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Police interrogation of Toronto van attack suspect ‘textbook,’ experts say

How Toronto Police got motive from van attack suspect
WATCH ABOVE: When Alek Minassian was first arrested on 10 counts of first-degree murder and 16 counts of attempted murder, Toronto police called a polygraph specialist to interview him. Experts say it was the detective’s tactics and techniques that were key in revealing a motive. Jamie Mauracher reports.

Hours after a newly unsealed interrogation interview between the suspect of the deadly Yonge Street van attack and Toronto police, experts are praising the detective’s handling of the interview.

“I would say textbook — very professional,” Paul Nadeau, who worked as an officer for 31 years and specialized in hostage negotiation and polygraph examinations, told Global News on Friday.

“He systematically went into the accused’s rights. There was a conversation that took place to establish whether or not (Alek Minassian) was mentally fit to speak, whether he understood his level of jeopardy, and once that had all been satisfied, then what we see is the detective going in to establish rapport.”

READ MORE: Splashed drink led to end of deadly Toronto van attack, accused told police

Police have alleged Minassian rented a van on April 23 and drove it to Toronto during the lunch hour, but he told Det. Rob Thomas during a wide-ranging, four-hour interview it was him behind the wheel. Minassian drove south on Yonge Street and said he deliberately struck pedestrians, discussing how the incel (involuntary celibacy) community and past rejection from women fueled his desire to act. Ten people died and 16 people were injured.

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Thomas, a veteran Toronto police officer and polygraph examiner, was brought in to question Minassian. The videotaped interview, which was released early Friday after a publication ban lifted, occurred at a police station near the scene, starting almost nine hours after Minassian was taken into custody.

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.

Nadeau reviewed portions of the video and said the first priority for any investigator is to gain the trust of the interview subject.

“Without connection, there can be no openness. If you’re not comfortable talking to the person you are with, you’re not likely to share your deepest and darkest secrets,” he said, adding it’s not uncommon for interviews to last several hours.

“Establishing a rapport is so important to making that connection because people will cooperate with you when they know you, like you, and trust you.

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“I would say most people want to tell you what’s going on, but they don’t want to be judged or accused too quickly.”

After looking at the video, Nadeau said he thought Minassian’s open body posture and language suggested he was comfortable during the interview. He also pointed out the position of the chairs and the fact there was no table between the pair, all parts of the interrogation process.

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Nadeau said Thomas’s role as a polygraph examiner provides him with a special skill set, adding not everyone has that kind of extensive training and background.

“The real polygraph examiner is the man or the woman who operates the instrument because they’ve been trained in lie detection and also on how to talk to someone and get information,” he said.

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Dave Perry, a crime analyst for Global News, reviewed the interview and also called Thomas’s handling “textbook.” He also noted how Thomas spent a massive amount of time making sure Minassian knew his rights, set up a foundation of treating each other with respect and making sure he got a voluntary statement.

READ MORE: Toronto van attack suspect describes hatred towards women as motive

“It is the type of interview that will support the case going forward,” he speculated, adding Thomas took a “non-interrogative, rapport-based” approach.

“What Detective Thomas did throughout that interview was probe and question and source out additional evidence throughout their entire conversation.”

Perry also noted two portions of the interview. At first, Minassian told Thomas he got to the Ryder truck rental location in Vaughan by bus from his house in York Region. However, after they take a break, Thomas comes back and says Minassian’s father told officers that he drove Minassian to a nearby Starbucks.

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“[Thomas] wasn’t accusatory. He was corrective in nature,” Perry said, adding it appears Minassian was trying to protect his father from being included in the investigation.

READ MORE: These are the victims of the Toronto van attack

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.

Minassian was charged with 10 counts of first-degree murder and 16 counts of attempted murder.

His 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.