A judge has declared that the man responsible for Toronto’s deadly van attack in 2018 is guilty of 10 counts of first-degree murder and 16 counts of attempted murder.
In rendering her decision, which was broadcast on YouTube Wednesday morning, Justice Anne Molloy said Alek Minassian’s rampage was “the act of a reasoning mind,” and noted that the 28 year old has “no remorse for it and no empathy for his victims.”
“He freely chose the option that was morally wrong, knowing what the consequences would be for himself, and for everybody else,” Molloy said in her decision. “It does not matter that he does not have remorse, nor empathize with the victims.
“Lack of empathy for the suffering of victims, even an incapacity to empathize for whatever reason, does not constitute a defence.”
The man had pleaded not guilty at the judge-alone trial, which was held virtually at the Ontario Superior Court of Justice because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In Canada, a first-degree murder conviction carries an automatic life sentence without the possibility of parole for 25 years.
Justice rejected defence’s autism argument
Defence lawyer Boris Bytensky said in his closing arguments that his client’s autism disorder left him without the ability to develop empathy, arguing that his client had no idea how horrific his actions were to his victims, his family and the community.
Molloy outright rejected that notion in her decision, which you can read in full at the bottom of this story.
“He considered the impact it would have on his family, and deliberately set those thoughts aside, ignoring them, because he did not want them to deter him from achieving this important goal,” she said, noting that he had been fantasizing about a crime like this for over a decade. “He was capable of understanding the impact it would have on his victims.
“He knew death would be irreversible. He knew their families would grieve.”
WATCH | Remembering the victims of the Toronto van attack:
Elwood Delaney, who lost his 80-year-old grandmother Dorothy Sewell in the attack, told CBC News that watching the judge give her decision was extremely emotional for his family.
“I don’t want to say happy, but we were relieved,” he said.
“I’ve held a lot of anger towards him this whole entire time. Knowing that he’s going to be locked up for a very long time … is a relief.”
Delaney said his grandmother was one of Canada’s biggest sports fans, and was a fervent follower of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Blue Jays.
“Every time I watch sports … I constantly think of her,” he said. “I miss her a lot. We all do.”
WATCH | Man remembers grandmother who was killed in Toronto attack:
Crown lawyer praises everyday people at scene
Speaking outside the courthouse after the decision was read, Crown attorney Joe Callaghan lauded the actions of the first responders who attended the scene, and read off the names of everyone killed in the attack.
“In addition, a neighbourhood was attacked, leaving its residents fearful and traumatized,” he said.
Callaghan also commended the actions of everyday people who were on the street that day, who tried to help victims who had been struck and comforted the dying.
“They demonstrated a remarkable level of selflessness and empathy, reflecting the true community spirit of this city,” he said.
Cathy Riddell, who was badly injured in the attack, also told reporters outside the courthouse that she feels justice has been done.
“I probably will sleep tonight for the first time in a while,” she said.
“He can spend the rest of his life in jail, because he deserves it … he took lives, and he didn’t care.”
WATCH | Family members, victim and Crown attorney react to judge’s decision:
Police say on the afternoon of April 23, 2018, the killer drove a rented van down Yonge Street near Finch Avenue, veering onto the busy sidewalk and hitting one person after another.
After a brief standoff with a police officer, he was arrested. His victims included Sewell, who was killed, and another woman who survived but had both of her legs amputated as a result of injuries suffered in the attack.
Molloy made sure to say the name and age of each of the victims in her decision. She also listed the serious, and in some cases life-changing injuries suffered by those who survived, including broken bones, bleeding on the brain and a collapsed lung.
The judge also said she would not be naming the killer in her decision and referred to him instead as “John Doe,” noting that notoriety was a driving force in his crimes.
“I am acutely aware that all of this attention and media coverage is exactly what this man sought from the start,” she said.
CBC News will continue to use his name, in some instances, for clarity.
Autism group relieved at verdict
In a statement issued Wednesday morning, the Ontario Autism Coalition said it was relieved at Molloy’s decision, and said it was a “firm rejection” of the use of autism as a defence.
“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 statement reads.
“The court’s decision makes it clear this was never a case of autism causing mass murder, but rather a case where someone who committed mass murder happened to have autism.
“An autism diagnosis does not predispose one to commit acts of violence.”
The killer told police his rampage was a mission for the incel movement, an online subculture of so-called “involuntarily celibate” men who direct their misogynistic rage at women. But Molloy noted in her decision that he also made mention in interviews of making that connection purely to upgrade the notoriety of his actions.
Molloy said the killer has never shown any pleasure or sense of satisfaction to have killed or injured women, apart from the notoriety his crimes have brought to him.
“Accordingly, I agree with the assessors that [the killer’s] story to the police about the attack being an ‘incel rebellion’ was a lie,” the judge wrote.