Alek Minassian has never shown remorse or apologized, father tells Toronto van attack trial
TORONTO -- Alek Minassian has never shown remorse or apologized for carrying out the deadly Toronto van attack, his father told a virtual courtroom on Monday as lawyers opened the 28-year-old’s not criminally responsible defence.
Before Vahe Minassian was called to the stand as the first witness in his son’s murder trial, lawyer Boris Bytensky detailed the sole relevant diagnosis being heard in Alek’s defence – Autism Spectrum Disorder.
“He is not a psychopath,” Bytensky said. “As you’ll hear from the medical evidence, he is not narcissistic, he does not suffer from an anti-social personality disorder.”
Bytensky went on to state that “the vast majority of persons with autism are non-violent,” adding that “persons with autism are considerably much more likely to be victims of violence rather than perpetrators.”
That is exactly how Vahe described his son.
“This tragedy was so enormous,” Vahe told the court. “I see no history of violence. If anything, he has always been characterized as a gentle person.”
“I was in a complete state of shock, could not understand how this sort of thing could be possible.”
The high-profile murder trial hinges on Minassian’s state of mind at the time he drove a rented white van down busy sidewalks along Yonge Street, between Finch and Sheppard avenues, and struck dozens of people, ultimately killing eight women and two men.
The victims were 22-year-old Ji Hun Kim, 22-year-old So He Chung, 30-year-old Anne Marie D’Amico, 33-year-old Andrea Bradden, 45-year-old Chul “Eddie” Min Kang, 55-year-old Beutis Renuka Amarasingha, 83-year-old Geraldine Brady, 85-year-old Munir Abdo Habib Najjar, and 94-year-old Mary Elizabeth Forsyth.
Minassian faces 10 counts of first-degree murder and 16 counts of attempted murder in connection with the April 23, 2018 attack.
On the first day of the trial, after he was read his charges, Minassian replied “I’m entering a plea of not criminally responsible.”
Minassian has admitted to planning and carrying out the attack, citing years of sexual rejection from women as the reasoning behind it.
Sec. 16 of the Criminal Code states that a person is not criminally responsible if they were suffering from a mental disorder that rendered them “incapable of appreciating the nature and quality of the act or omission or of knowing that it was wrong.”
“To the (medical) assessors, Mr. Minassian has communicated in some variation of words that amount to an acknowledgment that he understood that what he did was wrong,” Bytensky said on Monday.
“Despite this, it is the defence’s position that Mr. Minassian only understood wrongfulness at the intellectual level.”
Bytensky said the medical experts, who are expected to testify at the trial, found that Minassian “did not understand wrongfulness in the way that enabled him to apply that understanding in a rational way.”
“Mr. Minassian lacked the capacity to rationally decide whether the act was right or wrong and hence could not make a rational decision as to whether or not to do it,” Bytensky said.
Court has previously heard that one of the experts hired by the defence found that Minassian’s “autistic way of thinking” is “similar to psychosis.” The doctor found that Minassian is not psychotic and denied having symptoms consistent with psychotic illness, including visual and auditory hallucinations.
‘Surprised, shocked, speechless,’ father says
As Bytensky called Minassian’s father to the stand on Monday, he acknowledged that the pair have continued seeing each other since his son was taken into custody.
Bytensky asked Vahe if during those visits the pair discussed the attack.
“No,” Vahe replied. “The advice we were given by lawyers immediately was not to discuss the incident with him at all and we haven’t done that.”
When asked by Bytensky whether his son has shown any signs of remorse or offered any sort of apology for his actions, Vahe replied “no” to both prepositions through tears.
Bytensky then asked if Minassian has ever addressed any impact his actions may have had on his family.
“There were a few occasions that he mentioned something and we just listened to it but also we made an effort to not continue discussing that,” he said. “With that I can tell you there were a few things he said that left me surprised, shocked and speechless.”
“One of the things that he asked me is if this incident has had any impact to us. I was, needless to say, surprised and shocked by that question.”
Vahe said there were “a couple more minor incidents” where Minassian appeared to not understand the situation he caused, including asking how he will file his taxes while in prison.
Also, back in the spring, Vahe said his son told him he was looking forward to the trial so "everybody will see that I haven't done anything wrong."
"Over time that has led me to believe that he really does not understand what's happened."
Father learned of attack after being pulled over by cop
During his testimony, Vahe also detailed how he found out his son was the one responsible for the deadly attack.
On the morning of April 23, 2018, Vahe said his son was planning on taking the bus to meet a friend at a Starbucks location on Highway 7. Vahe said he was heading out to do errands so he offered to drop him off at the coffee shop.
Minassian did not meet a friend and instead walked approximately four kilometres to a car rental shop from where he was dropped off by his father.
“In terms of his demeanor, there was no difference in anything, it was more a bit he seemed happy the fact that school was over,” Vahe said. “The sort of conversations we were having were normal in the morning but also the day before, he talked about now that school is over, he’ll have time to catch up with friends or his brother and go to restaurants and that kind of thing.”
“I remember it was a nice sunny day and the conversations were very positive.”
Later that day, Vahe said he was pulled over by a police officer and told there was an investigation involving a car that was rented under his Richmond Hill, Ont. address. He said he was asked to go to a police station for further questioning.
“It wasn’t until in the afternoon when I was sitting in the police station, being interviewed, it became clear to me that the accident they were talking about was something big, something substantial,” he said.
“It wasn’t until the interview was finished, I was told that others were going to want to talk to me. I remember I was standing outside just to get some fresh air and I decided to search for this accident because everybody was talking about it.”
Then, Vahe said, he clicked on a video link that showed his son being arrested by police.
“As I’m watching that, that’s the first time that it dawned on me that, that is the first time that I realize that is my son that is involved in this accident,” he said.
“I was in a state of shock. The only thing I was thinking about was how is this even possible. I was in a complete state of shock and confusion. I could not understand. I kept asking myself how is this even possible.”
Vahe said he thinks the only way it would have been possible for his son to carry out the attack is if he did not understand the devastation he caused.
Alek has always struggled with emotional responses, his father said, adding that he has never seen his son cry.
Father details son's upbringing
According to Vahe, Minassian was supposed to start a new job in computer programming one week after the attack took place with a starting salary of $70,000.
He had just completed his degree at Seneca College the week prior.
Court heard on Monday that Minassian was diagnosed with autism at the age of five. He was in a specialized program at a young age and continued to have educational support throughout middle school and high school.
In high school, Minassian was in a learning strategies class at Thornlea Secondary School in Thornhill, Ont. He would also attend mainstream classes with the assistance of a support worker.
During cross-examination of Vahe, Crown prosecutor Cynthia Valarezo said Minassian no longer received education support while in college. Vahe agreed with this statement but noted that support continued at home.
The Crown said Minassian graduated high school with a 76 per cent average and finished his college degree with a 3.7 GPA.
Valarezo also stated that Minassian had multiple jobs throughout college, including part-time work and a co-op placement.
Vahe said Minassian was fired from one of his jobs due to “performance issues,” but the Crown said Minassian told medical assessors that he got fired because he would finish his duties early, get bored and play video games. Vahe said he was not aware of this.
Cross-examination of Vahe continues on Tuesday morning.
The trial is being held via videoconference amid the COVID-19 pandemic. It began last week and is expected to last between four and six weeks.
Members of the public wanting to observe the proceedings are able to do so at 315 Front Street West in Elm Room B on the ground floor. Observation is no longer available at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.
Here are live updates from the court proceedings: