As trial for Toronto van attack suspect begins, focus expected to be on state of mind in 2018

The trial of a 28-year-old man accused of killing 10 and injuring 16 after driving a van down Toronto’s Yonge Street in 2018 over the course of several minutes begins in a downtown courtroom Tuesday morning.

Alek Minassian admitted to planning and carrying out the April 23 attack through an agreed statement of facts presented to the court in March. However, the judge previously said the case will turn on Minassian’s state of mind at the time of the attack, not whether he did it.

Once proceedings get underway, defence lawyers are expected to try to convince Justice Anne Molloy that Minassian had an unspecified mental illness that rendered him incapable of knowing what he did was wrong. He pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Cathy Riddell, a 70-year-old North York resident who was injured during the attack, said she will be attending the trial.

“I’m grateful that it’s happening because it’s been a long wait,” she told Global News, adding she’s disappointed she’ll have to watch the proceedings through a digital video feed due to COVID-19 restrictions.

“I really wanted the opportunity to face him. I wanted him to actually see me and other people and to realize we’re for real, it’s not a game and he did real harm.”

A limited number of people will be allowed inside the courthouse during the judge-alone trial. After facing multiple delays, the trial is scheduled to last for at least six weeks.

Interested members of the public will be able to follow the proceedings at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.

During a previously released, four-hour interview between Minassian and Toronto Police Det. Rob Thomas, Minassian said it was him behind the wheel.

When asked several questions about his background, Minassian often told Thomas he didn’t want to answer the questions. However, when the conversation — often casual and calm in tone — turned to how he was treated by women and relationships, Minassian began to open up to Thomas.

Minassian drove south on Yonge Street and said he deliberately struck pedestrians in an act of “retribution,” discussing how the incel (involuntary celibacy) community fueled his desire to act.

After travelling more than two kilometres in seven minutes, Minassian pulled over on Poyntz Avenue, southwest of Yonge Street and Sheppard Avenue West, after he said someone’s drink splashed onto the vehicle and reduced his ability to see out the windshield.

He was arrested moments later by Const. Ken Lam, who was praised for his use of de-escalation techniques during the arrest and for not using a weapon. Minassian later told police he tried to engage in “suicide by cop” by flashing his wallet, hoping it would be mistaken for a gun.

Thomas, a veteran Toronto police officer and polygraph examiner, was brought in to question Minassian. The videotaped interview, released in September 2019 after a publication ban was lifted, occurred at a police station near the scene, starting almost nine hours after Minassian was taken into custody.

Boris Bytensky, Minassian’s defence counsel, requested a publication ban of the interrogation in July 2019 on behalf of his client and his client’s family, citing concerns it might taint witness testimony and impact the Minassian family’s privacy.

A temporary ban was put in place while the court reviewed the matter. However, Global News and a number of other media outlets hired lawyers to challenge it in court. The ban was removed by Justice Molloy, saying it counters the open and accessible principles of the court system.

— With files from The Canadian Press

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