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The ruling was delivered by Justice Anne Molloy Wednesday morning and in a rare instance for the court, it was livestreamed on YouTube due to anticipated interest in the case and the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
In delivering her decision, Molloy referred to Minassian as John Doe in an effort, she said, to avoid giving him further notoriety. However, she noted the widespread media coverage of Minassian before the case began and did not make an order with regard to name usage.
“In this case, Mr. Doe knew it was legally wrong to kill people,” Molloy said.
“I find Mr. Doe guilty on all 26 counts on the indictment.”
Central to the trial, which began in November, was Minassian’s state of mind at the time of the attack. Although he admitted to planning the attack and carrying it out, he pleaded not guilty to the charges and argued he should be found not criminally responsible (NCR) for his actions due to autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
The Crown previously argued 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 the defence 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.
However, Molloy said in a legal context ASD could be considered a “mental disorder” in a potential NCR defence (Section 16) as it meets the criteria. But it’s up to the defence to establish on a balance of probabilities that a client is “incapable of knowing that his actions were morally wrong.”
When asked about Molloy’s decision, Boris Bytensky, Minassian’s lawyer, said he hasn’t read it in full. He said the decision was deeply analyzed and it appeared she agreed with some submissions.
“She ultimately agreed with my legal submissions about how the law should be interpreted,” he said.
“I think this is an important decision for those who practice in this area. I think for mental health law, for NCR law, I think there are legal rulings within this decision that are very significant.”
Bytensky was also asked about Molloy’s decision not to state Minassian’s name. He said it was unusual for Minassian to not be referred to by name, but noted this wasn’t an ordinary murder case.
“This is a case where somebody’s very clear motivation for doing these horrific acts was foreign for me, so I understand why she did that. Perhaps I may have preferred she used the words the accused or the defendant rather than Mr. Doe or John Doe, but I think that’s getting into details that may not be all that relevant,” Bytensky said.
He also said he hasn’t had a conversation with his client about filing an appeal, but noted generally appeals are filed. If convicted, Bytensky said Minassian will serve life in prison with a minimum parole eligibility of 25 years, but that’s still the subject of further hearings.
After the proceedings, Crown attorney Joe Callaghan recited the names of the victims who died on April 23 and recognized the survivors and the families of the victims. He also praised the efforts and work of police, paramedics and other first responders as well as Good Samaritans who saved lives and comforted those who died before addressing Molloy’s decision.
“The Crown is pleased with her Honour’s thoughtful and reasonable verdict and grateful for her Honour’s careful assessment of the evidence and insightful application of the law,” Callaghan said.
“Based on all the evidence in this case, this was the fair and just result.”
Robert Forsyth, whose 94-year-old aunt Betty Forsyth died after being hit from behind by Minassian, said he 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.”
Catherine Riddell, who suffered serious injuries after being struck by Minassian, said her years-long anxiety has abated.
“I probably will sleep tonight for the first time in a while,” she said.
“It was the best I could hope for … He can spend the rest of his life in jail because he deserves it.”
Mayor John Tory issued a statement moments after the ruling was announced, calling on residents to stand together “against the evil” seen on April 23 and renew the commitment of preventing a similar tragedy from happening again.
“Since that day we have been working to help the survivors heal and move forward and to support the families as they mourn. I truly hope that for the victims and their families and friends, today’s verdict will help,” he wrote.
“Make no mistake, this was an attack fuelled by misogyny and hatred of women and should be treated as such. We must all stand up against this kind of hateful behaviour and those who promote it.”
Interim Toronto Police Chief James Ramer issued a statement to say he hope the community will be able to “turn a page” and focus on healing. He also thanked members of the service and all the community members who came forward with information and videos.
“The effects of that day three years ago has stayed with the families and friends of those who were murdered or injured, and those who were left behind to mourn. It has stayed with those who witnessed the horrific scene and it continues to stay with every one of the first responders who attended,” he wrote.
“The Toronto Police Service will always remember the victims and their families as we move forward together, as a city, further away from this senseless tragedy.”
In an agreed statement of facts presented in court, the Crown described how Minassian called a vehicle rental company in Vaughan on April 4 to reserve a vehicle for pickup on the afternoon of April 23. According to the document, Minassian was dropped off at a retail store four kilometres away from the rental company by his father, whom he lied to about meeting a friend.
