The 2018 van attack on Yonge Street that left 10 dead and 16 injured ultimately ended because a drink splashed across the vehicle’s windshield, according to a newly unsealed interrogation interview between the accused and Toronto police.
Police have alleged Alek Minassian rented a van from Vaughan, Ont., on April 23 and drove it to the Yonge Street and Finch Avenue area during the lunch hour, but he confirmed in the police interview that it was him behind the wheel. Minassian drove south on Yonge Street and said he deliberately struck pedestrians in an act of “retribution,” discussing how the incel (involuntary celibacy) community fueled his desire to act.
After travelling more than two kilometres in seven minutes, Minassian pulled over on Poyntz Avenue, southwest of Yonge Street and Sheppard Avenue West, after he said someone’s drink splashed onto the vehicle and reduced his ability to see out the windshield.
He was arrested moments later by Const. Ken Lam, who was praised for his use of de-escalation techniques during the arrest and for not using a weapon. Minassian later told police he tried to engage in “suicide by cop” by flashing his wallet, hoping it would be mistaken for a gun.
The admissions were made as part of a wide-ranging, four-hour interview between Minassian and Det. Rob Thomas, a veteran officer and polygraph examiner who assists Toronto police units involved in major investigations. The interview at a police station near the scene started almost nine hours after Minassian was taken into custody.
‘I was thinking that I would inspire future masses to join me’
The interview between Thomas and Minassian began just after 10:45 p.m. on April 23. For more than an hour and 20 minutes, they discuss Minassian’s history, arrest, and movements in the station after being brought in.
When asked several questions about his background, Minassian often told Thomas he didn’t want to answer the questions.
However, when the conversation — often casual and calm in tone — turned to how he was treated by women and relationships, Minassian began to open up to Thomas.
“I would say that sometimes I am a bit upset that they choose to date obnoxious men instead of a gentleman,” he said, adding it was “illogical.”
WATCH: Man accused in Toronto van attack admits frustration with society, discusses incel community
Minassian said his feelings intensified after a house party in 2013, agreeing with Thomas that it was a “defining” moment in his life.
“I walked in and attempted to socialize with some girls. However, they all laughed at me and held the arms of the big guys instead,” he said.
“I felt very angry … that they would because I consider myself a supreme gentleman. … I was angry that that they would give their love and affection to obnoxious brutes.
“I started thinking that it’s unfair that ce—certain guys will not get any love and affection from girls … such as me that are — that are very nice and acting gentlemanly.”
Minassian told Thomas that he visited the website 4Chan in 2014, a popular online message board that is primarily anonymous, to discuss his frustrations. He also said he used Reddit. Calling the types of conversations on 4Chan “blunt and honest,” Minassian said he “enjoyed” the messages exchanged.
The pair discussed the incel community. Minassian told Thomas it means some “have been thrown into true force(d) loneliness and you’re unable to lose your virginity.” He also professed his admiration for Elliot Rodger, who killed six people and injured more than 12 in California in 2014, and Chris Harper-Mercer, who killed nine people at an Oregon college in 2015. Minassian told Thomas that he exchanged messages with Rodger and Harper-Mercer.
“Elliot Rodger decided to essentially commit an uprising — a beta uprising if you will … against the Chads and Staceys (phrases incel community members use when referring to men who are perceived as attractive and the women who want to be with them),” he said.
“We discussed our frustrations at society and being unable to get laid and we were plotting a certain timed strike … on society in order to confuse and shake the foundations just to put all the ‘normies’ in a state of panic.”
In discussing the incel community, he agreed with Thomas’s assessment that incels wanted to convert the Staceys and Chads from living to dead “so that we come out on-t—us on top.” He added that alpha males would be targets of an “uprising.”
Minassian said incels don’t “necessarily wish to kill the normies” (who are “considered to be normal by the unfair standards of society”), but that incels want to “subjugate them in order to make them understand … that our type is the more superior one.”
He told Thomas that he began to start feeling “radicalized” shortly after Rodger’s 2014 attack and that “it was time to take action and not just sit on the sidelines and just fester in my own sadness.”
