Accused in Toronto van attack raises not-criminally-responsible defence on Day 1 of trial

Alek Minassian, who is accused of killing 10 people and injuring 16 others after driving a van down a busy Toronto sidewalk in 2018, pleaded not guilty at the start of his trial Tuesday and is asking the court to find him not criminally responsible for his actions.

Alek Minassian pleads not guilty at start of trial on Tuesday

Alek Minassian, of Richmond Hill, Ont., the accused in the 2018 Toronto van attack, is asking the court to find him not criminally responsible for his actions. (LinkedIn)

Alek Minassian, who admitted to driving a van down a busy Toronto sidewalk, killing 10 people and injuring 16 more, asked a judge to find him not criminally responsible for his actions as his trial got underway Tuesday.

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 at the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, which is being conducted via video conference.

"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.

Signs are left at a vigil on Yonge Street in Toronto April 24, 2018. According to an agreed statement of fact, Minassian ploughed into pedestrians on the busy thoroughfare in midtown, killing 10 people ad inuring 16. (Galit Rodan/The Canadian Press)

Defence has not yet specified disorder

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 action 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."

WATCH | Who were the victims of the van attack:

Remembering the Toronto van attack victims

3 years ago
Duration 3:58
Tuesday marks the one-year anniversary of the deadly Toronto van attack, which left 10 people dead and several others injured. Here's how friends and family are remembering the victims. 3:58

Crown to use police interview, statement of facts

Callaghan said the Crown's case consists of a lengthy agreed statement of facts, which includes Minassian's admission to carrying out the attack.

The Crown will also rely on the police interview Minassian had with a detective just hours after the attack, court heard.

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. 

Minassian booked a cargo van from the Ryder rental company on April 4 with a pickup date for April 23, according to the agreed statement of facts read to the court by Callaghan. 

Police are seen near a damaged van in Toronto at the scene of the attack on April 23, 2018. (Aaron Vincent Elkaim/The Canadian Press)

On April 23, Minassian's father dropped him at a Chapters store in Woodbridge, Ont. Minassian then walked to the rental location, court heard.

He told the clerk working the counter he was going to put furniture inside the van and expressed confusion at first, thinking he had rented a truck, court heard.

When Minassian got inside the van at around 1 p.m. ET, he 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.

Cites affiliation with incels 

Then, 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 are involuntarily celibate.

Once the red traffic light turned green, Minassian gunned the van 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."

Attack was retribution on society, accused told police 

Hours later, Minassian told a detective that 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 that was made public more than a year ago, Minassian told the detective he had found solace in an online community for "incels." 

WATCH | Minassian reveals details of the attack to police:

Alek Minassian reveals details of Toronto van attack in police video

2 years ago
Duration 2:30
Hours after his arrest, Alek Minassian told a Toronto police detective he communicated with two mass murderers motivated by incel ideology and said the massacres they carried out inspired him to use a rented van "as a weapon." 2:30

Minassian 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 incels, men like him.

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

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.

These are the people killed in the van attack. Top row, from left to right: Anne Marie D'Amico, 30, Dorothy Sewell, 80, Renuka Amarasingha, 45, Munir Najjar, 85, Chul Min (Eddie) Kang, 45, Mary Elizabeth (Betty) Forsyth, 94, Sohe Chung, 22, Andrea Bradden, 33, Geraldine Brady, 83, Ji Hun Kim, 22. (CBC)