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Alek Minassian found guilty in Toronto van attack

Darpan News Desk The Canadian Press, 04 Mar, 2021
  • Alek Minassian found guilty in Toronto van attack

A man who killed 10 people and injured 16 others by deliberately driving a van down a bustling Toronto sidewalk was found guilty at trial on Wednesday, with a judge saying he carried out the attack to achieve notoriety.

Alek Minassian had admitted to planning and carrying out the attack on April 23, 2018 but had argued he should be found not criminally responsible for his actions because he is autistic.

The 28-year-old from Richmond Hill, Ont., pleaded not guilty to 10 counts of first-degree murder and 16 counts of attempted murder.

Justice Anne Molloy, who refused to name Minassian in her decision and referred to him only as John Doe, found him guilty on all 26 counts.

"Mr. Doe thought about committing these crimes over a considerable period of time and made a considered decision to proceed," she said in her judgment, which was delivered via video conference and broadcast on YouTube.

The key issue at Minassian's trial, which began last November without a jury, was whether he had the capacity at the time of the attack to make a rational choice.

Molloy said Minassian was fully capable of making a rational choice at the time and deliberately chose to commit mass murder.

Robert Forsyth, whose 94-year-old aunt Betty Forsyth died after being hit from behind by Minassian, welcomed Molloy's decision.

"I'm happy with the decision, although it's hard to use the word happy when you lose a loved one like this," he said. "It was clear he knew what he was doing."

Elwood Delaney, whose grandmother, Dorothy Sewell, died during Minassian's rampage, was also glad to hear Molloy's guilty finding.

"I'm relieved that he was found guilty on all charges," said Delaney, who watched the proceedings from his home in Kamloops, B.C., with his wife and oldest son.

"We now can start to close this awful chapter and try to move on to a new norm."

The Crown had argued that Minassian is a mass killer who knew right from wrong and happens to have autism.

But the defence argued that because of autism, Minassian never developed empathy, and that lack of empathy left him incapable of rational choice.

Molloy rejected that argument.

"It does not matter that he does not have remorse nor empathize with the victims. Lack of empathy for the suffering of victims — even an incapacity to empathize, for whatever reason — does not constitute a defence under Section 16 of the Criminal Code," she said in her decision.

The trial heard that Minassian fantasized about mass killings for years, starting when he was in high school, where he was bullied.

Minassian told several psychiatric assessors he wanted to shoot up his high school, but was unable to find a gun.

At one point he became fixated on an American mass murderer who hated women. He joined an online community of so-called "incels" — males who are involuntarily celibate.

Minassian told a detective hours after the attack that he sought retribution against society because he was a lonely virgin who believed women wouldn't have sex with him.

Later he mentioned different motives to different doctors who analyzed him.

He told them he had a strong desire to commit a mass killing, he was lonely, worried he'd fail at his upcoming software development job, a belief he'd never have a relationship with a woman, his infatuation with a mass murderer and, what many point to as his biggest motivator, the quest for notoriety.

Three weeks before the attack he booked a rental van for the day after he completed his final college exam, court heard.

Around 1:30 p.m. on a bright and warm April day, Minassian sat in the driver's seat at Yonge Street and Finch Avenue at a red light.

When the light turned green, he floored it, hopped the curb and began the attack.

He drove for about two kilometres on and off the sidewalk as he killed and maimed unsuspecting pedestrians along the way.

He was arrested moments later following a failed attempt to commit suicide by cop.

Betty Forsyth, Ji Hun Kim, So He Chung, Geraldine Brady, Chul Min Kang, Anne Marie Victoria D'Amico, Munir Najjar, Dorothy Marie Sewell, Andrea Bradden and Beutis Renuka Amarasingha died in the attack.

Minassian's case is set to return to court on March 18 to discuss next steps for sentencing.

First-degree murder carries an automatic life sentence with no chance to apply for parole for 25 years.

The judge who found Alek Minassian guilty of murder and attempted murder in the Toronto van attack has set Canadian precedent by considering autism a "mental disorder" under the Criminal Code.

Justice Anne Molloy ruled that autism did not leave the 28-year-old not criminally responsible for killing 10 people and injuring 16 others, but her decision to consider that possibility means the argument could be made in future cases.

Molloy noted, however, that the decision does not "say anything at all about any connection between ASD and criminality," and each case must be decided based on the specific circumstances.

The only other Canadian case that had argued someone was not criminally responsible due to autism was appealed, and Molloy said the appeal judge did not rule on whether autism left the accused criminally responsible.

Molloy ruled that autism is a mental disorder by the Criminal Code's definition because it is a permanent condition with an "internal cause, rooted in the brain" that "has an impact on brain functioning and thought processes."

"In its severe manifestations, and particularly where there are comorbidities, ASD might cause a person to lack the capacity to appreciate the nature of an action or to know that it is wrong," she wrote, underlining the word "might" in the decision.

"It is not possible to rule out ASD at this threshold stage by holding that it cannot ever qualify as a mental disorder under (the Criminal Code.)"

Molloy said that autism can affect a person's ability to empathize with others or understand their emotions, but rejected the defence's argument that Minassian's lack of empathy for his victims left him not criminally responsible.

She said Minassian understood that mass murder is morally wrong by society's standards, and that he knew the consequences of his actions, leaving him criminally responsible for the killings.

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