The conversation then turned to the van attack. When it came to selecting a date, Minassian told Thomas he wanted it to be after he finished his Bachelor of Software Development program at Seneca at York.
He said the planning of the attack started about a month before it happened, which is when he put in a reservation for a van from a Ryder Truck Rental location to “use as a tool for rebellion.” He said he was preoccupied with the attack in the weeks before, estimating he thought about it 80 per cent of the time.
“I was thinking that I would inspire future masses to join me in my uprising as well,” Minassian said, adding he posted a message on 4Chan the day before the attack.
“I was using a code language to avoid detection by the authorities. I was — I stated that there would be a beta uprising tomorrow. I encourage others to follow suit.”
‘The day of retribution’
On the surface, April 23 began like any day. Minassian told Thomas he woke up at 7 a.m., had breakfast, and went for a walk.
“I was very aware of it … it was very pressing on my mind,” he said when asked if he was conscious the attack would happen that day.
Minassian said after he got home, he played “browser games” until it was time to leave. He initially told police he took the bus to get to the Ryder truck rental location.
However, Thomas later came back and said investigators were told by his father that Minassian was given a ride to a Starbucks. Minassian said he told his father he was going to meet a friend, but walked over to the rental agency from the coffee shop.
Minassian outlined how he rented the vehicle, even down to the most precise details. In describing the rental agent, he said he was five feet nine inches and estimated the man to be 152 pounds.
“Yes, I’m very precise like that,” he told Thomas.
Minassian added he preferred to rent a van versus a big truck.
“It was larger than a car, therefore large enough to be effective but not so large that it made manoeuvrability hard,” he said, noting he made a $400 deposit to hold the vehicle.
After Minassian left Ryder, he said he drove straight to Yonge Street knowing “it would be a busy area.”
“I was thinking that this it — this is the day of retribution. … That’s the only thing that’s in my mind, it’s just burning in my mind,” he told Thomas when asked what he was thinking throughout the trip to Yonge Street.
He said he drove down Yonge Street and reached the area of Finch Avenue West, which wasn’t a predetermined destination. He saw pedestrians there.
Before the attack, Minassian said he posted a message on his Facebook account from his cellphone saying, “The incel rebellion has already begun.”
Minassian said he then began to “floor the pedal” and sped the van “towards them.”
“I al-allow the van to collide with them,” he told Thomas.
“Some people get knocked down on the way. Some people roll ov—over the top of the van.”
Minassian closed in on the Sheppard Avenue West area, and he told Thomas that’s when a beverage hit the vehicle.
“To be honest, the only reason I stopped my attack was because someone’s drink got splashed on my windshield and I was worried that I would crash the van. Anyways, so I decided, ‘OK, now I wanted to do more,’ but I’ve kind of been foiled by a lack of visibility,” Minassian said.
“That’s when I pulled — I turned right and I pulled — and I saw the cops approaching, so I decided to pull over and get out of my van.”
It’s unclear if he tried to use the windshield wipers.
He also said there “wasn’t a convenient place” to stop on Yonge Street. It is then when Minassian said Lam approached him, “screaming” at him to get out.
“I get out and I point my wallet at the cop and it — with the intent for it to be confused as a gun so that I could be fatally shot,” he told Thomas, later adding he told Lam he had a gun in his pocket — something that was untrue.
“Even beforehand I premeditated as an attempted suicide by cop.
“I was holding my wallet with my right hand but then when I saw that that wasn’t working, I reached into my pocket with my left hand and quickly pulled it out and formed my hand into the shape of a gun.”
Minassian said he contemplated buying a toy gun to use, but was “paranoid” that Ryder staff would ask to search his pockets or his bag.
“I decided to go as stealthy as possible so no one suspects anything,” he said.
After Minassian realized he wasn’t going to be shot, he said he “had no choice but to just get on the ground.”
“I’ve lost,” he said.
As the interview ended, Thomas told Minassian 10 people died and at that point 15 people were injured. Minassian was asked what he thought of that fact.
“I feel like I accomplished my mission,” Minassian said.
Thomas subsequently asked Minassian what he would tell the families of the victims if he had the opportunity.
