Alek Minassian tells doctors different stories on motives for van attack, court hears

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TORONTO — Notoriety and fear of failing at a new job were the motives behind the van attack on innocent pedestrians on a busy Toronto sidewalk two years ago, court heard Thursday.

That is what Alek Minassian told a psychiatrist about the April 23, 2018 attack, in which 10 people died and 16 others were injured.

In an interview with police shortly after his arrest, Minassian said the attack was in retribution against society after years of rejection by women.

Later he told a different doctor that he wished he had killed more women and was, indeed, a follower of the so-called "incel movement," which attracts lonely men who hate women because they cannot have sex with them.

Crown attorney John Rinaldi showed court excerpts of various psychiatric reports of Minassian, including one from Dr. John Bradford, a forensic psychiatrist hired by the defence.

Dr. Bradford wrote in his report that Minassian told him the attack was motivated by his "extreme anxiety" over starting a new job, rather than a hatred towards women.

"He maintains his principal motivation is the fear of failing at his job which he was due to start about seven days after the incident," Bradford wrote.

"He describes his problem relates to extreme anxiety. He describes that he did not want people to think about extreme anxiety and the fear of failing at a job as a reason he did what he did."

The defence is arguing Minassian should be found not criminally responsible — due to autism — for his actions on April 23, 2018.

Minassian had pleaded not guilty to 10 counts of first-degree murder and 16 of attempted murder, though he has admitted in court to planning and carrying out the van attack. The only issue to be decided at trial is his state of mind at the time.

The Crown cross-examined Dr. Rebecca Chauhan, a forensic psychiatrist who evaluated Minassian on behalf of the defence.

Dr. Chauhan testified Wednesday that Minassian was "obsessed" with Elliot Rodger, a 22-year-old who went on a rampage in Isla Vista, Calif., in May 2014, killing six people and injuring 14 others before killing himself.

Rodger's "manifesto" about his hatred towards women has found an audience in the bowels of the internet where he is treated as the forefather of so-called "incels," men who are involuntarily celibate.

Dr. Chauhan said Minassian told her that in the middle of the attack he wished he had been hitting more women, especially "more young, attractive females."

She said Minassian spoke at length about Rodger in their interviews and said he read the manifesto daily in the months leading up to the van attack.

"Mr. Minassian's underlying autism caused him to be vulnerable to hyperfixation and the writings of Elliot Rodger," Chauhan said on Wednesday.

On Thursday, court heard that Minassian told Bradford that what he told the police detective after the arrest was "all made up."

"He implies that he made this up as he was not expecting to be arrested," Bradford wrote. "He thought the incident would end by suicide by cop. He denies being radicalized by the movement."

Rinaldi said it could all be lies coming out of Minassian's mouth.

"We really don't know when he's telling the truth, it’s a problem, would you agree with that?" Rinaldi asked Chauhan.

"It certainly raises that issue with the police statement and the motivation about it, we’d have questions about it," Chauhan said.

"He seemed very fixated on notoriety or whether that was the motivation, or whether another person's life was more exciting than his own, but something that would be explored."

Minassian's defence then showed another excerpt from Bradford's report that said Minassian reverted back to the same motivation he told police.

"Mr. Minassian has continued to believe that his actions were justified and continued to believe in the incel movement," Bradford wrote.

Minassian told Bradford that he was also "seeking notoriety and infamy."

Court also heard Minassian has a long history of fantasizing about mass murders.

His fantasies began after the shooting at Virginia Tech, where a 23-year-old man killed 32 people before killing himself in 2007, Chauhan wrote in her report.

"In addition he reported that in the context of feeling lonely in his adolescent years, he would fantasize about shooting people every four to five months," she wrote.

Minassian told another psychiatrist about reading Wikipedia entries about the teens who shot and killed 12 students and one teacher at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999.

He told yet another forensic psychiatrist, Dr. Scott Woodside, that when he felt depressed in high school he would look up how many people were killed in various school shootings

"Mr. Minassian noted he began to fantasize about doing a school shooting in the last two years of high school but never took any steps," Woodside wrote.

"He thought about getting back at two people who had teased him and also liked the idea of the attention it would cause at school and the notoriety he would receive."

Minassian told the psychiatrist he never went through with it because he didn't know how to get a gun.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 19, 2020.

Liam Casey, The Canadian Press