Judge refuses to name man behind Toronto van attack, urges 'careful consideration' in future cases

Justice Anne Molloy is seen in this court sketch from March 3, 2021.

A Toronto judge refused to name a man who killed 10 people and injured 16 others as she read his guilty verdict Wednesday, saying she would not help him achieve the notoriety that had motivated his deadly rampage.

Justice Anne Molloy instead referred to Alek Minassian only as John Doe, lending another voice to a growing chorus urging police, media and the public at large to refrain from naming fame-seeking mass murderers.

"This accused committed a horrific crime, one of the most devastating tragedies this city has ever endured, for the purpose of achieving fame," Molloy said in her decision. "And he has achieved that purpose. 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."'

Molloy noted that Minassian's name had already been in legal documents and media reports for years before she rendered her judgment.

"There is nothing I can do to rewind all of that," she wrote. "However, if any case like this should arise in the future, it is my fervent wish that, at the very outset, careful consideration be given to withholding publication of the name of the perpetrator."

Toronto police identified Minassian as the suspect in the van attack on April 24, 2018 - less than 24 hours after the incident.

There have been no court-ordered publication bans on his name since then.

Police often release names and photos of crime suspects to the public in hopes of encouraging witnesses to come forward.

A spokeswoman for the Toronto Police Service said the agency doesn't have a position on Molloy's request, but noted that officers look to legislation and procedure when "determining how and when to release identifying information about suspects, accused persons, witnesses and victims."

The movement to not name people accused of serious crimes has gained steam in the three years since Minassian carried out his van attack.

Last year, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau urged the media to avoid mentioning the name of the man who carried out a mass killing in Nova Scotia.

"Do not give him the gift of infamy," Trudeau said the day after the April 2020 rampage, urging people to instead focus on the victims and their loved ones.

That call echoed a vow from New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in March 2019, that she would never say the name of a man who opened fire on a Christchurch mosque, killing 50 people.

Molloy's move pleased those most affected by Minassian's actions, including the family members of some of his victims.

"I haven't used the name of the perpetrator since it happened for that reason," said Nick D'Amico, whose sister Anne Marie D'Amico was killed in the attack. "We can get fame in positive ways. We don't have to go down that road."

Elwood Delaney, whose grandmother Dorothy Sewell died in the attack, said he plans to go back and edit Minassian's name out of Facebook posts he's made in the past.

"The more he talks about what he wanted out of it, he definitely wanted fame," Delaney said. "I will respect (Molloy's) wish and not name him and call him John Doe."

Joe Callaghan, the lead prosecutor in the case, also followed Molloy's lead after the verdict.

Minassian's lawyer said he understands why Molloy made the decision.

"Before the trial really began, our position was to not permit certain videos to be released into the public for many of these same reasons she didn't want to publish his name," Boris Bytensky said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 4, 2021.

--with files from Liam Casey.