'Court system only made things worse,' Eaton Centre shooting victim's family says
The family of a then 13-year-old boy shot at the Eaton Centre back in 2012 is calling for changes to the judicial system that would favour victims rather than criminals.
The family of Connor Stevenson echoed their concern while speaking exclusively with CTV News Toronto ahead of the second sentencing for the man convicted in the shooting.
Christopher Husbands was first convicted on two counts of second-degree murder. But, the Ontario Court of Appeal ordered a new trial, finding the judge had made an error in law regarding jury selection.
Christopher Husbands is seen in a Toronto courtroom in December 2014 in this sketch. (CTV News Toronto)
“Why are we here now? Five years ago the trial ended, they had the verdict, it was life,” Connor Stevenson’s father Craig Stevenson said. “We were ready to move on as a family as best as possible even with all the complications and here we are seven years later.”
“We’re having to relive this whole trial, why?”
In February 2019, Husbands was retried and found guilty on the lesser charges of two counts of manslaughter and five counts of aggravated assault, along with one count each of criminal negligence causing bodily harm and reckless discharge of a firearm.
Police set up a perimeter outside the Eaton Centre following a shooting at the shopping mall in Toronto on June 2, 2012. (The Canadian Press / Victor Biro)
Two men were killed in the shooting, 24-year-old Ahmed Hassan died on the floor inside the downtown shopping centre, while 22-year-old Nixon Nirmalendran died in hospital nine days after the incident. Six other people were injured in the shooting, including Connor Stevenson, who was shot in the head as fourteen rounds were fired off inside the food court of the busy mall.
“It just makes me more upset with how the system’s gone,” Connor Stevenson said outside of the Eaton Centre. “It doesn’t seem fair.”
Now 20 years old, Connor Stevenson is a student at Sheridan College studying software development.
Connor Stevenson is seen speaking with CTV News Toronto outside of the Toronto Eaton Centre on July 31, 2019. (CTV News Toronto)
He will be present as the man who shot him appears in court once again on Tuesday, when victim impact statements will be read during the sentencing hearing.
While the maximum sentence for a charge of manslaughter is life in prison, the parole ineligibility is likely much closer to seven years rather than the 30 years Husbands was serving following his original conviction.
The conviction Husbands has now received does not match the crime, Connor Stevenson’s mother Jo-Anne Finney, who was with her son at the time of the shooting, said.
“I personally feel victimized, I felt victimized when we walked in here in 2012 in the Eaton Centre, coming out. But, I can tell you I have been feeling victimized the entire seven years.”
Jo-Anne Finney and her son Connor Stevenson are seen walking through the Toronto Eaton Centre on July 31, 2019. (CTV News Toronto)
She said her family has felt frustrated that they were not able to participate in the trial process more as they were limited to victim impact statement rules that curtail what can and cannot be said.
“The system has to change, things need to be more focused on victims and less on the criminals and I think that right now it is completely flipped,” she said.
Connor Stevenson, who was once a ski racer, underwent numerous lifesaving surgeries after the shooting and can subsequently no longer play any physical sports.
Following being struck by the bullet, emergency workers expressed surprise he was even able to survive.
Taylor Stevenson, the sister of Connor Stevenson, was 17 years old at the time and was also there when her brother was caught in the gunfire. She voiced her frustration with the judicial process as well while speaking with CTV News Toronto alongside her parents and brother.
Security camera footage shows Connor Stevenson and his mother Jo-Anne Finney getting food at the Toronto Eaton Centre before gunfire erupted in 2012. (Toronto Police Service)
“The victims of these traumatic situations really don’t have a voice throughout the court,” she said. “The court system has only made things honestly worse and been, I’d say, almost as traumatic as the actual event.”
Last month, prosecutors said they will be seeking a life sentence for Husbands, noting the killings should be considered “near murder.”
Husbands, who was initially charged with first-degree murder, admitted in trial that he was the shooter in the incident but his lawyers argued he should be found not criminally responsible due to mental illness. His defence team argued Husbands was in a dissociative state due to post-traumatic stress disorder and did not have control over his actions at the time as a result.