Minassian would consider carrying out Toronto van attack again, would aim for higher 'kill count,' court hears
TORONTO -- Alek Minassian would consider carrying out the deadly Toronto van attack again, and next time would aim for a higher “kill count,” a court heard Wednesday.
“If I were to pick a specific target it would probably be women between the ages of 18 and 30,” the now-28-year-old told a medical assessor in a psychiatric assessment last year.
“It would make more sense if I were to be consistent to target that specific age group of women.”
Consistent with what, the medical assessor asked.
“I mean, it’s more so if I were to do another killing of the same and specifically make it of the same category, it would make sense for it to be consistent with both from the perspective of the media with what I posted on Facebook and what I’ve told the detective,” Minassian replied.
“Does that narrative matter to you?”
“Well I mean that’s what I was trying to get sensationalism for in the first place, so if I don’t use that then I don’t have anything,” he said.
Before Minassian drove a rented white van down busy sidewalks along Yonge Street, between Finch and Sheppard avenues, on April 23, 2018, killing 10 people and injuring 16 others, he typed out a Facebook post referencing his act of rebellion for the incel movement – an online subculture that blames women for the loneliness of men.
He reiterated this motive to police after being taken into custody.
In the psychiatric assessment, Minassian gave an alternative motive for the attack, saying general social anxiety and fear of failing at a new job he was due to start a week later.
“If I go on for the next 60 years not achieving anything no one knows me and let’s say I have a very low position at my job or maybe I’m even unemployed, I would feel very much like a failure, I would feel guilty, everything is pointless,” he said.
“It would have been the fact that I had done something. I have brought something to my name.”
Minassian said it would be better to “do something for attention, rather than failing at something.”
“An example would be if you’re walking on the sidewalk and you slip on a banana peel, and everyone laughs at you, that’s not you doing something on purpose, that’s you failing and by accident and it’s a screw up and it’s kind of like you lost and now everyone remembers that.”
“But,” he continued. “Whether you do something good or whether you do something bad, let’s say you make a really cool app at your work or let’s say you commit a mass killing, in those cases it’s not under the category of you slipping on a banana peel, you’ve done something, you’ve been proactive and you accomplished something.”
Minassian then added another part of the van attack he would do differently if he carried it out again would be to “make sure I would have died instead of being arrested.”
In the assessments, Minassian said that while in prison the thought of carrying out the attack again “popped into my head again, just like how school shootings always popped into my head in high school.”
He said the advantages to going through with his actions again would be notoriety and “the fact that there would again be another kill count.”
When asked what the appeal of having a higher kill count was by the medical assessor, Minassian explained that a website tracks “score cards” for mass killers noting their “kill count versus their survivor count.”
“Let’s say they kill 20 people and then there was 100 per cent all 20 people he intended to kill died, that would be a very high score, especially because of the number of killings,” Minassian said. “Now that would basically be the purpose of the kill count.”
“So improving your score would be a good reason to do it again?”
“Yes,” he replied.
Psychiatrist stops short of saying Minassian should be found NCR
Dr. Alexander Westphal was one of three medical assessors conducting psychiatric assessments of Minassian.
On Wednesday, Westphal returned to the stand for the third straight day. He repeatedly stated that Minassian shows a “lack of empathy or insight into the effect that his actions had on others,” but stopped short of saying Minassian should be found not criminally responsible (NCR).
“I think he didn’t understand the moral wrongfulness of his actions, but that’s not my determination to make,” he said during cross-examination. “I think it’s a legal opinion, not a psychiatric one.”
Westphal is an American forensic psychiatrist who specializes in research on autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and is based out of the Yale School of Medicine. He is the last witness to testify for the defence.
Lawyer Boris Bytensky previously told the judge-alone trial that Westphal would be the lone expert witness to state that Minassian should be found NCR.
The sole issue at trial is Minassian’s state of mind at the time he carried out the deadly van attack, as he has already admitted to planning and carrying it out.
