Toronto van attacker sentenced to life in prison, no possibility of parole for 25 years
Dozens impacted by attack gave harrowing victim impact statements at sentencing hearing
The man responsible for Toronto's deadly van attack has been sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole for 25 years.
Justice Anne Molloy handed down her sentence in Superior Court in Toronto Monday in a room full of victims, family, friends and community members whose lives were forever changed on April 23, 2018.
Alek Minassian has also been sentenced to 20 years for 15 counts of attempted murder, which are to be served concurrently.
He was found guilty last year of 10 counts of first-degree murder and 16 counts of attempted murder.
Eight women and two men died on April 23, 2018 when the 25-year-old man who was bent on infamy, angered by women who wouldn't sleep with him and radicalized in the depths of the internet deliberately drove a rented van down a busy sidewalk in the city's north end.
Another woman died more than three years later from injuries suffered that day.
Molloy stressed on Monday that this is a life sentence. "It is not a 25-year-sentence," she said.
What this means is 25 years after the crime, the offender can apply for parole — but that doesn't mean he will get it, she said, adding that the "number and enormity" of his crimes will be taken into account in any parole hearing.
An avalanche of harrowing victim impact statements, often presented through trembling voices and tears, was read into the record during the day-long sentencing hearing. Molloy thanked each person who spoke or submitted a written statement.
"You've reached into my heart, and touched me in a very profound way," she said, her voice shaking.
Heartbreaking victim impact statements
One such impassioned statement came from So Ra. She and her best friend, Sohe Chung, were walking on Yonge Street that day because they thought the weather was too nice to take the subway. In a victim impact statement that was read out in court, Ra said her last memory was waiting for a light to change — then she woke up on the ground, covered in blood and in unbearable pain, gasping for air. She found her friend on the ground a few metres away, not moving.
Ra was rushed to Sunnybrook hospital where she was diagnosed with a concussion and a collar bone fracture. She said almost all of the bones in her face were broken, save for her forehead. The swelling was so severe from an orbital bone fracture that she couldn't even open one of her eyes.
Through that pain, Ra kept asking about her best friend, who she described in her victim impact statement as her "soul mate."
"We connected on the soul level, and that is how well we got along," she said. "I admired and loved her so much."
That was why her physical pain was later dwarfed by the agony of finding out Chung hadn't survived. In that moment, she said, she truly understood heartbreak.
"When I heard about her death, my whole world crashed down around me," she said.
"I felt empty inside like I had a huge hole in my heart, which could not be filled."
Betty Forsyth, Ji Hun Kim, Sohe Chung, Geraldine Brady, Chul Min Kang, Anne Marie D'Amico, Munir Najjar, Dorothy Sewell, Andrea Bradden, Beutis Renuka Amarasingha and Amaresh Tesfamariam died as a result of attack.
Automatic life sentence
For victims and their families, this hearing marked the first opportunity to face the killer in person as the judge-alone trial and verdict occurred over videoconference during the pandemic. On Monday, he remained quiet throughout his sentencing hearing, sitting in an ill-fitting grey suit, balding, and spending much of the time staring at the floor.
The offender also chose not to speak when Molloy asked if he had anything to say.
In Canada, first-degree murder carries an automatic life sentence without the ability to apply for parole for 25 years.
During the trial, held in 2020, the Crown indicated it was going to be seeking consecutive life sentences. However, back in May, the Supreme Court of Canada declared unconstitutional a 2011 Criminal Code provision that allowed judges to impose parole ineligibility periods of 25 years to be served consecutively for each murder, rather than concurrently.
Molloy said sentencing for the case had been delayed while everyone involved waited for the Supreme Court's ruling. She said the "profound" and "heartbreaking" victim impact statements court heard Monday weren't for nothing.
"The fact that I cannot and am not imposing more than the 25-year parole eligibility does not mean that everything you said was not important," she said.
"What you said counts. It matters. It matters to me and it matters to other people who will have to make decisions in the future."
The Crown and defence also put forth a joint submission Monday that recognized Tesfamariam, who died more than three years later from injuries suffered in the attack. They recommended a life sentence for her death, which initially went ahead as an attempted murder as she was still alive during the trial.
Janice Kirby also spoke Monday of the immeasurable sorrow she has felt since the loss of her mother, Geraldine Brady. Kirby last spoke to her mother on the phone around 11 a.m. the morning of the attack.
"I'm grateful I had the chance to say I loved her," Kirby said.
Brady had gone out that day to run some errands — among them, to take out some cash for birthday cards for family that were signed and ready to go.
Kirby said she didn't get to celebrate her own birthday that year; instead, she spent it shopping for clothes to wear to her mother's funeral.
"My heart hurts every day," she said. "I can never understand this horrific, cowardly act."
Another victim impact statement came in the form of a drawing done by nine-year-old boy Diyon, who lost his mother, Renuka Amarasingha. He did not file any words as part of his victim impact statement — just the drawing.
A community shattered
Multiple civilians who provided CPR at the scene also spoke during court's morning session, and tearfully relayed how they still see the aftermath of what happened when they close their eyes.
Jiaxin Jiang told the court that the horror she saw that day has changed her life forever. Jiang performed CPR on a victim who died at the scene, leaving her with "years of guilt and self doubt as a healthcare professional in training," she said.
"I replayed the sequence of events on that day thousands of times in my head, questioning if I could have done things differently and if she would still be here today."
Tanya Kouzos was another first responder, who told the court she still endures flashbacks, seeing the fear and confusion on victims' faces and hearing the panic in their voices. Her voice, Kouzos said, was the last one some people ever heard.
"I live with the thought, 'was there more I could have done to help?' It's guilt and remorse I still feel even though [this was] caused by another person's evil choices," she said.
Molloy's voice cracked several times as she made sure to individually thank each person who spoke in court.
"I admire your courage. I am so sorry this happened to you," she told Jiang.
With files from The Canadian Press