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Joseph George Sutherland, convicted of killing 2 women in Toronto in the 80s, sentenced to life

The man who confessed to the brutal 1983 murders of two women in Toronto has been sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 21 years.

The sentence was handed to Joseph George Sutherland by Superior Court Justice Maureen Forestell in a downtown Toronto courtroom on Friday.

Back in October, Sutherland pleaded guilty to two counts of second-degree murder in connection with the deaths of Erin Gilmour and Susan Tice.

“The two murders that Mr. Sutherland committed were profoundly serious,” Forestell said. “They were killed in their homes, which should have been places of sanctuary. The impact of violence has continued to be felt by other victims, in this case, families and friends.”

Gilmour, the daughter of mining magnate David Gilmour, was 22 years old when she was stabbed, strangled and sexually assaulted in her Yorkville apartment on the night of Dec. 20, 1983.

Earlier that year, Susan Tice was found stabbed to death after being sexually assaulted in her Bickford Park home, just a few kilometres away from Gilmour’s apartment.

Sutherland was not arrested for nearly 40 years. The court heard he considered turning himself in at several points during that time but opted against it.

It wasn’t until November 2022, when advances in DNA technology led officers to link evidence from both crime scenes, that Sutherland was arrested at a residence in Moosonee, Ont.

He has been in custody at Toronto South Detention Centre since.

In considering Sutherland’s sentence, Justice Forestell was presented with a Gladue report authored by Aboriginal Legal Services, which detailed Sutherland’s upbringing and background.

The report detailed a life coloured by colonialism, Forestell told the court. In his early years, Sutherland attended St. Anne’s Residential school. During this time, he was the victim of both physical and sexual abuse, she said.

His family moved to Toronto in his late teens. There, he struggled with substance abuse. 

Sutherland

Following the murders, Sutherland told the report’s author he embarked on a spiritual quest to find the spirits of his victims and ask for their forgiveness. It was a turning point for him, he told the authors.

He also told the authors that he did not remember committing the first homicide, and that he only vaguely remembered the second.

“My mind erased it because my mind broke,” he told the author of the report.

Forestell rejected this, finding his decision to embark on a spiritual quest evidence of sufficient memory.

“While I accept what Mr. Sutherland told the author of the report ,that he had tried to forget what he’d done, I do not accept he does not remember the first and only vaguely remembers the second homicide,” she said.

Forestell said that given the circumstances of the case “including the vulnerability of the victims” and “the violations of their homes and their bodies,” a parole eligible near the “highest range” permitted was appropriate.

Speaking to reporters after the sentencing, brother of Erin Gilmour, Sean McGowan, said he felt Justice Forestell’s decision was fair.

Sean McGowan, brother of Erin Gilmour

“You want to see a number of 100 but at the same time, 21 years is a pretty decent outcome,” he said. “I think my mom would be thrilled to see someone finally facing a life in prison as a result of what they did.”

“This has been dogging all of us for 40 years,” he continued. “I’m just happy to have the legal aspect of it done.”

Prosecutor Michael Canton stressed in a statement following the sentencing the “profound loss” the loved ones of these women have felt for decades.

“I believe one important message connected to these two homicides is general deterrence,” said Canton. “If you harm a member of our society, the justice system will hold you accountable.”As Sutherland has already served two years in custody, he will be eligible for parole in 2043.

Sutherland must also submit a sample of DNA to the court and has been prohibited from possessing weapons for life.