some suicides, and parents always told us they tried to get help but were always told, ‘unless he hurts someone, there’s not much we can do.’
“If you could get the right help from the beginning, when the signs start and not later when it’s too late, these tragedies could be avoided.”
Mental illness still carries a huge stigma, she said, noting that people are quick to help people with cancer, or handicaps or other issues.
“But if you’re acting out of sorts, people just stay away from you,” she said. “They’re afraid.”
She was sickened by the people who referred to Justin Bourque as a monster and noted the Bourque family are innocent victims in a terrible tragedy that is affecting the entire city.
“Can you imagine how his sisters must feel and how they are going to live here?”
The whole tragedy has made her very emotional and unable to sleep, said Irene, adding that in a way, the whole community is responsible for not taking care of each other.
“There but the grace of God,” she said. “It could happen to any one of us.”
Another family friend and god father to four of the Bourque children said a “young Justin” was a victim himself, with a weakness in him that amplified his radicalization towards authority.
“Parental authority I think was his first obstacle because it was too much for him, and his way of seeing things caused clashes sometimes,” he said. “I never wanted to ask too many questions, but that was what the father told me.”
Victor Bourque said they felt terrible for the families of the three men killed — David Ross, 32, Fabrice Georges Gevaudan, 45, and Douglas James Larche 40 — and wanted to convey his and his wife’s “deepest sympathies and condolences” to them and the community.
“There are no words I can say that will change anything,” he said, his voice calm. “It is a tragedy that we will have to get through together.”
A regimental funeral will be held Tuesday at 1 p.m. at the Moncton Coliseum. Hotels in the city are completely booked with officers from across the country.
Bourque said that while it was “nothing short of miraculous” that his son gave himself up, the family still has a long road ahead as the case winds itself through the slow legal process.
While the crown and defence didn’t ask for a psychiatric assessment to be done on Justin at his arraignment on Friday, the senior Bourque said he fully expects it to happen at some stage.
“It’s not the guns that do the damage, it’s the mind behind it.”
Bourque said he assumed people would judge his family for having home schooled their children, and said such criticism came from a “place of ignorance” although he didn’t want to judge.
But he said society in general needs to reassess “where we’re going in life and respect it from beginning to end.”
Allowing abortions and euthanasia are just ways to avoid things that have become inconveniences in life, he said, citing from St. Paul in the Bible, who says we have to look after our weaker brethren.
“They can point the finger at our son but we all have to look at ourselves,” he said, his voice becoming more forceful. “The evils that exist in society do have an influence and we need to take stock to heal as a community.”
We are all responsible by supporting certain violent and sexually explicit movies, television shows and video games that don’t respect life, Bourque said. “These affect minds that are already vulnerable. (Justin) was a gentle person so for somebody to snap like this, there had to be something.”
Last month, the couple posted a quotation on their Facebook page that may have been indicative of the turmoil the family was going through in the months leading up to the shooting.
It reads, Sometimes you have to stop worrying, wondering and doubting. Have faith that things will work out, maybe not how you planned, but just how it’s meant to be.
“You hope for the best for your children,” Bourque said. “I hope he gets the help he needs to renew his life.”