By Chris Summers 4 January 2021
On 24 April 2018 shoppers were browsing and dawdling in downtown Toronto when a white van appeared, mounting the pavement and mowing down people.
The van hit 26 people in Yonge Street, killing of them, and it was initially feared the attacker was a Muslim copycat attacker, mimicking the chaos achieved by similar assaults in Nice, Berlin, London, Barcelona and Stockholm.
But when Alek Minassian was arrested and interrogated it turned out he was not a Muslim and his motivation stemmed from a burning rage against women, especially attractive women who he perceived had rejected him.
Minassian, 28, went on trial on 10 November 2020, charged with 10 counts of premeditated murder and 16 attempted murders.
The ten people who died were Anne Marie D’Amico, 30, Dorothy Sewell, 80, Renuka Amarasingha, 45, Munir Najjar, 85, Chul Min Kang – known as Eddie, 45, Betty Forsyth, 94, Sohe Chung, 22, Andrea Bradden, 33, Geraldine Brady, 83 and Ji Hun Kim, 22.
There was no dispute Minassian had been the driver of the van, which he had rented from Ryder – one of North America’s biggest vehicle hire firms – just a few moments before.
The only question was – why?
Minassian’s mother said he had Asperger’s syndrome, a form of autism which impaired his ability to communicate.
At his trial Minassian’s lawyer, Boris Bytensky, called Dr Alexander Westphal as his main witness but the psychiatrist’s evidence caused outrage.
Dr Westphal attributed Minassian’s actions to “his autistic way of thinking”, which he said was “severely distorted similar to psychosis.”
Autism Canada took the exceptional step of making a statement during Minassian’s trial in which they said they wanted to “publicly denounce the egregious claims” made by Dr Westphal.
Autism Canada said: “These claims are wholly unsubstantiated, merely speculative, and made carelessly without any published evidence proving autism, on its own, is a risk factor for becoming violent against other people.”
Dr. Peter Szatmari, from Canada’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, said: “There is no psychosis in ASD (Autistic Spectrum Disorder) and no tendency to anti-social behaviour any more than in the general population. You would not get any serious objection from the academic community on that account.”
The chair of Autism Canada’s board, Dermot Cleary, said: “We ask that all parties be mindful of the potential for unwarranted and negative perceptions which can impact on over half a million Canadians living with ASD.”
Sohom Das, a British forensic psychiatrist, said recently: “It is really important to understand that criminal responsibility is a completely separate entity from the diagnosis of mental illness, even though the diagnosis can cause a lapse of criminal responsibility.”
On his Psych For Sore Minds podcast, Dr Das said: “A person can have a very severe mental illness, whether that’s depression, autism, psychosis such as hearing voices, or personality disorder, and yet still have criminal responsibility.”
He said to prove someone was not guilty by reason of insanity, the evidentiary threshold was usually high in most countries.
Minassian’s trial also heard he was described as a “high-functioning” autistic, with an above-average IQ.
So if Minassian (pictured, right) was criminally responsible, why did he do it?
Minassian self-identified as an incel, an involuntary celibate, and praised Elliot Rodger, who had shot and stabbed six people in Isla Vista, California in 2014 before turning his gun on himself.
Rodger, 22, had earlier posted a “retribution” video on YouTube and emailed a lengthy autobiographical document to more than 30 acquaintances.
The online community of incels soon latched onto the document.
Just before embarking on his own murderous attack Minassian went on the message board 4Chan and posted a “manifesto.”
It began: “Private (Recruit) Minassian Infantry 00010, wishing to speak to Sgt 4chan please. C23249161. The Incel Rebellion has already begun! We will overthrow all the Chads and Stacys! All hail the Supreme Gentleman Elliot Rodger!”
During his police interrogation Minassian said he had been motivated by his hatred of women, which was linked to his intense sexual frustration and his frequent rejection by females.
He said he joined the online incel community and shared their ideology, which espouses a hatred of “Chads” (handsome, muscular and charming men) and “Stacys” (beautiful, sexy and unattainable women).
Minassian even said he was sad he had not killed more young and attractive women in his attack.
Minassian and Rodger (pictured) are seen by some incels as “heroes.”
In May 2020 a teenage incel was charged with terrorism after he killed Ashley Noell Arzaga, 24, with a machete at a Toronto massage parlour.
It would appear the incel threat is not over and it may be only a matter of time before one of them mounts an attack in Britain or mainland Europe.
Justice Anne Molloy will announce on 3 March whether she believes Minassian was guilty of murder and was not criminally responsible due to his ASD.