Minassian gave different motive for Toronto van attack in psychiatric assessment, court hears
TORONTO -- During psychiatric assessments, Alek Minassian detailed a long history of fantasizing about carrying out a mass shooting and said fear of failing at his new job, not rebellion for the incel subculture, was the motivation behind the deadly Toronto van attack, a court heard Thursday.
While cross-examining an expert witness, Crown prosecutor John Rinaldi read off portions of notes and reports made by multiple medical assessors who met with Minassian at St. Joseph’s Healthcare Centre in Hamilton, Ont. in August and September of 2018.
On April 23, 2018, Minassian drove a rented white van down busy sidewalks along Yonge Street, between Finch and Sheppard avenues, and struck dozens of pedestrians, leaving eight women and two men dead.
Minassian, who faces 10 counts of first-degree murder and 16 counts of attempted murder, has already admitted to planning and carrying out the attack. His trial, which is being held virtually amid the COVID-19 pandemic, hinges on his mental state at the time.
Defence attorneys are arguing Minassian should be found not criminally responsible for his actions under Sec. 16 of the Criminal Code due to autism.
On the sixth day of the trial, court heard that Minassian told one of the medical assessors that his interest in mass murders initially peaked around 2009 – towards the end of his high school career.
“Over time during high school when he was depressed he would repeatedly look up school shootings,” one of the medical reports shared by the Crown on Thursday said. “(He would) look at how many ‘kills’ the person got.”
“He thought about getting back at two people who had teased him and also liked the idea of the attention it would cause at the school and the notoriety he would receive.”
According to the report, Minassian said he believed he would enjoy carrying out the actual act and noted that these fantasies occurred frequently.
Minassian said he never followed through with these fantasies because “he had no real way of obtaining a handgun without risk to himself or risk of getting caught,” the report stated.
Police interview was fabricated, doctor says
After Minassian was taken into police custody following the van attack, he was interviewed by Det. Rob Thomas for four hours. That interview was released publicly last year and was viewed on the first day of the trial.
In the interview, Minassian said his reasoning behind carrying out the deadly attack was receiving a lack of attention from women and described an incident of being rejected by a girl while attending a Halloween party in 2013.
“I walked in and attempted to socialize with some girls, however, they all laughed and held the arms of the big guys instead,” Minassian said. “I was angry they would give their love and attention to obnoxious brutes.”
“I started thinking it was unfair that certain guys will not get any love and affection from girls.”
On Thursday, court heard that during Minassian’s assessment with a forensic psychiatrist hired by the defence, Dr. John Bradford, he admitted that Halloween incident never actually happened.
“He denies that he is part of incel although he has been disappointed in the past with his social interactions but when confronted about being extremely angry… he denies this now categorically and maintains that he has only been disappointed and that he made this up about being enraged.”
At the trial last week, Minassian’s father testified it would have been “impossible” for that Halloween incident to occur as his son would be too scared to ever approach a woman he did not know, adding he could not order from a female server while out at a restaurant.
Furthermore, Minassian also said in the police interview that following that Halloween incident he began visiting online chatrooms, talking to like-minded men who also expressed frustration with what they refer to as “involuntary celibacy.” The online subculture, also known as incel, blames women for the loneliness of men.
Minassian told Bradford he did look at the online chatrooms, but contrary to what he told police, he never posted anything.
“He implies that he made this up as he was not expecting to be arrested,” the assessor’s notes said. “He thought the incident would end by suicide by cop.”
Minassian denied every being “radicalized by the movement,” Bradford wrote, adding that his “principal motivation is the fear of failing at his job, which he was due to start about seven days after the incident.”
Minassian told the doctor he preferred to be added to the list of incel perpetrators.
Vahe Minassian testified earlier this week that his son 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 completed his degree at Seneca College the week prior.
Minassian ‘hyper focused’ on killer’s manifesto
The Crown prosecutor said he brought up these statements from other assessors during cross-examination of Dr. Rebecca Chauhan on Thursday because the forensic psychiatrist found Minassian became “hyper focused and indoctrinated” with one mass murderer’s manifesto in particular – Elliot Rodgers.
Chauhan is a colleague of Bradford and was asked by him to offer a second opinion on Minassian’s autism diagnosis.
According to Chauhan, during their meetings, Minassian described fantasizing about mass murders for several years and said he conducted research on the topic every three or five months, but became distinctly more intense about it after discovering Rodgers’ manifesto.
Rodgers, who is connected to the incel movement, killed six people near the campus of the University of California, Santa Barbara on May 23, 2014.
Chauhan said Minassian described reading Rodgers’ more than 100-page manifesto every day between January and April of 2018.
Bradford’s notes also stated he questioned Minassian on the date of April 23 as it could have coincided with Rodgers’ May 23 killing, but he maintained it was not related and described it as a coincidence. Minassian did tell Bradford, however, that the made up Halloween incident he told police about was from Rodgers’ manifesto.
Rinaldi suggested to Chauhan “it’s pretty clear that Minassian was in no way shape or form indoctrinated by Rodgers to commit mass murders” as “he had mass murders on his mind well before he ever knew who Rodgers was or read his manifesto.”
Chauhan then clarified her findings, noting indoctrination “may not be the right term.”
“I think about indoctrination as taking on the beliefs without any sort of challenge,” she said. “He’s reading it over and over again without any sort of external materials to say there is another view point.”
In her assessment of Minassian, Chauhan also found that he struggled to spot “glaring differences” between himself and Rodgers, as well as another murderer linked to the incel movement, Chris Harper-Mercer.
Harper-Mercer killed an assistant professor and eight students inside a classroom at a campus near Roseburg, Oregon on Oct. 1, 2015.
“(Minassian) is someone, from what I had experienced, who focuses on very little details,” she said. “I would have anticipated he would have picked up on some of those details of how these individuals were different.”
Some of the differences Chauhan provided as examples were the fact that Rodgers came from a separated family and was biracial.
Rinaldi argued that these differences may not have mattered to Minassian at all.
“His interest in Rodgers was not whether he was biracial or anything else, his interest in Rodgers was the similarities between him and Rodgers, meaning his inability to have a girlfriend, his kind of awkwardness, those would be the things you would be drawn to,” he said.
According to Rinaldi, Bradford’s assessment of Minassian found that he “did admit some level of identification with the mass murder committed by Rodgers and Harper-Mercer,” but added that he “did not feel as isolated as these two appeared to feel.”
Chauhan added that her colleague will be able to provide more details on the incel movement when he testifies at the trial as her and Minassian did not discuss that topic at length.
After these notes from the medical assessors were read in court, Minassian’s lawyer showed a portion of Bradford’s report, which states that in subsequent interviews Minassian “maintained the same motivation that he gave to Det. Thomas.”
“He clearly was strongly influenced by the Rodgers manifesto,” the report said. “He also continued to show a lack of empathy for the victims and victims’ families and even for his own parents’ distress related to his behaviour.”
Bradford is expected to provide his opinion on if Minassian should be found not criminally responsible for his actions based on his autism diagnosis and detail his findings when he takes the witness stand. He is expected to begin his testimony on Monday morning.
Here are live updates from the court proceedings: