Terrible, indescribable, cruel. It is clear that Frej Haj Messaoud was sentenced Tuesday to 20 years in prison for attempting to kill his ex-wife by setting her on fire in 2019, the gruesome ending of a relationship built on control, hate and revenge based .
• Also read: Ex-spouse burned alive: Defense calls for 7 to 15 years in prison for Haj Messaoud
• Also read: Ex-spouse burned alive in Quebec: Crown calls for life imprisonment for Haj Messaoud
“No one in a couple has the right to control the other and punish him if he resists. Everyone, whoever they may be, has the right to leave a relationship without fear of being a victim of violence,” Judge Guy De Blois said during Tuesday morning’s sentencing hearing, describing domestic violence as “a scourge that must be firmly denounced”.
In a harsh ruling on the accused, the judge recalled the horror Haj Messaoud inflicted on his victim. Both during their toxic, total-control relationship and his August 9, 2019 bout of insanity, the now 42-year-old man appears to have sought control from his ex-wife.
“The influence that the defendant exerted on the victim during their life together […] is absolute. It’s hard to imagine such a scenario being possible in Canada in our time,” Judge De Blois said, adding that attempted murder in an unspeakable atrocity like this could only come from a person “spirited by hate and revenge such an animated level that everyone is trying to […] to understand it is illusory”.
The victim present in the room burst into tears during the hearing of the verdict. QC Me Matthieu Rochette said she was happy with the decision and could “finally turn the page”.
Wiem Haj Amor had bravely testified in court about the impact of the defendant’s atrocities on his life. His story was part of the aggravating circumstances Judge De Blois considered in his decision.
“The suffering she endured throughout the months of surgery and treatment, as well as during her recovery, is, according to her treating physicians, the worst pain a human being can feel,” the judge said in his 17-page decision.
Among the other aggravating factors the court identified, the crime itself will have been shocking.
“Attempting to kill a person, your ex-spouse, by fire demonstrates a desire to make them suffer excruciating pain while marking them for life,” the judge insisted.
The 20-year sentence imposed on Haj Messaoud is among the harshest sentences for attempted murder in a marital context. The QC also welcomed Tuesday’s message from the court.
“It’s a decision in Quebec that matters in relation to the attempted murder of an ex-spouse. It’s an unequivocal message that the judge is putting out to anyone who wants to attack their ex-spouse,” Me Rochette said.
The Crown called for life imprisonment for Frej Haj Messaoud. For his part, defense attorney Me Luc Picard had proposed to the judge a prison sentence of between 7 and 15 years, stressing in particular that his client’s decision to plead guilty should be taken into account.
Haj Messaoud, who turned 42 on Sunday, attacked his ex-spouse in the summer of 2019 in the Saint-Sauveur district. He showed up at her home on the evening of August 9 after following her for several days using his cell phone’s GPS movements.
As she was leaning in the trunk of her car, the defendant grabbed her from behind and covered her mouth before pouring gasoline all over her body. Ignoring his victim’s desperate and pleading cries, he had lit a lighter and ignited it in a split second. The drama played out under the horrified eyes of the victim’s mother and the little girl of the former couple, who had been separated for about a year.
Wiem Haj Amor managed to get out of her burning clothes thanks to the help of a neighbor and without this quick intervention she would not have survived the attack, the court said. She suffered third degree burns on over 30% of her body, mainly on her back, neck and arms. She believed during the trial that she still has many physical and psychological consequences of the attack today.
Excerpts from Judge Guy De Blois’ decision
“The aggravating factors are numerous and the responsibility of the defendant is paramount. Again feeling entitled to take control, he planned his actions, consciously choosing to burn Madame, then fled and left her to die.
“The prejudice report paints a bleak portrait of the defendant. […] The court echoed the words of the probation officer, who confirmed that “the risk of recidivism appears significant” because “the analysis highlights an individual with significant potential for violence in a relationship context.”