Alek Minassian says he's not criminally responsible for Toronto van attack
TORONTO -- Lawyers representing the man who killed 10 people and wounded 16 others when he deliberately plowed down pedestrians along a busy stretch of Yonge Street two years ago will argue that he is not criminally responsible for his actions despite admitting to planning and carrying out the deadly attack, a court heard Tuesday.
Alek Minassian’s judge-alone trial, which has twice been delayed, began on Tuesday morning via Zoom, one of the first high-profile cases in the country to proceed using the videoconferencing platform.
Due to capacity limits inside Ontario courtrooms amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the trial is also being live-streamed at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre so members of the public can watch the proceedings.
Minassian, who faces 10 counts of first-degree murder and 16 counts of attempted murder, has already admitted that he was the one behind the wheel on the day of the incident but entered not guilty pleas to all 26 charges on Tuesday morning.
"I am entering a plea of not criminally responsible for all counts," he said, staring into the camera while seated by himself in a small room in the correctional facility where he is being held.
Under Sec. 16 of the Criminal Code, a person is not criminally responsible (NCR) 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.”
Crown Prosecutor Joe Callaghan said over the course of the trial, which is expected to continue for four to six weeks, the court will hear from experts in the fields of psychiatry and psychology.
Callaghan spent Tuesday morning reading out the agreed statement of facts, which outlined the devastation Minassian left in his wake when he drove a rented cube van along sidewalks, deliberately striking pedestrians who were walking along Yonge Street in North York on April 23, 2018.
Videos and photos of the scene were presented to the court, detailing Minassian's 2.5 kilometre path of destruction.
‘He accelerated over top of the victims, never slowing’
According to the statement of facts, which have been accepted by both the Crown and the defence, Minassian planned the attack in advance and reserved the van from rental company Ryder weeks before.
On the day of the incident, he asked his father to drive him to a Chapters near the rental agency, telling his dad that he intended to meet a friend at Starbucks to catch up.
Minassian then walked to Ryder, where he told staff that he was using the vehicle to move furniture.
After picking up the van, Minassian was stopped at a red light in the area of Yonge Street and Finch Avenue and decided that was the place to carry out his attack when he saw groups of pedestrians congregating outside on the sidewalk on the unseasonably warm spring day.
Minassian posted a message on social media just minutes before he went on to kill and injure more than two dozen people.
"The Incel Rebellion has already begun! We will overthrow all the Chads and Stacys! All hail the Supreme Gentleman Elliot Rodger," the post read, referencing an extreme online community consisting of men who claim to be "involuntarily celibate."
Minassian proceeded to drive south through the intersection of Yonge Street and Finch Avenue when he mounted a curb and struck a group of pedestrians standing in front of a Korean barbecue restaurant, killing two and wounding five others.
"He accelerated over top of the victims, never slowing," Callaghan said.
"He drove in one swift move and did not brake when he hit the pedestrians. At no point after hitting this first group of people did Minassian slow down or stop to render assistance to those he struck."
He continued southbound, hitting various obstacles along the sidewalk, including a fire hydrant and newspaper boxes.
"As a result of seeing the van striking the group, others on the sidewalk began screaming and running," Callaghan said.
Minassian proceeded to drive the damaged van south along the sidewalk, hitting pedestrians and other items.
Many unsuspecting victims were struck from behind, unaware that a van was barrelling toward them, while others saw the vehicle and were hit while attempting to get out of its path.
Some of the victims were elderly and one was using a walker when Minassian struck and ran over her.
One of the deceased victims became lodged underneath the van and was dragged for more than 150 metres before coming to rest near Mel Lastman Square.
Many of those who survived the attack sustained life-altering injuries, including one woman whose legs needed to be amputated at the knee after Minassian drove over the lower half of her body.
Multiple surviving victims suffered severe head trauma, including one woman who suffered a brain injury that makes it difficult to remember people in her life, Callaghan said.
"Pedestrians on the sidewalk were panicking and running for their lives," the Crown prosecutor said.
People were seen hiding behind light standards while cars honked to try to warn others about the approaching van.
Minassian was observed by witnesses staring straight ahead as he drove, with his arms straight out clutching the steering wheel.
The windows of the van were rolled down and some people on the street shouted at Minassian to stop.
Other pedestrians chased the vehicle and one man reached inside the van to try to disable it.
Minassian continued on and at one point, he blew through a red light where he struck the side mirror of one vehicle and narrowly missed several others in the intersection.
Ultimately, Minassian said he decided to pull over and stop the crumpled van on Poyntz Avenue because a drink from one of his victims had splashed onto the windshield, making it difficult for him to see.
An officer spotted Minassian as he was pulling over and pulled up beside the van.
In dash camera video captured from the police cruiser, the officer is seen drawing his firearm and telling Minassian to put his hands up as Minassian exits the van.
Minassian refuses and tells the officer that he has a gun, pretending to point a firearm at the officer and asking the cop to shoot him.
Callaghan said Minassian shouted to the officer, "I have a gun. Kill me now. Kill me now. Shoot me."
After the officer confronted Minassian with a baton, he eventually dropped the wallet he was using to mimic a gun and was handcuffed and arrested without incident.
Minassian's route along Yonge Street spanned about 2.57 kilometres and he spent approximately half of that distance driving on sidewalks, Callaghan said.
The incident claimed the lives of 22-year-old Ji Hun Kim, 22-year-old So He Chung, 30-year-old Anne Marie D’Amico, 33-year-old Andrea Bradden, 55-year-old Beutis Renuka Amarasingha, 45-year-old Chul “Eddie” Min Kang, 83-year-old Geraldine Brady, 85-year-old Munir Abdo Habib Najjar, and 94-year-old Mary Elizabeth Forsyth.
The cause of death for many of the victims was determined to be blunt impact chest trauma.
During a lengthy police interview, which was previously released to the public and presented in court on Tuesday, Minassian told investigators that he planned and executed the attack after facing years of sexual rejection from women.
He said his negative feelings about women began after he attended a Halloween party in 2013.
"I was attending a house party and I walked in and attempted to socialize with some girls, however they all laughed at me and held the arms of the big guys instead," Minassian said during the interview, which was conducted shortly after his arrest.
"I felt very angry... because I considered myself a supreme gentleman."
He said he frequented a number of websites where he connected with other men who felt the same way about women.
"I know of several other guys over the internet who feel the same way but I would consider them too cowardly to act on their anger," Minassian said.
He added that in January 2014, he started communicating with Elliot Rodger, the man who killed six people and injured fourteen others in an attack in California in May 2014.
In a video posted on YouTube, Rodger stated that he was motivated to carry out the attack after facing repeated rejections from women.
Minassian said Rodger, who he called the founder of the "incel rebellion," used a knife, gun and a vehicle "to convert the life status of certain individuals to a death status."
He admitted to being a member of the incel "movement."
"It is basically a movement of angry incels, such as myself, who are unable to get laid therefore we want to overthrow the Chads, which would force the Stacys to reproduce with the incels," he said.
Chads are described as sexually active alpha males and Stacys are considered to be attractive, unattainable women.
When he learned of Rodger's attack, he said he felt "kind of proud of him for his act of bravery."
"I was starting to feel radicalized at that time... meaning I felt it was time to take action and not just sit on the sidelines and fester in my own sadness," he told Det. Robert Thomas, who conducted the four-hour long interview.
"I was thinking that it was time I stood up to the Chads and Stacys."
Van was perfect weapon, Minassian says during police interview
He said he spent a considerable amount of time thinking about his own attack and decided to put his plans into motion in early April 2018 when he booked the rental van.
The day before the attack, he said he posted on 4Chan, an anonymous internet forum, boasting about a "beta uprising" the following day.
"Quite a few people were congratulating me," he told Thomas.
Minassian, who had just completed a bachelor's degree in software development from Seneca College, said he chose the date of the attack because he knew he would be finished his exams on April 23.
"I still had to worry about my school work," he said.
On the morning of the attack, he said he had breakfast, brushed his teeth, and checked his email to see if he had any messages about school or to see if he had any job offers.
That afternoon, he picked up the van, which he described as the "perfect weapon," with the intention of striking pedestrians on Yonge Street.
"It (the van) is big enough to have an effect but not too big that I can't maneuver with it," he added.
The area on Yonge Street was not planned ahead of time, he said.
"As soon as I saw there was pedestrians, I just decided to go for it," he said, adding that he immediately put the pedal to the floor and sped toward a group of pedestrians.
"Some people get knocked out of the way, some people roll over top of the van," he said in the police interview.
He said when he ultimately pulled the vehicle over, it was because he was worried about crashing.
"I wanted to do more but I'd kind of been foiled by a lack of visibility," he said. "I saw the cops approaching so I decided to pull over and get out of my van."
He told Thomas when his "suicide by cop" plan didn't work out, he decided he didn't want to be physically injured so he complied with the officer's demand to get on the ground.
When asked how he felt after learning he had killed 10 people and injured several others, he replied, "I feel like I accomplished my mission."
The trial, which will not sit on Remembrance Day, will resume on Thursday at 10 a.m.
Here are live updates from Tuesday's court proceedings: