Canadian judge convicts suspect in 2018 Toronto van attack

Thousands attend a vigil for van attack victims in Mel Lastman Square in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

The man charged with plowing a rented van into dozens of people in Toronto in 2018, killing 10, is guilty of all 26 counts — 10 of murder, 16 of attempted murder — a judge ruled on Wednesday, dismissing the defense argument that the suspect’s mental disorder left him with no idea how horrific his actions were.

Alek Minassian, 28, told police he was motivated by a desire to punish society for his perceived status as an “incel” – short for involuntary celibate – because he believed women would not have sex with him. Minassian had pleaded not criminally responsible.

But the defense failed to prove Minassian’s autism spectrum disorder deprived him of the capacity to know his actions were wrong, Judge Anne Molloy said in a verdict that was live-streamed on YouTube following a trial held virtually due to the pandemic.

Molloy referred to Minassian as “John Doe” because of the way the case had given him the notoriety he said he desired.

“Mr. Doe thought about committing these crimes over a considerable period of time and made a considered decision to proceed. His attack on these 26 victims that day was an act of a reasoning mind notwithstanding its horrific nature and notwithstanding that he has no remorse for it, and no empathy for his victims.”

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Whether Minassian rented the van or used it to kill people was not at issue in his trial: What was debated was his state of mind at the time.

Minassian’s lawyer argued his autism spectrum disorder prevented him from knowing what he was doing was wrong when he drove the van into pedestrians on a crowded sidewalk.

The attack took place in April 2018 when Minassian drove a rented van down a busy sidewalk on a major street just north of Toronto, hitting one person after another. The victims were as young as 22.

Next, a sentencing hearing will be scheduled where Minassian is likely to automatically get a life sentence, according to criminal lawyers following the case. Minassian’s lawyer was not immediately available for comment.

The prosecutor argued Minassian’s autism did not deprive him of the ability to assess the morality of his actions.

“He never lost sight of the fact that society viewed his choice as wrong, and he made a choice to go ahead and commit the attack,” prosecutor Joe Callaghan told the court in December.

“This case has in any ways and on many days been a struggle,” Molloy said. “This accused committed a horrific crime – one of the most devastating tragedies this city has ever endured – for the purpose of achieving fame.”

Molloy read out the names of the people Minassian killed and injured, listing their injuries: from fractured bones to bleeding brains.

Minassian “was capable of understanding the impact (his crime) would have on his victims. He knew death would be irreversible. He knew their families would grieve,” she said.

“He had a functioning, rational brain, one that perceived the reality of what he was doing…. He chose to commit the crimes anyway. Because it was what he really wanted to do.”

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