'I've told the truth': Minassian's father says testimony not shaped to support NCR defence
TORONTO -- Alek Minassian’s father denies that testimony he gave at his son’s trial was crafted in a way that would help prove the 28-year-old is not criminally responsible for the murder and attempted murder of the more than two dozen pedestrians he intentionally struck along Yonge Street in April 2018.
During her cross-examination at the judge-alone trial on Tuesday, Crown prosecutor Cynthia Valarezo accused Vahe Minassian of saying what was necessary to show that his son’s behaviour was consistent with someone who fits the NCR criteria.
"You knew the evidence you needed to give to help out your son," Valarezo said.
Alek Minassian has already admitted to planning and carrying out the attack in retribution for years of sexual rejection from women.
According to an agreed statement of facts previously submitted to the court, Minassian rented a white cube on April 23, 2018 and drove it on sidewalks along a busy stretch of Yonge Street in North York, deliberately running over pedestrians.
Ten people were killed and 16 others were wounded in the attack.
In a lengthy police interview following his arrest, Minassian described the anger he felt toward women and admitted to being a member of the “incel movement,” an extreme online community consisting of men who claim to be "involuntarily celibate."
His lawyers argue that Minassian was not criminally responsible for his actions (NCR) under Sec. 16 of the Criminal Code, which states that a person is 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.”
Court has previously heard that one of the experts hired by the defence found that while Minassian is not psychotic and has not experienced symptoms of psychosis, such as auditory and visual hallucinations, his “autistic way of thinking” is “similar to psychosis.”
During his first day of testimony on Monday, Vahe Minassian told the court that Alek has trouble with emotional responses and added that he has never seen his son cry.
But Valarezo argued that Minassian’s father knew it would be “incredibly important at this trial” to prove that his son was unable to show emotion so he provided testimony that would support that conclusion.
She said when reviewing the tape last year with one of the doctors who assessed his son, Vahe Minassian first admitted that it appeared Alek was crying during a portion of his police interview, which was recorded on video.
On Tuesday, Minassian’s father said he had “changed his mind” and no longer believes that his son was crying on the video.
Valarezo addressed conversations Vahe Minassian had with an expert hired by the defence who assessed Alek.
During one conversation, Vahe Minassian asked how the assessment was going and how it could "help his son."
When providing details of an NCR defence, the doctor explained to Minassian's father how it could potentially be applied in his son's case.
The doctor noted that while "high-functioning autism spectrum disorder... on its own has never (as far as I know) been used for the defense of not criminally responsible on the basis of a mental disorder," there was an avenue that could be pursued about "moral wrongfulness" and a person's ability to know if what they are doing is wrong.
Vahe Minassian said that his knowledge of this legal defence did not shape the testimony he provided to the court.
Valarezo also went over an article that Vahe Minassian read about the NCR defence, suggesting that is where he picked up some of the buzz words he used during his testimony when describing his son's behaviour, including the term "hyper-focused."
Vahe Minassian consistently replied that the answers he gave were in line with “a lifetime of experiences” and observations of his son.
Minassian told doctors he knew that he did was wrong, Crown says
Valarezo also pointed out some inconsistencies in comments Minassian made to his father and things he told the doctors and social workers who assessed him.
On Monday, Minassian's father said some of the comments his son made to him following the incident left him "surprised, shocked and speechless.”
He said his conversations with Alek gave him the impression that his son didn’t have a firm grasp of what he had done or the consequences of his actions.
“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 Minassian previously told the court.
On Tuesday, Valarezo said Minassian had spoken to multiple different assessors where he made it clear he was aware of the emotional toll the incident had taken on his family.
Valarezo said Minassian told one assessor that he felt his family would be "emotionally affected" after learning about the "horrible thing" he had done.
He also said he was concerned about the "emotional wellbeing" of his parents and "felt guilty" after he observed how upset they were when he saw them on TV.
He told another assessor that he "saw the sadness in his mother's eyes" and also indicated that he knew he had let his parents down, Valarezo said.
When asked about these statements, Vahe Minassian said he was unaware that his son had made those comments.
"I'm surprised by that," he said. "I don't know what to make of it."
Vahe Minassian was also asked about the accuracy of a statement he says Alek made when he went to visit his son in jail in early 2019.
Vahe Minassian said his son told him that he was “looking forward” to the trial because everyone would see he “did nothing wrong” and he would be getting out of jail soon.
Minassian's father said he was "surprised" by the statement but did not delve further into the conversation as the family had been told not to discuss the case with their son.
Valarezo noted that Minassian "never made a similar statement" to any of the professionals who assessed him.
Valarezo said Minassian told his assessors that what he had done was "morally wrong and unjustifiable" and that he had "accepted the fact that he will spend his life in jail."
"Are you sure Alek told you he was looking forward to the trial because he was going to go home soon," Valarezo asked Minassian's father.
"I know what he has told me. I've told the truth," he replied.
Valarezo suggested that there were many things that Minassian shared with the assessors that he had hidden from his father, including feelings of loneliness around the time of the attack and the fact that he “fantasized” about mass murders in high school.
Autism Canada responds
Minassian’s defence has sparked outcry from Autism Canada, an organizations that promotes autism education, advocacy, and support.
In a statement released Tuesday, the group called the claims by defence counsel psychiatrists “egregious.”
“Autism Canada wishes to respond emphatically that these claims are wholly unsubstantiated, merely speculative, and made carelessly without any published evidence proving autism, on its own, is a risk factor for becoming violent against other people,” the news release read.
“There is no psychosis in ASD and no tendency to anti-social behaviour any more than in the general population. I think you would not get any serious objection from the academic community on that account.” Dr. Peter Szatmari, chief of the Child and Youth Mental Health Collaborative at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, said in a written statement accompanying the release.
On Monday, Minassian’s lawyer Boris Bytensky confirmed the sole relevant diagnosis being heard in Alek’s defence is Autism Spectrum Disorder.
He also noted 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.”
“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.”
The trial will resume on Wednesday afternoon.
Here are live updates from the court proceedings. Story continues below.