Minassian has pleaded not guilty to 10 charges of first-degree murder and 16 counts of attempted murder as defence attorneys argue he should be found NCR under Sec. 16 of the Criminal Code due to autism
Sec. 16 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.”
If found not criminally responsible, Minassian would be sent to a hospital indefinitely rather than prison.
More than 90 per cent of people found NCR in Canada experienced psychosis, court has heard, and it would be a legal first if a diagnosis of autism alone rendered Minassian incapable of knowing his actions were morally wrong.
Court has previously heard Minassian is not psychotic, but Westphal has compared his “extreme form” of autism to psychosis, stating that his “severely distorted” view of the world is enough to be a mitigating factor in culpability.
During the assessments, Westphal said that Minassian spoke about carrying out the van attack again “completely candidly” and “completely frankly.” He said this was “totally bizarre and totally distorted.”
“It’s sort of a very scary and ugly statement, but he doesn’t give it in that way,” Westphal said. “It’s not that he intends ugliness by it, he doesn’t want to cause more suffering, he just sees it as a tangible metric, which is related somehow to his accomplishment or level of accomplishment and that’s what he is trying to get an accomplishment on.”
“It’s not really tied to what it does to other people.”
According to Westphal, Minassian lacks both cognitive and emotional empathy and “is stuck at an early developmental stage of the development of moral judgement.”
“The way I understand Minassian and his actions is that he didn’t recognize the moral agency, people as individual entities who would suffer as a result of his actions,” he told court.
“I think he clearly set out, he knew what he was doing, he stated that he understood that it was morally wrong, so he clearly explicitly states the wrongfulness of what he is doing, it just doesn’t matter to him because he doesn’t understand…because he has a really substantial defect in social development and a defect in empathic understanding of other people that there are real human consequences, relatable consequences to his actions.”
Westphal added that to “be a moral agent” you need to be able to recognize people “as free standing moral agents in themselves.”
“To be able to recognize that they are other beings and they have lives which are as valuable as your own life, but also have a completely different perspective and things in their lives,” he said.
“To not recognize that and to see people as objects in the way that Mr. Minassian clearly did to me, is a really substantial breakdown of his entire process.”
‘Isn’t any moral justification,’ Minassian tells assessor
During cross-examination, Crown prosecutor Joe Callaghan pointed out that Minassian told medical assessors multiple times that he understood killing people was morally wrong.
“I certainly have committed the act of murder and there isn’t any moral justification for it so, for the public eye, it would be extremely upsetting and immoral,” Minassian said during the assessments.
After reading this part of the transcript in court, Callaghan asked Westphal, “Mr. Minassian told you many times in many ways that he knew his actions were morally wrong, correct?”
“That’s right,” Westphal replied.
“My argument that he doesn’t understand moral wrongfulness is not based on his statement that he does understand moral wrongfulness, that is what I think is a factual understanding, that is the intellectual level in which he gets it, my whole point in all of this is that he doesn’t have an empathic understanding of the social context of the impact of his actions.”
Several other portions of Minassian’s interviews during these assessments were heard in court on Wednesday, including him discussing the possible impact his actions could have on his victims, their families and his own family.
Court heard that he used the word “devastated” to describe how his family may feel from his actions.
When asked by a medical assessor about how the children of victims may feel about his actions, Minassian “I know that they are probably very upset.”
“I don’t think that they really understand what’s going on, especially depending on how old they are,” he said. “It’s obviously very upsetting because if I was eight years old and my parents got hit by some random attacker, I would be upset too.”
“I guess depending on their individual temperament, I would either be extremely grief stricken or maybe even extremely angry, but I mean, I guess with my temperament I would probably be extremely grief stricken.”
On Wednesday, Westphal stated that Minassian learned “a little bit of information” about his victims through reading legal documents pertaining to civil suits and may have picked up some of this language there.
“It doesn’t alter the overarching thing, at the time he did this, he did not understand horrific nature,” Westphal said.
Cross-examination of Westphal continues on Thursday at 10 a.m.
Here are live updates from court proceedings: