Nearly 6,000 people watched as verdict in Toronto van attack was delivered on YouTube livestream

About 120 courtrooms filled to capacity would have been needed to accommodate the nearly 6,000 people who tuned in as the verdict in the Toronto van attack trial was delivered on a YouTube livestream Wednesday.

Ontario Superior Court Justice Anne Molloy was the sole person shown on screen as she read her decision remotely.

She spoke for about 30 minutes, reading three sections of her 58-page ruling.

“Thank you for attending this virtual court on YouTube,” she said while concluding the proceedings.

Under normal circumstances, Molloy would have read her reasons in front of a packed courtroom – fitting only about 50 people inside. An overflow room equipped with a television may have been set up within the courthouse and members of the public wanting live updates on the proceedings would turn to journalists’ tweets.

But, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced Ontario’s justice system to “find novel ways to do our work,” Molloy said on the first day of Alek Minassian’s six-week judge-alone trial.

The trial, which concluded on Dec. 18, 2020, proceeded over Zoom as Ontario COVID-19 protocols prohibit more than 10 people from being inside a courtroom at a time.

The main Zoom room was limited to the participants of the trial – the accused, the judge, the registrar, the court reporter, the attorneys, representing both the Crown and the defence, and those testifying.

The proceedings were then broadcast live on a Zoom webinar platform with limited spots available. Those spots were reserved for victims of the attack and their families, as well as members of the media.

Members of the public were able to observe the trial as it was broadcast on screens inside the Metro Toronto Convention Centre with strict COVID-19 protocols in effect.

Minassian had pleaded not guilty to 10 counts of first-degree murder and 16 counts of attempted murder. Throughout his trial, Minassian’s lawyers argued the 28-year-old should be found not criminally responsible for his actions on April 23, 2018 due to autism spectrum disorder.

On that day, Minassian drove a rented white van down busy sidewalks along Yonge Street, between Finch and Sheppard avenues. He struck dozens of people, ultimately killing eight women and two men.

The victims were 85-year-old Munir Abdo Habib Najjar, 45-year-old Chul “Eddie” Min Kang, 30-year-old Anne Marie D’Amico, 80-year-old Dorothy Sewell, 55-year-old Beutis Renuka Amarasingha, 94-year-old Mary Elizabeth Forsyth, 22-year-old So He Chung, 33-year-old Andrea Bradden, 83-year-old Geraldine Brady, and 22-year-old Ji Hun Kim.

Minassian has admitted to planning and carrying out the deadly attack, leaving his state of mind at the time the only issue at trial.

During Wednesday's proceedings, Molloy ruled that Minassian is criminally responsible for the van attack, finding him guilty of all 26 charges.

Prior to the verdict being delivered, the Superior Court of Canada reminded members of the media that embedding the proceedings on any website or simultaneously broadcasting it is prohibited. As well, the law prohibits taking photos or recordings of the proceedings.

‘It was a great experience,’ lawyer says of Zoom trial

Following the guilty verdict in the case, Minassian’s lawyer Boris Bytensky said being part of a high-profile trial conducted via videoconference was “a great experience.”

“It proved we can do serious cases on Zoom,” he said.

When asked if the outcome of the trial would have changed in any way had it been conducted in-person, Bytensky said no.

“It was certainly very different, we all had to adapt and learn on the fly,” he said. “I can tell you it has nothing to do with this particular decision one way or the other but I am a big convert personally to Zoom, I thought that the technology worked great, I thought that the case proceeded as smoothly as possible given the circumstances.”

“I have absolutely no complaints about the manner in which the trial proceeded from a technology stand point.”

Also speaking after Wednesday’s proceedings, Crown Attorney Joe Callaghan thanked Molloy for her “fairness throughout this trial, for her openness and willingness to try this case in a new and accessible way and for her commitment to ensuring this case crossed the finish line on time despite the challenges posed.”

“It was a challenge all of us involved in this trial overcame by working together.”

This is the second high-profile verdict in Ontario to be broadcast live on YouTube.

Back in June 2020, an off-duty Toronto police officer, Const. Michael Theriault, was found guilty of assaulting Dafonte Miller, a young Black man who lost an eye during the December 2016 altercation. More than 20,000 people were watching the livestream as Justice Joe Di Luca delivered his verdict.

A sentencing hearing, which will be held virtually on March 18, will determine at what point Minassian will be eligible to apply for parole. First-degree murder carries a mandatory parole ineligibility period of 25 years but the judge could decide on a longer period of ineligibility based on the number of victims.