“I honestly don’t know,” Minassian said.
Interview publication ban challenged in court
Boris Bytensky, Minassian’s defence counsel, requested a publication ban of the interrogation in July on behalf of his client and his client’s family, citing concerns it might taint witness testimony and impact the Minassian family’s privacy.
A temporary ban was put in place while the court reviewed the matter. However, Global News and a number of other media outlets hired lawyers to challenge it in court. The ban was removed by Justice Anne Molloy, saying it counters the open and accessible principles of the court system.
Doug Richardson, a partner with O’Donnell, Robertson and Partners, told Global News his firm argued that everything filed in court should be open to the public. He said if a party wants to restrict evidence from being viewed by the public, that party must prove the need for the ban outweighs other interests.
“What the accused had argued was releasing this information now would somehow interfere with witnesses at trial. The family argued it would harm their privacy interests,” Richardson said.
“The court agreed with us. The parties didn’t file any evidence that would support that there would be harm to them, to the fair trial rights, to the witnesses or to the privacy interests, and that the public should have access to that information.”
In a decision released on Aug. 16, Molloy ordered the publication ban on the video to be lifted on Friday at 12:01 a.m.
“The people of Toronto are entitled to know what evidence is being presented at trial, and they are entitled to acquire that knowledge while the trial is happening — not weeks or months after the fact. This is a matter that goes beyond prurient interest or idle curiosity,” she wrote.
“This was a tragedy with a wide and devastating impact within the Toronto community and beyond. People want to know why it happened. They are entitled to know what is happening at the trial devoted to finding the answer to that question.
Molloy also wrote that the media acts as representatives of the broader public.
“Their role encompasses not only their actual presence at the trial and their personal knowledge of the evidence presented in the courtroom, it also encompasses their right to report that information in a responsible way to the public,” she said.
“That is the role of the press in our society and it is a role deserving of the highest level of constitutional protection, a protection provided in this country for many, many years.”
Richardson said Molloy’s decision is consistent with decades of case law that speaks to the openness of the court system. He said the matter could have been different if there was a jury.
“That (judge-alone trial) really does change the dynamic here,” he said.
“What the issue is, is whether this information is going to interfere with a jury’s ability to decide on the guilt or innocence of the accused. Here, there was no jury, so it was unlike most cases like that. And it’s rare in a case without a jury that any sort of publication ban would be sought.”
Minassian’s trial is set to begin in February and is expected to last several weeks. The allegations against Minassian, who is still in custody, haven’t been proven in court.
Reaction to the release of the interview
Nick D’Amico’s sister, Anne Marie D’Amico, died in the April 23, 2018 attack. When asked about the release of the interrogation, he said it’s important the video be made public but he admitted he has concerns.
“It’s a democratic society so you kind of have to abide by the country and the place you live in,” he told Global News.
“I was just honestly just more concerned with the media attention that something like this would create a ripple effect and copycats, and I don’t think that’s something we’re looking for. We want the message to be positive and we want to turn this tragedy into something different.”
D’Amico said he watched portions of the video on Friday and had mixed emotions.
“It was a little unsettling,” he said.
“A lot of it was disbelief more so that somebody would go to that extent because they felt that’s how they should go about things.”
D’Amico said now that the video is out there, he wants to look forward and change the conversation.
“How can we stop the next person from doing it? … How can we take that and do positive things moving forward? I think it’s all got to be wrapped about positivity rather than focusing on what happened and negativity,” he said, adding more needs to be done to stop violence against women.
“Every time I hear something like this and violence against women, it just makes me rethink how I’m going to approach my daughters and how I’m going to approach my wife and how I’m going to speak and act.
Nick said his family has set up the Anne Marie D’Amico Foundation in an effort to carry on his sister’s spirit, calling her a “humanitarian.” The foundation is currently raising money for the North York Women’s Shelter and is holding a benefit on Dec. 3.
Meanwhile, a Toronto police spokesperson declined to comment on the interview as well as the techniques and tactics used by investigators.
“While the case is currently with the courts, it would be inappropriate for us to comment on the investigation and any matters related to it,” the spokesperson wrote.