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A Canadian man who killed 10 people when he drove a rental van on to a crowded Toronto sidewalk has been found guilty of murder, after a judge rejected defense arguments that he was unable to understand the consequence of his actions.
Alek Minassian was convicted of 10 counts of first-degree murder and 16 counts of attempted murder in a hearing held online on Wednesday.
Ontario superior court justice Anne Molloy said the accused had craved infamy for his killings, and refused to use his name, referring to him throughout as “John Doe”.
“He knew death would be irreversible. He knew their families would grieve,” said Molloy as she delivered her judgment.
“He freely chose the option that was morally wrong, knowing what the consequences would be for himself and for everybody else. It does not matter that he does not have remorse nor empathize with the victims,” she said, as she delivered a portion of her 83-page judgment.
The court heard that on 23 April 2018, the suspect rented a cargo van and drove it along a busy Toronto street, deliberately striking pedestrians. His actions took the lives of Renuka Amarasingha, Betty Forsyth, Ji Hun Kim, Dorothy Sewell, Anne Marie D’Amico, So He Chung, Andrea Bradden, Chul Min “Eddie” Kang, Geraldine Brady and Munir Najjar.
Molloy also listed the horrific injuries suffered by sixteen others. Yunsheng Tian, 28, suffered traumatic brain injury, a fracture to the spine, 24 broken vertebrae, facial fractures and a laceration to his left leg. Beverley Smith, 81, was forced to have both her legs amputated above the knee.
The judge spoke of the “numerous ordinary citizens who tended to the injured and comforted the dying at the scene” as well those who tried to wrest control of the van from the accused and shouted to warn pedestrians. These, the judge said, were the “true heroes of that day”.
Because Minassian had already admitted planning and carrying out the attack, the five-week trial at the end of last year, focused almost entirely on his mental state at the time.
Prosecutors had argued that the accused – motivated by his hatred of women and radicalized on online forums – wanted infamy and was willing to kill as many innocent people as he could to achieve it.
Speaking with police following his arrest in 2018, the accused told officers that he belonged to an online subculture of men who blame women for their sexual frustration – and that he drew inspiration from others who used violence as a form of retribution for “being unable to get laid”.
But in her verdict, Molloy disputed the notion that he was motived to commit murder on behalf of the “incel” – or “involuntarily celibate” movement.
“I am sure that resentment towards women who were never interested in him was a factor in this attack, but not the driving force,” she wrote. “Instead … he piggybacked on the ‘incel’ movement to ratchet up his own notoriety.”
Instead, Molloy pointed out that Minassian was “profoundly lonely”, saw himself as a failure and spent hours looking at “depraved” internet sites.
“Why did he do it? There is a long answer,” she wrote. “But there is a short answer, a bottom line: he did it to become famous.”
Molloy also noted that the accused did not appear suicidal. Instead, his desire to “die by cop” was seen as the culmination of his broader aims.
Defence lawyers argued that the accused’s autism spectrum disorder hampered his ability to understand the wrongness of his actions and that he shouldn’t be held criminally responsible for his actions.
In her judgment, Molloy found that the accused had spent years fantasizing about committing the crime. While he considered how it might affect his family, he “deliberately set those thoughts aside, ignoring them, because he did not want them to deter him from achieving this important goal”.
In Canada, a person deemed not criminally responsible is institutionalized for an indefinite period, until they can demonstrate they are no longer a risk to the public.
The hearing was livestreamed on YouTube because of the pandemic, but several victims’ family members gathered outside the Ontario superior court in Toronto to hear the verdict.
“You’re holding your breath for three years,” said Nick D’Amico, the brother of Anne Marie D’Amico, who was killed in the attack. “And now you can finally breathe.”
Catherine Riddell, who suffered brain trauma, broken ribs and a broken pelvis during the attack, told reporters that she would finally get a good night’s sleep after hearing Molloy’s verdict.
“He can spend the rest of his life in jail because he deserves it. He took lives and he didn’t care and you just have to be accountable for what you do,” she said.
The Ontario Autism Coalition, which had previously expressed frustration over the use of autism in the defence argument, said it in a statement it was relieved at Molloy’s decision.
“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 group said.
Lawyers from both sides will return to court on March 18 to discuss a timeline for sentencing.