The parents of a 35-year-old man who was shot dead on the University of Alberta campus in Edmonton a decade ago say they are angry about a recent Supreme Court decision that could allow their son’s killer to be eligible for parole much earlier than expected.
Travis Baumgartner, an armoured car guard who pleaded guilty to fatally shooting three of his colleagues in June 2012, was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 40 years.
But thanks to a recent Supreme Court decision, he could be eligible for parole in 15 years.
Dianne and Mike Ilesic, whose son, Brian Ilesic, was one of Baumgartner’s victims, criticized the decision at a news conference Tuesday.
“Both Mike and I feel deflated because of what the Supreme Court did,” Dianne Ilesic said.
She said she and her husband have lost confidence in the federal government because it has not taken steps to counteract the decision.
Court rules provision unconstitutional
Canadians convicted of first-degree murder receive an automatic sentence of life in prison without parole for 25 years.
Stephen Harper’s Conservative federal government introduced a sentencing provision in 2011 that gave judges the ability to stack periods of parole ineligibility for multiple murders.
In a unanimous ruling last month, the Supreme Court found that provision was unconstitutional because it violated Section 12 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Section 12 protects the right to not receive cruel and unusual punishment.
“Such sentences are degrading in nature and thus incompatible with human dignity, because they deny offenders any possibility of reintegration into society,” wrote Chief Justice Richard Wagner in the decision.
Baumgartner was the first person in Canada to be sentenced under the new provision.
His lawyer, Peter Royal, has not yet responded to an interview request.
Federal government could act, MP says
The Ilesics are constituents of Conservative MP Michael Cooper, who hosted Tuesday’s press conference at a hotel in northwest Edmonton.
The St. Albert-Edmonton MP, who has known the couple since 2016, called the Supreme Court decision “unjust and outrageous.”
He said the federal government should invoke the Charter’s rarely used notwithstanding clause to overturn the decision or create a new law that allows judges to impose an ineligibility period of longer than 25 years for people convicted of multiple murders.
“This is not something that should be taken lightly, but in this case, the court really did get it wrong,” Cooper said.
The Alberta government is also calling on the federal government to invoke the notwithstanding clause.
Federal government respects court decision
The federal government has said that while it supported judges’ discretion to impose longer periods of parole ineligibility in some cases, it will respect the Supreme Court’s decision.
“We respect the Court’s independence. We will respect its unanimous decision and are carefully assessing the path forward to ensure the system does a better job of preventing crime and holding offenders accountable,” Chantalle Aubertin, press secretary for justice minister David Lametti, said in an email.
“Murder is one of the most serious offences in the Criminal Code, and attracts its most serious punishment – a mandatory life sentence – the Supreme Court’s decision does not change that fact.
“In addition, eligibility for parole does not guarantee that a person will receive parole. It will be up to the Parole Board of Canada to determine whether Mr. Travis Baumgartner, like any other convicted murderer, is eligible for parole after 25 years.”
Aubertin said that although legal, “the use of the notwithstanding clause is extremely serious, since it has the effect of suspending legal protections guaranteed by the Charters of Rights and Freedoms.”
Baumgartner’s is not the only case in Alberta that could be retroactively affected.
The Alberta Court of Appeal has ruled the sentences of four convicted multiple murderers — Derek Saretzky, Edward Downey, Joshua Frank and Jason Klaus — will be varied in the wake of the ruling.
Last month, Robert Keith Major pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree murder in the Hinton killings of 24-year-old Mchale Busch and her toddler, Noah McConnell.
Major’s sentencing was adjourned until the fall in anticipation of the Supreme Court’s ruling.
Verna Sand, a close family friend of Busch’s fiance and Noah’s father, Cody McConnell, said she and other supporters cannot believe the Supreme Court ruling.
She said the decision is disappointing because it prioritizes criminals’ rights and freedoms.
“We’re worrying more in our courts about their rights and freedoms instead of the families and the people who were murdered,” she said.
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