‘Grave injustice’: SCC ruling could change sentence for Alberta’s multiple murderers

A southern Alberta man who killed three people, including a two-year-old girl, could have the ability to request a release from jail earlier than his original sentence intended, thanks to a landmark Supreme Court decision Friday.

Derek Saretzky was convicted of first-degree murder in the 2015 deaths of Terry Blanchette, his two-year-old daughter, Hailey Dunbar-Blanchette and Hanne Meketech. He was sentenced to three consecutive life sentences, making him ineligible for parole for 75 years.

Now, following the Supreme Court of Canada’s ruling that life sentences with no real chance of parole is ‘cruel’ and unusual punishment and therefore ‘unconstitutional’, that sentence could change.

The decision centred on Alexandre Bissonnette, the gunman who killed six worshippers at a mosque in Quebec City in 2017 and was initially sentenced to life in prison with no parole for 40 years.

With Friday’s decision, Bissonnette will have the ability to meet with the parole board after 25 years.

“Deception of this decision because it doesn’t take in consideration the atrocity of this tragedy. Killing six persons and seriously injuring five others,” said Mohamed Labidi, president of the Quebec Islamic Cultural Centre.

The landmark ruling will have implications for all offenders convicted of multiple first-degree murder charges in Canada back to 2011 as well as those currently before the courts.

Three individuals from Alberta – Douglas Garland, Edward Downey and Saretzky – were sentenced to life in prison with no parole for between 50 and 75 years.

Saretzky appealed that term and his lawyer, Balfour Der, said he’d be 97 before he’d ever see a parole board.

“This decision is not, and the law has never been that a person gets parole after 25 years – it’s to simply ask for parole from the parole board,” Der told CTV News during an interview on Friday.

In 2011, the Canadian government gave justices the ability to hand out consecutive sentences of parole ineligibility, rather than concurrent blocks of 25 years.

The Alberta Court of Appeal said last year it would hear Saretzky’s appeal, but only after the Supreme Court decided on the Bissonnette case.

Now that’s that’s been done, his lawyer says the decision will be clear.

“So, that his (Saretzky’s) appeal would be successful because it’s the exact same issue that the Supreme Court of Canada has just decided on,” said Der.

Victims’ advocates and some politicians are outraged with the decision.

“My thoughts first go to the victims and their families,” said Michelle Rempel Garner, MP for Calgary Nose Hill. “I think that this ruling has a significant possibility to re-victimize these families and, to me, that’s not how justice should work.”

Federal Justice Minister David Lametti, tweeted he disagreed with the court’s decision, but also respects it and will review its implications.

“We will continue to stand with those affected by this terrible crime and support them,” he wrote on Twitter.

Former prime minister Stephen Harper, whose government brought in consecutive sentencing, tweeted his outrage, calling it a “grave injustice” and urged parliament to “take action”.

Aside from Alberta, the ruling could also change the sentences for more than a dozen mass killers currently serving time behind bars.

However, Der suggested even people who commit the most unimaginable crimes can change while in prison and over time.

“There’s always a chance someone can be rehabilitated, so the words of the Supreme Court is we have to leave the door open for someone, to give them hope, to try their best to be rehabilitated because they may get out.”

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