Minassian eventually walked to the company and rented the van, telling an employee he was going to be moving furniture. However, he drove to the area of Yonge Street and Finch Avenue West and began his attack, which he referenced in a post on Facebook.
The Crown detailed Minassian’s two-kilometre route on and around Yonge Street and summarized what happened before each victim was struck, occasionally showing photos of bodies under tarps and surveillance video clips of the travelling van. The vehicle appeared to be travelling at various speeds throughout the seven-minute journey, topping out at 47 km/h at one point.
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 ultimately died after being struck.
After one of the injured victims was hit near Yonge Street and Kempford Boulevard, the Crown described how the force of the impact “caused the victim’s socks to be knocked off his feet” and part of the vehicle broke away.
In another example showcasing the force of the impact, Beverly Smith, who was 80 at the time, was hit near Yonge Street and Empress Avenue. The Crown said the damage from the van left her with exposed organs and both of her legs had to be amputated.
As Minassian proceeded south on Yonge Street, 33-year-old Andrea Bradden was walking when she was struck. Her drink flew back onto the windshield, something Minassian later would tell police in a previously released four-hour interview caused him to end the attack.
Minassian 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. In-cruiser video footage was shown of Lam pulling alongside where Minassian was stopped on Poyntz Avenue.
“I have a gun. Kill me now! Kill me now! Shoot me,” Minassian said to Lam, according to the agreed statement of facts.
Minassian later told police he tried to engage in “suicide by cop” by flashing his wallet, hoping it would be mistaken for a gun.
In that four-hour interview, Minassian told Toronto Police Det. Rob Thomas it was him behind the wheel. Minassian discussed how the incel (involuntary celibacy) community and past rejection from women fueled his desire to act.
Thomas, a veteran Toronto police officer and polygraph examiner, was brought in to question Minassian. The videotaped interview, which was released after lawyers for media outlets challenged a publication ban, 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.
Throughout the course of the seven-week trial, it focused on the inner workings of Minassian’s mind.
The court heard how he told various assessors that the so-called “incel” motive was a ruse, designed to increase his notoriety. He was still a lonely virgin, however, that part was true.
He went on to tell different doctors different reasons for his attack. He said he had “extreme anxiety” over a new job he was about to start. He also wanted to “set a world record” for kills in order to be atop an online leaderboard of mass killers.
If he accomplished that, then he wouldn’t be viewed as a failure, he told a forensic psychiatrist. Minassian also told them he had a strong desire to commit a mass killing and was infatuated with an American mass murderer.
The biggest question at the trial was whether Minassian knew what he did was morally wrong. The legal test, in this case, focused on whether he had the capacity at the time to make a rational choice.
The defence’s star witness, American-based forensic psychiatrist Dr. Alexander Westphal, testified that Minassian’s autism left him without the ability to develop empathy.
Bytensky said that lack of empathy left him incapable of rational choice, and, ultimately, to know what he did was morally wrong.
The prosecution argued Minassian knew what he did was wrong, in part because he told many of his assessors he knew killing 10 people that day was morally wrong.
Minassian had a decade-long fixation on mass school shootings, the Crown pointed out. That fixation morphed into fantasies of committing a mass shooting at his own high school, where he was picked on.
But he never followed through, in part, because he did not know how to get a gun.
“There’s no evidence he ever lost the fact of the wrongness of his actions,” Callaghan said.
The prosecution’s key witness, forensic psychiatrist Dr. Percy Wright, said Minassian had some empathy and knew what he did was wrong, thereby did not qualify for the test that he was not criminally responsible for his actions.
Renowned forensic psychiatrist, Dr. John Bradford, who has evaluated some of the country’s most notorious killers, said Minassian did not meet the test to be found not criminally responsible.
In response to Molloy’s decision, Autism Canada issued a statement of appreciation that ASD was not as part of a not criminally responsible finding.
“We also recognize that the Court rejected the attempt of Mr. Minassian to use autism as the basis for a reason – or lack thereof – behind his pre-mediated hate crime against women. People on the autism spectrum are far more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators of it. This act of violence was pre-meditated and well calculated.”
Meanwhile, the court will reconvene on March 18 to discuss the next steps.
— With files from The Canadian Press