TORONTO – The man who used his rental van as a weapon on a busy Toronto sidewalk in 2018, killing 10 people and seriously injuring in the city’s worst massacre, has been convicted of murder and attempted murder by an Ontario judge on Wednesday.
Dismissing the new argument that his autism spectrum disorder made him not criminally responsible, Ontario Superior Court judge Anne Molloy ruled that the defendant, Alek Minassian, clearly understood what he was doing, despite the conclusion of several experts that he was unable to feel empathy because of his neurodevelopmental disorder.
“It was the exercise of free will by a rational brain, capable of choosing between good and evil. He freely chose the option which was morally reprehensible, knowing what the consequences would be for himself and for everyone, ”declared Judge Molloy, who throughout her verdict refused to identify the accused. by name, instead calling him “John Doe”.
“It doesn’t matter that he doesn’t have remorse or empathy for the victims,” the judge said.
Three years later, the event still haunts the city where massacres are relatively rare.
It was a beautiful spring afternoon in April when Mr. Minassian, driving a rental van he had picked up an hour earlier, climbed the sidewalk of a busy sidewalk in the city’s dense north and crashed into pedestrians, sending bodies up to 26 feet into the air and dragging others under the vehicle.
He finally stopped when a victim’s coffee splashed onto the windshield, blurring his sight, then attempted to ‘kill himself by a cop’, pretending he was armed and yelling at a policeman to shoot him.
Among the dead were two 22-year-old South Korean students, a Jordanian elder visiting her grandchildren and a single mother who had immigrated from Sri Lanka. Eight were women.
Many survivors suffered catastrophic injuries – spinal fractures, cerebral hemorrhage, broken ribs and hips and, in one case, leg amputations.
The event was shocking for another reason: It was the first time many in Toronto had heard the term “incel” – short for involuntary celibacy, a self-proclaimed label for men who accuse women of denying them sex.
Minutes before starting his attack, the accused posted a tribute to Elliot Rodger of the misogynist movement on his Facebook account and proclaimed: “The Incel rebellion has already started!” Mr Minassian has since been named a hero by many in the incel online community, although during the trial forensic experts said he did not actually believe the group’s message but simply used it to increase its shock value.
With the defendant having already pleaded guilty to 10 counts of first degree murder and 16 counts of attempted murder, the six-week trial focused on his state of mind and whether his disorder had caused him rendered incapable of understanding that his crime was wrong. It was formerly known as the “defense of madness”.
Lawyers for the accused made a new argument that while Mr. Minassian understood that what he had done was legally wrong, his form of autism spectrum disorder made him unable to empathize and understand. the inner world of others, which was a necessary component for making rational decisions. .
A finding of not criminally responsible is rare in Canada and the vast majority of these are related to episodes of psychotic spectrum disorders or mood disorders. Some experts said that despite the ruling, the case laid a new legal foundation, as government lawyers and the judge admitted during the trial that a person with severe autism spectrum disorder, probably associated with other disorders, would be entitled to this type of defense. .
The accused, 28, never spoke, so all information about his motives and state of mind came from expert testimony from forensic psychiatrists and psychologists who interviewed him after the crime and examined files from more than two dozen electronic devices in his family. home.
Over the weeks, a complicated portrait of the accused emerged: he grew up in a suburb of Toronto, cycling and bowling, and was intellectually advanced, but had a form of autism spectrum disorder that made him socially stunted. and unable to form strong emotional bonds. . He developed ticks and was bullied, but had a loving family and a few friends. And it was accomplished: A few days before taking the rental van to complete his macabre plan, he had handed in the final assignment for his college degree in computer programming and was about to start a $ 55,000 software development job with him. year.
He had neither a criminal history nor a history of violence.
Mr. Minassian’s father, in moving testimony, described his son as “happy” and “gentle,” and said there was no sign that he was plotting such a terrible act. “The odds for Alek to do this would be like being struck by lightning on a Sunday, twice,” said father Vahe Minassian.
But the virtual courtroom also heard forensic psychiatrists that the accused had did ritual research on mass murders and school shootings during high school, studied Elliott Rodger’s manifesto of female hatred intensely in the following years, and hid on the “incel” subgroups and Reddit’s “incel” chat rooms, identifying with members’ loneliness and frustration at not finding girlfriends.
He was lonely, fearful of failing in his next job and determined to become famous for a mass murder, telling clinicians after the mass murder that he wished he had killed many more people, according to expert testimony.
Government prosecutors argued that the defendant carefully put his plan together for a month, carried it out on his own accord, and clearly understood society would find it wrong. “This is a trial concerning a person who committed murder, who also happens to have an ASD, not that the TSA made him commit murders,” the senior government lawyer said in this report. case, Joe Callaghan, in his final submissions, referring to his client’s autism spectrum disorder.
Mr Minassian’s defense attorney Boris Bytensky argued that while the defendant knew that what he had done was legally wrong, his form of autism spectrum disorder prevented him from empathizing with the others, which Mr. Bytensky said was essential to achieve a rational approach. decision and understand the immorality of his actions.
Some experts said even before the ruling that the case laid a new legal foundation, as government lawyers and the judge said during the trial that a person with severe autism spectrum disorder, likely associated with other disorders, would be eligible for this type of defense.
“It changed the landscape right here,” said Cynthia Fromstein, a criminal lawyer in Toronto and acting chair of the Ontario and Nunavut Review Boards, which annually assess cases of people placed in mental hospitals, taking into account if they remain a threat to society and require continued institutionalization.
Since the tragic event, the accused has become a hero in the murky world of “incels”, with followers glorifying him and using his face as their online profile picture, according to academic reports. In Canada, he is said to have inspired at least one double murder attempt.
Police announced last year that a young man, who was facing murder and attempted murder charges for stabbing several people in a Toronto massage parlor with a machete, would also face charges of terrorism because of his “incel” beliefs. It was the first time that Canadian police recognized misogynistic crimes as terrorism.
Allison Hannaford contributed reporting from North Bay, Ontario.