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Judge to decide whether Quebec City mosque shooter will ever be eligible for parole

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The families of the six men killed in the 2017 Quebec City mosque attack will learn today if the man who shot their loved ones will spend the rest of his life in prison.

Alexandre Bissonnette, 29, arrived at the courthouse just before 9:30 a.m. ET Friday, wearing a white dress shirt and blue jacket. He could receive the longest prison sentence in Canadian history if Superior Court Justice François Huot decides to make him ineligible for parole for 150 years.

Armed with a .223-calibre rifle and a 9-mm Glock pistol, Bissonnette was carrying 108 bullets when he entered the Quebec Islamic Cultural Centre on Jan. 29 two years ago, shooting into the crowded prayer room as Sunday prayers were ending. 

Killed in the violence: Ibrahima Barry, Mamadou Tanou Barry, Khaled Belkacemi, Abdelkrim Hassane, Aboubaker Thabti and Azzeddine Soufiane. Five others were critically injured.

The Quebec City courtroom where Huot will read out his 246-page decision holds 250 people, and is filled to capacity.

Saïd Akjour, who sat through most days of Bissonnette’s court proceedings, and was one of the men injured in the attack, said he sees the sentencing as an opportunity to turn the page at last on a painful chapter, even though he believes the outcome will only bring “relative justice.”

“Even if he goes to prison for the rest of his life, it won’t bring back the beloved people who fell,” said Akjour, who was struck in the shoulder by a bullet.

Saïd Akjour, who was struck by a bullet in the shoulder in the 2017 mosque attack, still struggles with physical pain and post-traumatic stress two years after the shooting. (Maxime Corneau/Radio-Canada)

“This milestone is very important for us, to be able to move past this tragedy and start thinking about the future,” said Aymen Derbali, who received a medal of bravery Monday for his actions on the night of the shooting.

‘Cruel and unusual punishment’: defence

The Criminal Code was amended by Stephen Harper’s Conservative government in 2011 to allow a judge to impose consecutive rather than concurrent periods of parole ineligibility for multiple murders.

In Bissonnette’s case, the six terms would add up to 150 years with no chance of parole — 25 for each count of first-degree murder.

Defence lawyer Charles-Olivier Gosselin said sending a criminal to die in prison is the equivalent of imposing the death penalty, and would constitute “cruel and unusual punishment.”

Gosselin also called on expert witnesses who testified Bissonnette showed potential for rehabilitation and should be granted the right to seek parole after 25 years. 

Crown prosecutor Thomas Jacques depicted Bissonnette as manipulative, arguing the young man’s crime may be the most heinous act ever committed on Canadian soil.

“It’s a black eye, a scar on our Canadian values,” he said in a court hearing last June.

Men gather to pray inside the Quebec Islamic Cultural Centre where the Jan. 29 2017 attack took place. (Alice Cliche/AFP/Getty Images)

‘Preserve the memory of our deceased’

Bissonnette changed his plea to guilty in March of last year, avoiding a lengthy trial for the six counts of first-degree murder and six counts of attempted murder against him.

One of the attempted murder charges covers the 35 people, including four children, who were present in the mosque but weren’t physically wounded.

Survivors’ testimony at Bissonnette’s sentencing hearing last April offered a glimpse into the trauma and fear with which many of them still live. Some witnesses described how their lives have been shattered, leaving them feeling vulnerable and anxious.

“There is this fear, this feeling of being threatened everywhere,” said Ahmed Cheddadi, one witness who spent a year confined to his home, concerned for the safety of his family.

The victims’ families pleaded with Huo​t to hand Bissonnette an exemplary sentence, “to forever preserve the memory of our deceased,” said Louiza Mohamed Said, Abdelkrim Hassane’s widow, who is now raising the couple’s three daughters on her own.

“The many projects we had planned were annihilated,” she told the judge in a moving impact statement last April. “He won’t be there to share in the joys and sorrows of his three daughters. He won’t be present at their graduations or weddings. My youngest will have no memory of her father, and that is so unfair.”

Six men died in the attack on the Quebec Mosque. They are, clockwise from left, Mamadou Tanou Barry, Azzedine Soufiane, Abdelkrim Hassane, Ibrahima Barry, Aboubaker Thabti and Khaled Belkacemi. (CBC)

Records of Bissonnette’s web searches, gleaned from his computer and tabled as evidence at his sentencing hearing, showed the man, 27 at the time of the attack, had spent months looking into other mass murders, reading about U.S. immigration policies, Islam and assault weapons.

