The Toronto man who drove a van into crowds of people in April 2018, killing 10, has been found guilty of 10 counts of first-degree murder and 16 counts of attempted murder.
On April 23, 2018 Alek Minassian, 28, rented a van and plowed down pedestrians on Yonge Street, one of Toronto’s major thoroughfares.
He pleaded not guilty to all the charges; his defence team argued he’s not criminally responsible for the attacks due to his autism. In a not criminally responsible defence, the defence must prove on a balance of probabilities, that a mental disorder left the accused unable to determine right from wrong.
While giving her judgment, Ontario Superior Court Justice Anne Molloy said she would only refer to Minassian as “John Doe” so as not to give him more fame—one of his stated goals.
“It is my hope that his name would no longer be published by name by anyone else,” she said.
Molloy said the man knew it was legally wrong to kill people and that he would be sent to jail for life if arrested.
“He knew that the vast majority of people in society would find an act of mass murder to be morally wrong,” she said. “However, he desperately wanted to achieve fame and notoriety.”
She said despite knowing that death was irreversible and describing his own actions as “devastating” and “irredeemable” he carried out his plan “because it was what he really wanted to do.”
“This was the exercise of free will and a rational brain,” Molloy said. “It does not matter that he does not have remorse nor empathize with the victims.”
During the trial, defence lawyer Boris Bytensky said his client was not a psychopath, and doesn’t have a personality disorder. He argued that while the killer understands rules—such as it’s against the law to kill people—he “only understood wrongfulness at the intellectual level.” He said the killer was unable to use that information to come to a rational decision about whether or not to carry out the attack.
He also said his client lacks the ability to empathize and understand how his actions affect others. Minassian’s father Veha testified that his son never expressed any remorse for the attack.
Just before he carried out the attack, he published a Facebook post that referenced incels, or involuntary celibates, an online ideology started by men who resent the fact that they are still virgins.
“Private (Recruit) Minassian Infantry 00010, wishing to speak to Sgt 4chan please. C23249161. The Incel Rebellion has already begun! We will overthrow all the Chads and Stacys! All hail the Supreme Gentleman Elliot Rodger!,” he posted.
In 2014, Rodger, hailed by incels as a hero to their movement, went on a shooting and stabbing spree in Isla Vista, California.
In an interview with police, played during the trial, Minassian said visiting forums on 4chan, the anonymous online message board, radicalized him more.
“I felt it was time to take action and not just sit on the sidelines and fester in my own sadness,” he said. He said incels want to “overthrow the Chads... forcing the Stacys to be forced to reproduce with incels.” (In incel terminology, Stacys are attractive women who hook up with desirable men known as Chads.) Asked how he felt knowing he’d killed 10 people, he told the detective, “I feel like I accomplished my mission.”
Forensic psychiatrist Rebecca Chauhan testified that the killer told her he was “hoping there would be more young attractive females being hurt in particular.”
Eight of the 10 people killed were women.
In her judgement, Molloy said the killer was profoundly lonely, saw nothing but failure in his future, had fantasized about carrying out a mass murder for years, and “wanted to be known.”
“I am sure that resentment towards women who were never interested in him was a factor in this attack, but not the driving force. Instead, as he told every assessor, he piggybacked on the incel movement to ratchet up his own notoriety,” she said.
Molloy said he had achieved his goal of achieving fame.
“He has told forensic psychiatrists who assessed him that the attention he has received and the information available when you Google his name, makes him ‘happy,” she said.
She said she would “welcome a consensus amongst responsible journalists to refuse to publish the names or images of individuals seeking fame by inflicting carnage upon innocent people.”
The victims who died are: Ji Hun Kim, 22; So He Chung, 22; Anne Marie D’Amico, 30; Andrea Bradden, 33; Chul Min (Eddie) Kang, 45; Renuka Amarasingha, 45; Dorothy Sewell, 80; Geraldine Brady, 83; Munir Najjar, 85; Betty Forsyth, 94.
After the verdict, Toronto Mayor John Tory released a statement expressing support for the victims and their families and lauding first responders for their efforts.
“Nearly three years ago, our entire city was rocked by this heinous act of violence,” he said. “I want those who continue to be impacted by this tragedy to know that Toronto is with you and that we will all continue to support you.”
“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,” Tory said.
In a statement, the Ontario Autism Coalition said it hopes the verdict will lift “the dark cloud that was hung over this trial, with a firm rejection of the use of autism as a defence in this case.”
“Violent traits have no connection to autism; in fact, people on the autism spectrum are far more likely to be victims as opposed to perpetrators of violence,” the statement said.
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