Autism Did Not Cause Alek Minassian to Kill 10 People in Van Attack, Crown Says

By The Canadian Press
The Canadian Press
The Canadian Press
December 18, 2020Updated: December 18, 2020

TORONTO—The prosecution at the trial of the man who killed 10 people in Toronto’s van attack says Alek Minassian was a mass murderer who happened to have autism spectrum disorder.

Crown attorney Joe Callaghan says in closing arguments that the disorder did not make Minassian carry out the 2018 attack.

Rather, Callaghan argues, Minassian knew what he was doing was wrong.

Minassian has pleaded not guilty to 10 counts of first-degree murder and 16 of attempted murder.

The defence argues he is not criminally responsible for his actions on April 23, 2018, due to autism spectrum disorder.

Minassian has admitted to planning and carrying out the attack, leaving his state of mind at the time the only issue at trial.

Callaghan said Friday that Minassian’s autism spectrum disorder—or ASD—didn’t push the man to act.

“The Crown respectfully submits this is about a person who committed mass murder who happened to have ASD, not that the ASD made him commit murders” Callaghan told the judge-alone trial, which is being conducted via video conference due to the pandemic.

Since Minassian has raised a not criminally responsible defence, his lawyers must prove it’s more likely than not he had a mental disorder that impacted his actions to the extent that he didn’t understand what he was doing was wrong.

Callaghan argued Minassian’s defence has not done that.

“It’s the Crown’s position that Mr. Minassian has failed to demonstrate on a balance of probabilities, from the time he planned and executed the attack, to lack the capacity to know his conduct was wrong to members of Canadian society,” Callaghan said.

Boris Bytensky, Minassian’s lawyer, said in his closing arguments Thursday that his client’s autism spectrum disorder left him incapable of making a rational choice when he chose to commit the attack.

Bytensky said the disorder left Minassian without the ability to develop empathy and, ultimately, he was unable to know what he did was morally wrong.

Callaghan pointed to numerous comments Minassian made to various mental health assessors that he knew what he was doing was morally wrong.

“Fundamentally, it’s the Crown’s submission he had the capacity to make a choice,” Callaghan said.

“And in this case, there’s no evidence he ever lost the fact of the wrongness of his actions. He always had an understanding, an awareness — more than awareness  — that from society’s perspective, his choice to kill was wrong.”

By Liam Casey