Dozens of people enjoyed a meal at an upscale Vancouver restaurant, while others strolled the nearby seawall.
Their peaceful evening was disrupted when a man was fatally shot in full view of Cardero’s Restaurant and the walkway that runs alongside the city’s Coal Harbor neighborhood.
On Tuesday, the man accused of the brutal murder pleaded guilty and was sentenced to life in prison without being eligible for parole for 20 years.
Francois Joseph Gauthier, 53, was initially charged with first degree murder in the murder of Harpreet Dhaliwal, 31, but pleaded guilty to the lesser felony of first degree murder.
The court heard that on the night of April 17, 2021, Gauthier used a silenced semi-automatic pistol to shoot Dhaliwal several times, including two bullets in the back of the head.
The motive for the murder was not disclosed, but the court heard that a significant amount of planning had gone into the murder. Dhaliwal had no criminal record, but it was believed that he was involved in a gang lifestyle, more specifically, that he had ties to the Brothers Keepers gang.
“As an execution-style murder, this was a particularly serious crime with many aggravating features,” said Heather Holmes, chief justice of the BC Supreme Court, as she delivered the verdict on Tuesday.
“Weapons crimes are a major concern in the community, and it took place in a public location that was expected to be busy with people of all ages enjoying life as they expect and are entitled to,” the judge said.
Born in Quebec but living in South America, Gauthier had arrived in Vancouver in January 2021 and rented an Airbnb apartment in the city a few months later.
The killer had been given information about the victim’s whereabouts. After confronting Dhaliwal outside the restaurant and shooting him 10 times, he dropped the firearm and fled.
He was chased by the victim’s brother and another man. The two men grabbed Gauthier and stabbed him several times, then ran back to Dhaliwal’s body.
Gauthier was seriously injured but was able to walk to a courtyard near Broughton Street and West Pender before collapsing. No charges have been filed for the stabbing of Gauthier.
Police and paramedics arrived on the scene, but despite attempts to resuscitate him, Dhaliwal was pronounced dead.
In Gauthier’s apartment, the police found a small arsenal of firearms and ammunition. There was other evidence of planning, including GPS tracking devices, four BC license plates, four cell phones, and a silicone-style full-face mask.
Gauthier had an dated but serious criminal record, which included violent crimes and convictions in the United States, including a conviction in a cocaine conspiracy.
In imposing a sentence, the judge accepted a joint filing by Crown attorney Mike Barrenger and defense attorney Michael Shapray.
Second-degree murder carries a mandatory life sentence without eligibility for parole for between 10 and 25 years. The seriousness of the circumstances justified a sentence on the higher side of the parole, the judge found.
Barrenger told the court that numerous attempts had been made to obtain victim statements from Dhaliwal’s family, but the family had refused.
Shapray told the court he took over from the Crown’s comments and emphasized that his client had submitted his plea at a very early stage in the proceedings.
He noted that the sentence would take Gauthier to the final stages of his adult life. Gauthier, who refused to give a statement in court, sat silently in the dock during the proceedings.
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