The man accused of killing six men at a Quebec City mosque has changed his mind and pleaded guilty.
Many people in the courtroom burst out sobbing and held hands on Wednesday as the judge confirmed Alexandre Bissonnette’s guilty pleas.
Bissonnette, 28, originally pleaded not guilty to the 12 charges on Monday morning but that afternoon announced he wanted to plead guilty.
Superior Court Justice Francois Huot refused to accept the pleas on Monday pending a psychiatric assessment of the accused to ensure he fully understood the consequences of his decision.
Mr Justice Huot placed a publication ban on Monday afternoon’s proceedings but agreed to accept the 12 guilty pleas on Wednesday.
More than 50 people were at the Islamic Cultural Centre in January 2017 when the shooting began during evening prayers.
Six men aged between 39 and 60 were killed.
“In my heart, it’s the decision I have wanted to make in order to avoid a trial and for the victims to not have to relive this tragedy,” he told the court on Monday.
Bissonnette said he had been thinking for some time of pleading guilty but that he was missing certain pieces of evidence, which were relayed on Sunday.
When Mr Justice Huot asked him if he was fully aware of what he was doing, Bissonnette replied: “Yes.”
The judge asked Bissonnette whether he knew he would be getting a life sentence and he answered: “I understand.”
Mr Justice Huot also asked him if he understood he could receive consecutive sentences, meaning 150 years of prison.
“I know,” Bissonnette replied, in a low voice.
Psychiatrist Sylvain Faucher said Bissonnette “is fit to stand trial and to plead what he wants to plead”.
“He did not want to be the perpetrator of another collective drama,” said Mr Faucher, who met with Bissonnette on Monday evening.
Many members of Quebec City’s Muslim community were present in court on Monday and Wednesday.
Amir Belkacemi, whose 60-year-old father Khaled Belkacemi was killed, said no-one wants to live the trauma again.
“That the trial won’t have to take place, it’s a good thing for us, it’s a good thing for everyone in the community,” said Amir Belkacemi, the son of victim Khaled Belkacemi. “Very relieved.”
Jury selection was scheduled to start April 3 and the trial was expected to last two months.
Sentencing arguments will take place at a later date.
Those who monitor extremist groups in Quebec described the French-Canadian university student as someone who took extreme nationalist positions at Laval University and on social media.
He was a supporter of French far-right leader Marine Le Pen and US President Donald Trump.
Quebec’s premier previously acknowledged the French-speaking province has its “demons” in terms of attitudes towards Muslims.