Bissonnette also told a psychologist he met after his arrest that he “regretted not shooting more people,” and that he had been obsessed with mass killers since adolescence. 

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List of Tourist Attractions Open Now in Ottawa

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With Ontario now in Step 3 of 2021 three-step plan for reopening, museums and other indoor attractions are allowed to reopen with capacity limited to not exceed 50 per cent capacity indoors and 75 per cent capacity outdoors.

Here is a list of Ottawa attractions you can visit starting July 16th.

Do remember to wear masks and buy tickets in advance.

Parliament Hill

Parliament’s Centre Block and Peace Tower are closed for renovation.

You can join for tours of the Senate of Canada Building (2 Rideau Street), House of Commons at West Block (111 Wellington Street) on Parliament Hill, and East Block at East Block (111 Wellington Street) on Parliament Hill.

When: Grounds open; guided tours of Parliament are suspended through the summer of 2021.
Where: 111 Wellington Street, Downtown Ottawa

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Ottawa performer leapfrogs from gymnastics to Broadway to TV

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A new AppleTV+ series set in a magical town that’s stuck in a neverending 1940s musical includes a pair of Ottawa siblings in the cast. 

Warren Yang and his sister, Ericka Hunter, play two of the singing, dancing residents of the village portrayed in Schmigadoon!, a small-screen series that takes its cues from classic musicals like Brigadoon, Wizard of Oz and Sound of Music, and skewers them with the offbeat comedic mastery of Saturday Night Live. 

In fact, you’ll recognize many of the names from SNL, starting with executive producer Lorne Michaels, creator of the late-night, live-comedy sketch show. Schmigadoon! also stars SNL cast member Cecily Strong and comedian Keegan-Michael Key, who hosted SNL in May. They play a New York couple who get lost on a hike and stumble into a strange town where everyone sings and dances. 

For Yang, a relative newcomer to show-biz, the series marks his television debut. For Hunter, the younger of his two older sisters, it’s the latest in a career path that began with dance lessons as a child more than 30 years ago. She attended Canterbury High School, Ottawa’s arts-focused secondary school. 

“Her dream was always to perform,” said Yang, 34, in an interview. “But that was never the path I thought was an option for me.” 

While his sister studied dance, Yang did gymnastics. He was an elite gymnast throughout his youth, ultimately leaving Merivale High School at 16 to train in Montreal, finishing high school through correspondence courses. He was a member of the Canadian National Team and received a scholarship to study at Penn State, majoring in marketing. 

A few years after graduation, Yang was working at an advertising agency in Toronto when he got a call from a Manhattan number. To his astonishment, they asked if he would be interested in auditioning for a Broadway revival of Miss Saigon.

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COVID-19: uOttawa to require vaccination for students living in residence

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Vaccination will be mandatory for students who want to live in residence at the University of Ottawa this year, with proof of vaccination and at least one dose required before move-in, or within two weeks of doing so if they can’t secure a shot before arriving.

Those who can’t receive a vaccine for “health-related reasons or other grounds protected under the Ontario Human Rights Code” will be able to submit a request for accommodation through the university’s housing portal, according to information on the university’s website.

Students with one dose living in residence will also have to receive their second dose “within the timeframe recommended by Ottawa Public Health.”

People who haven’t been granted an exemption and don’t get vaccinated or submit proof of having done so by the deadlines set out by the school will have their residence agreements terminated, uOttawa warns.

“Medical and health professionals are clear that vaccination is the most (effective) means of protecting people and those around them,” reads a statement provided to this newspaper by uOttawa’s director of strategic communications, Patrick Charette.

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“It is precisely for this reason that the University of Ottawa is requiring all students living in residence for the 2021-2022 academic year to be fully vaccinated. The University recognizes that some students may require accommodations for a variety of reasons and will be treating exceptions appropriately.”

Faculty, staff and students are also strongly encouraged to get vaccinated, the statement notes.

“Ensuring a high vaccine coverage in all communities is critical to ensuring an ongoing decline in cases and ending the pandemic. This will be especially important with the return of students to post-secondary institutions in our region in the fall of 2021.”

Neither Carleton University nor Algonquin College is currently mandating vaccination for students living in residence, according to the websites for both schools. But uOttawa isn’t alone in its policy – Western University, Trent University, Durham College and Fanshawe College have all implemented similar requirements. Seneca College, in the GTA, is going even further, making vaccination mandatory for students and staff to come to campus, in-person, for the fall term.

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