Alek Minassian found criminally responsible for Toronto van attack

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A judge has ruled that Alek Minassian is criminally responsible for the 2018 Toronto van attack, finding him guilty of 10 counts of first-degree murder and 16 counts of attempted murder.

In her decision, which was broadcast on YouTube amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Ontario Superior Court Justice Anne Molloy said the accused had a "functioning, rational brain" and spent a considerable amount of time planning the attack and weighing the consequences. 

A judge has ruled that Alek Minassian is criminally responsible for the 2018 Toronto van attack, finding him guilty of 10 counts of first-degree murder and 16 counts of attempted murder.

In her decision, which was broadcast on YouTube amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Ontario Superior Court Justice Anne Molloy said the accused had a "functioning, rational brain" and spent a considerable amount of time planning the attack and weighing the consequences.

"He desperately wanted to achieve fame and notoriety," Molloy said, adding that he believed that negative attention for his actions would be "better than living in obscurity."

"Even if he only worked this out intellectually... that is sufficient."

Minassian admitted to driving a rented cargo van on sidewalks along a busy stretch of Yonge Street in North York on the afternoon of April 23, 2018, deliberately plowing down pedestrians in his path.

The attack claimed the lives of 22-year-old Ji Hun Kim, 22-year-old So He Chung, 30-year-old Anne Marie D’Amico, 33-year-old Andrea Bradden, 55-year-old Beutis Renuka Amarasingha, 45-year-old Chul “Eddie” Min Kang, 83-year-old Geraldine Brady, 85-year-old Munir Abdo Habib Najjar, and 94-year-old Mary Elizabeth Forsyth and Dorothy Sewell, 94.

Many of the 16 others who were wounded but survived the attack sustained traumatic injuries after they were run down by the accused.

During his six-week judge-alone trial over Zoom late last year, the 28-year-old's lawyers argued that Minassian is not criminally responsible (NCR) for his actions due to his Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) diagnosis.

A person is found NCR if they were suffering from a mental disorder that rendered them “incapable of appreciating the nature and quality of the act or omission or of knowing that it was wrong,” according to Sec. 16 of the Criminal Code.

It is believed to be the first time ASD has been used as the sole diagnosis for an NCR defence in a murder trial in Canada and the onus was on the defence to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt.

The court previously heard that psychosis is the diagnosis used in the vast majority of cases where there is a finding of NCR and psychiatrists for both the defence and prosecution testified that Minassian was not psychotic or suffering from delusions at the time of the deadly attack.

While Molloy said ASD does qualify as a mental disorder under Sec. 16, she noted that this only opens the door to the possibility of someone using that diagnosis for a possible NCR defence.

"Did he lack the capacity to rationally evaluate what he was doing," Molloy said in her decision. "I find that the defence has failed to meet its onus on this point,"

Minassian's lawyer Boris Bytensky previously told the court that his client’s ASD manifested itself in a way that created “a perfect storm” to “severely” distort Minassian’s way of thinking.

The defence lawyer was also quick to point out that most people with ASD are not violent and are more likely to be the victim of a crime than the perpetrator.

Psychiatrists for the defence testified that Minassian lacked empathy, failed to understand the true impact of his actions, and did not demonstrate remorse. They said he had become obsessed with school shootings and the manifesto of Elliot Rodger, who killed six people and wounded several others in a stabbing and shooting spree in Isla Vista, Calif. in 2014.

"It does not matter that he does not have remorse nor empathize with the victims," Molloy said. "Lack of empathy... even an incapacity to empathize, does not constitute a defence under Sec. 16 of the Criminal Code."

--with files from CTV News--