Almost three years after 10 people were killed and many others were injured in one of the deadliest mass attacks in Toronto’s history, a judge is set to render her decision Wednesday in the trial of Alek Minassian.
The trial by judge is being overseen by Justice Anne Molloy, who is scheduled to begin delivering her decision at 10 a.m.
The proceedings at the Ontario Superior Court of Justice began last November and were conducted over Zoom due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with the decision being broadcast on YouTube. It can be viewed here.
Lawyers for Minassian — who has pleaded not guilty to 10 counts of first-degree murder and 16 counts of attempted murder — argued he should be found not criminally responsible for driving a rented van down a crowded midtown Toronto sidewalk in 2018 due to his autism spectrum disorder.
The 28-year-old has admitted to planning and carrying out the attack, leaving his state of mind at the time the only issue at the trial.
Defence lawyer Boris Bytensky said in his closing arguments that Minassian’s 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.
Police say that on the afternoon of April 23, 2018, Minassian 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 police, he was arrested. His victims included an 80-year-old grandmother who was killed, and another woman who survived but had both of her legs amputated as a result of injuries suffered in the attack.
WATCH | Remembering the victims of the Toronto van attack:
Minassian told police his rampage was a mission for the incel movement, an online subculture of so-called “involuntarily celibate” men who direct their rage at women. Though his lawyer has argued Minassian doesn’t truly understand the scope of what he did, over the course of the trial, court has heard that Minassian told numerous assessors that he knew what he did was wrong.
Angela Brandt, president of the Ontario Autism Coalition, told CBC News it’s safe to say the autism community has not been looking forward to this day, and no matter what, there won’t be a “good” decision here.
“I think the entire community feels that the whole case of using autism as a defence does not paint the community in a positive light,” Brandt said.
“People with autism and people in the disability community, they want to live their lives just like anybody else, and with this case, using autism as a defence for murder, it marginalizes the community further.”
WATCH | Minassian speaks with police:
Toronto criminal defence lawyer Ingrid Grant, who is not involved in the case, told CBC News she understands that people are concerned that if Minassian is found not criminally responsible, it could be perceived as a negative statement about people with autism.
“I think it’s very important to keep in perspective that that is not what this verdict would be, and this is not a statement about the moral quality of people who have autism,” she said.
“It is not a statement that everyone with a particular condition is a criminal.”
But Brandt says people within the autism community can’t help but worry that other people will look at this case and view the disorder as “something to fear,” when that isn’t at all the case.
“They’re just afraid that people are going to be scared [of them],” she said.
It is unclear if Molloy will read her entire decision during Wednesday’s proceedings, but if so, it may take several hours.
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