Alek Minassian Knew Van Attack Was Morally Wrong, Psychiatrist Testifies

Alek Minassian Knew Van Attack Was Morally Wrong, Psychiatrist Testifies
Crown attorney Joe Callaghan, clockwise from top (L), Justice Anne Molloy, accused in the April 2018 Toronto van attack Alex Minsassian, and Dr. Alexander Westphal are shown during a murder trial conducted via Zoom videoconference, in this courtroom sketch on Nov. 30, 2020. (The Canadian Press/Alexandra Newbould)
The Canadian Press

TORONTO—A forensic psychiatrist retained by the prosecution at the trial of the man who killed 10 people in Toronto’s van attack says Alek Minassian knew his actions were morally wrong.

Dr. Scott Woodside says Minassian’s desire to gain notoriety demonstrates that he knew the attack would be viewed by the public as a terrible act.

The 28-year-old Minassian, from Richmond Hill, Ont., has pleaded not guilty to 10 counts of first-degree murder and 16 counts of attempted murder.

The defence argues Minassian should be held not criminally responsible for his actions on April 23, 2018, due to autism spectrum disorder.

Minassian’s state of mind is the sole issue at trial since he has admitted to planning and carrying out the attack.

The central question in the case is whether Minassian knew what he did was morally wrong.

Woodside said Minassian’s quest for notoriety answers that question.

“His partly stated motive to commit these acts was to gain notoriety, to become infamous, which in my view implies a pretty clear knowledge that people are going to view this as a terrible thing,” the psychiatrist said Friday.

“It’s actually a calculation on his part on what does he need to do to gain the most notoriety, and part of that is to do pretty much the worst thing: kill people and kill as many people as possible.”

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

Minassian’s lawyer, Boris Bytensky, is trying 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.

Justice Anne Molloy, who is presiding over the judge-alone trial, said Thursday that she believes autism spectrum disorder qualifies as a mental disorder. She will have to decide whether Minassian knew his actions were morally wrong.

Crown attorney Joe Callaghan said the prosecution will still argue that autism spectrum disorder does not qualify as a mental disorder for the purposes of the trial, thereby rendering Minassian criminally responsible for his actions.

Minassian told several mental−health assessors that he identified partly with so-called “incels,” men who are involuntarily celibate and discuss their hatred for women and those who date them in the bowels of the internet.

Woodside said the fact that Minassian was a virgin and never had a relationship with a woman contributed to him feeling lonely. Reading about incels made him feel better about himself, the psychiatrist said.

Minassian also believed tying his attack to the incel movement would increase his notoriety, Woodside said.

Court has heard that Minassian composed a message about the “incel rebellion” before the attack. He told a psychiatrist he posted it on Facebook immediately afterward, before he was arrested.

In that post, Minassian also cited Elliot Rodger, a 22-year-old man who killed six people in Isla Vista, Calif. Rodger, who killed himself after the attack, has become the forefather of the incel movement online.

Minassian said his notoriety would be “upgraded” by tying his attack to incels, even though he acknowledged he had no real anger toward women.

“It was quite calculated, and calculated to generate media interest,” Woodside said.

“This was for general consumption and [to] make famous his act.”

Woodside had also told the trial on Thursday that Minassian said he believed he would fail in life and committed the attack as a way to make his mark in the world.

“If I’m going to fail anyays, I might as well do this,” Minassian told Woodside, court heard.

“If I could do it over, I would probably think of a way to get a higher body count.”

A psychiatrist hired by the defence previously told the trial Minassian lacks empathy and doesn’t understand the moral wrongfulness of killing 10 people.

By Liam Casey