OPINION: Alek Minassian is criminally responsible for Toronto’s van attack
Updated: Jun 13
Alek Minassian pleas not criminally responsible.
Alek Minassian, 28, diagnosed with autism, will likely face obstacles with his not criminally responsible plea. He faces 10 counts of first-degree murder and 16 counts of attempted murder. Minassian drove a Ryder van he rented, striking dozens of pedestrians on Yonge Street in April 2018. His murder trial began this week.
His defence lawyers have used a mental disorder as a reason why Minassian may plea NCR. However, this defence will not likely work because Minassian knew right from wrong during the attack.
Based on what Minassian said in his police interview with detective Rob Thomas hours after the rampage, he clearly understood what he did. The video below, released to the public in September 2019, shows parts of the interview.
Alek Minassian confesses to detective Rob Thomas that he was the man behind the wheel and explains his motive for the attack (Video credit: National Post).
Minassian knew what he was doing.
According to the above video, Minassian, a self-identified Incel, planned the attack weeks in advance because of sexual and social rejection. His goal was to revenge against society, particularly Chads and Stacys.
“I booked the van with Ryder to use as a tool for rebellion,” he said in the video. “It was time that I stood up to the Chads and Stacys.”
If he wanted to terrorize others for revenge, he knew killing people is immoral. Autism may make one vulnerable to rejection and mental health issues, but this does not mean violence is okay.
Elliot Rodger, who Minassian knew from chatting online with Incels, went on a killing spree in Isla Vista, California, in May 2014. This attack, along with Chris Harper Mercer’s attack at Oregon’s Umpqua Community College in October 2015, inspired him to do what he did. Minassian knew the consequences of those attacks. He admitted in the video he got radicalized after these attacks.
Mental illness shouldn’t be a defence.
Some may argue that Minassian was severely mentally ill on the day of the attack. If he was going through a serious mental condition that impaired thinking, he wouldn’t likely plan such an attack and rent a van, let alone be able to properly drive between the Ryder facility and the corner of Yonge and Finch in busy Toronto. It’s not like he suddenly lost his mind the second the attack begun and then he didn’t realize what he was doing was not okay. He knew. According to Global News, witnesses said that it looked like Minassian had full control of the vehicle.
CBC said that a psychiatrist who interviewed Minassian said he displayed an autistic way of thinking similar to psychosis. The psychiatrist said that they asked Minassian questions he wasn’t always able to answer well. The report said, “Minassian ‘would appear to be baffled’ by some questions and either didn’t answer questions or his answers ‘were off the mark with extraneous details or missing the point.'” Just because somebody doesn’t understand what one asks them, it doesn’t mean they don’t know it’s wrong to kill people.
Autistic people may act out and do socially inappropriate things without realizing them, but a 25-year-old high-functioning autistic person would know that premeditated violence is wrong. It’s not the same as an autistic preschooler throwing a tantrum because of a lack of impulse control or an autistic pre-teen missing a social cue. Minassian planned to do something horrific.
Autism has little to do with the attack.
If Minassian does indeed get an NCR standing because of his autism, it would not only let him get away from a despicable act more than he should, but it would be damaging to the autism community. It would rightly anger others on the spectrum because this implies that autistic people are more likely to engage in violent acts or that they can be dangerous without understanding their actions. His lawyers need to better understand what autism is.
According to HuffPost Canada, only 4.4 per cent of people on the spectrum have been convicted of a violent crime. When people with autism have committed violent acts, they also appeared to have comorbid diagnoses or adverse childhood experiences.
People shouldn’t blame the van attack on autism, but they also shouldn’t use autism as an excuse for it.
What will happen next?
According to CTV News, Minassian’s father will testify at his son’s trial starting Monday. Mr. Minassian Sr. will talk about Minassian’s upbringing and background. Where this could go from there will be eye-opening because Minassian deserves prison instead of a mental institution. He intentionally killed people.
Kayla Goodfield, a Toronto-based digital journalist at CTV News, has and will continue to live tweet about the murder trial. You can follow her on Twitter.