'I am entering a plea of not criminally responsible,' Alek Minassian tells court

·5 min read

TORONTO — A man who killed 10 people and injured 16 more after deliberately driving a van down a busy Toronto sidewalk asked a judge to find him not criminally responsible for his actions as his trial got underway Tuesday.

Alek Minassian's state of mind at the time of the 2018 attack will be at the centre of the case, with multiple psychiatrists and psychologists set to testify, court heard.

The 28-year-old from Richmond Hill, Ont., pleaded not guilty to 10 counts of first-degree murder and 16 counts of attempted murder at the start of his judge-alone trial, which is being conducted via videoconference.

"I am entering a plea of not criminally responsible for all counts," Minassian told the court over Zoom from a small room at the Toronto South Detention Centre, sporting a shaved head and a dark blazer over a grey collared shirt.

Minassian has already admitted in court to planning and carrying out the attack. 

As proceedings got underway, Crown attorney Joe Callaghan laid out the roadmap for the prosecution's case.

"The only issue in this trial is criminal responsibility," Callaghan said.

He referred to a section of the Criminal Code that states no one is criminally responsible for an act if it was carried out while they suffered from a mental disorder that rendered them incapable of appreciating the nature of their actions or knowing it was wrong.

The defence has not yet stated what mental disorder Minassian will argue he suffered from.

Both the Crown and the defence agreed on an extensive set of facts detailing what happened on the day of the attack, which Callaghan read out to the court. 

"On a warm spring afternoon on April 23, 2018, numerous pedestrians were out along Yonge Street enjoying the sunshine when their worlds were shattered by the actions of Mr. Minassian," Callaghan said.

"At that time, Mr. Minassian drove a rented van on the sidewalks of North York and killed 10 people during the attack and injured 16 others."

Court heard that Minassian booked the rental van used in the attack on April 4, with plans to pick it up on April 23. 

On that day, his father dropped him at a Chapters store in Woodbridge, Ont., believing his son was meeting a friend. Minassian then walked four kilometres to a Ryder rental location and told the clerk he was using the van to move furniture, court heard. 

When he got behind the wheel, around 1 p.m., Minassian needed help to put the van into drive, the agreed statement of facts said. He then drove to Yonge Street and Finch Avenue in north Toronto, where he pulled up to a red light. 

"At this point he determined he was going to begin his 'mission,'" Callaghan said.

At 1:27 p.m., Minassian typed out a message on Facebook.

"The Incel Rebellion has already begun!" he wrote in part, referring to so-called "incels," men who were involuntarily celibate.

Once the red traffic light turned green, Minassian gunned it and hopped the curb onto a sidewalk where he struck seven pedestrians, killing two. 

"Minassian 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."

Many of Minassian's victims didn't see him coming, Callaghan said.

They were standing outside restaurants, milling about a square or walking along the sidewalk with friends when Minassian mowed them down, court heard.

Minassian reached speeds upwards of 50 km/h as he targeted pedestrians and avoided obstructions, court heard. 

He hit people so hard they flew metres in the air or were dragged underneath –  one woman was dragged more than 150 metres.

Hours later, Minassian told a detective he carried out the attack as retribution against society because he was a lonely virgin who believed women wouldn't have sex with him.  

In a police interview made public more than a year ago and played in court Tuesday, Minassian said he had found solace in an online community for "incels." 

He explained to the detective that incels were at the bottom rung of society, below so-called Chads, who are alpha males who sleep with women, known as Staceys. 

He said the Chads had to be killed in order to force the Staceys to have sex with men like him, the incels. 

A mass attack would cause confusion in the world and allow the incels to rearrange society's order and come out on top, he told the detective.

The trial is expected to last about a month. 

Because Minassian has raised a not criminally responsible defence, the onus shifts away from the Crown to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt.

Boris Bytensky, Minassian's lawyer, will try to prove on 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.

Forsyth, Ji Hun Kim, So He Chung, Geraldine Brady, Chul Min Kang, Anne Marie Victoria D’Amico, 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. 10, 2020.

Liam Casey, The Canadian Press