Alek Minassian's father denies tailoring evidence to help son in van attack trial

·4 min read

TORONTO — The father of the man who killed 10 people in Toronto's van attack denied Tuesday that he was tailoring his testimony to help his son, telling the prosecution he was just trying to accurately describe Alek Minassian to the court.  

Vahe Minassian, who was called to testify by the defence, spent hours under intense questioning from the Crown at the trial that's being conducted over video conference.

Alek Minassian has pleaded not guilty to 10 counts of first-degree murder and 16 counts of attempted murder. He's admitted to planning and carrying out the 2018 attack, and argues he should be found not criminally responsible due to autism — a rare defence.  

Crown attorney Cynthia Valarezo zeroed in on testimony Vahe Minassian gave Monday about a clip of an interview his son had with police after the attack. 

The video shows Alek Minassian alone in a room after a detective has left. He leans forward and bows his head. What sounds like sniffles can be heard.

Vahe Minassian had said after watching the clip at trial that he believed his son was muttering under his breath at the time, and not sniffling.

He also said he has never seen his son cry in his life.

That was different from what he told a psychiatrist last year when asked to comment on the video, Valarezo said. The elder Minassian had told the doctor his son was "breaking down and crying," she said. 

"The reason why you're changing what you're saying is because you are trying your best to tell this court what you think they need to hear to help your son out," Valarezo said.

"That's actually not true," Vahe Minassian said.

On Monday, the elder Minassian painted his son as a man with little to no emotion due to autism spectrum disorder. 

He said his son showed no remorse, offered no apology and did not understand what he did was wrong.

The Crown disputed that, pointing to the elder Minassian's testimony about his son's love for his family.

"You realize information about Alek's lack of emotion has an important impact on this court," Valarezo said.

"That's not an accurate characterization either, I’ve simply done my best to to convey my lifetime of memories," Vahe Minassian shot back. 

The Crown also alleged the elder Minassian used words such as "hyperfocused" after reading and analyzing various psychiatric reports about his son in an effort to help the defence. 

He denied that as well. 

Alek Minassian's state of mind at the time is the only issue at play in the trial.

Court heard last week that a psychiatrist hired by the defence found Minassian had an "autistic way of thinking" that was similar to psychosis.

Seeking a not-criminally-responsible finding means the defence must prove beyond a balance of probabilities that it's more likely than not that Minassian had a mental disorder that impacted his actions to the extent that he didn't understand what he was doing was wrong.

Minassian's lawyer, Boris Bytensky, said Monday that while his client may intellectually understand what he did was wrong, he cannot rationally comprehend what he did was wrong.

On Tuesday, Autism Canada denounced what it described as "egregious claims" made by the defence at trial.

It noted, as has the defence, that people with autism are far more likely to be victims of violence and bullying than perpetrators.

In court, the Crown took issue with other aspects of Vahe Minassian's earlier testimony. 

The elder Minassian told court Monday that a story his son shared with a detective right after the attack was "impossible." 

Alek Minassian told Det. Rob Thomas that while in college he approached, and was subsequently rejected by a woman at a Halloween party in 2013. He said that led to anger and eventually he found like-minded people online who hated woman and were so-called "incels," or involuntary celibates.

The van attack, he explained, was retribution against society for such rejection.

Vahe Minassian said his son would never approach a woman he did not know, due to his autism spectrum disorder.

Valarezo countered with statements Alek Minassian purportedly gave to psychiatrists about approaching and asking out three women. 

"That scenario you described does not fit with what I’ve seen," Vahe Minassian said.

Valarezo said there were many other things Alek Minassian told psychiatric assessors that he kept from his father.

"He said he was feeling lonely, he never discussed that?" Valarezo asked.

"No he didn’t," Vahe Minassian said.

"Did you know Alek told Dr. Westphal he had thoughts of suicide?" Valarezo said.

"I was not aware of that," Vahe Minassian said. 

"You had no idea about his fascination with mass killers and (that he) has fantasized becoming a mass shooter?" Valarezo said.

"No, I didn’t," Vahe Minassian said.

Ji Hun Kim, So He Chung, Geraldine Brady, Chul Min Kang, Anne Marie Victoria D'Amico, Mary Elizabeth Forsyth, Munir Abdo Habib Najjar, Dorothy Marie Sewell, Andrea Bradden and Beutis Renuka Amarasingha died in the attack.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 17, 2020.

Liam Casey, The Canadian Press