Toronto van attack: Driver ‘didn’t know’ he was doing wrong, lawyer says

The lawyer for a man who allegedly used a van to kill 10 pedestrians in Toronto has said he has autism spectrum disorder and didn’t know what he was doing was wrong.

Alek Minassian faces 10 counts of first-degree murder and 16 counts of attempted murder in connection with the April 23, 2018, attack that drew attention to an online world of sexual loneliness, rage and misogyny. He pleaded not guilty last week.

Minassian, 28, told police he belonged to an online community of sexually frustrated men, some of whom have plotted attacks on people who have sex.

He is accused of driving a rental van into crowds of pedestrians in a busy north Toronto neighbourhood. Eight women and two men ranging in age from 22 to 94 died.

His lawyer, Boris Bytensky, is arguing his client is not criminally responsible and that Minassian only understood wrongfulness at intellectual level but not at rational level and therefore could not make a rational decision as to whether or not to carry out the attack.

“He lacked the capacity to rationally decide whether it was right or wrong,” Bystensky said.

Minassian’s father, Vahe Minassian, testified that his son was diagnosed with “pervasive development disorder” when he was 5 years old. Bystensky said that now is known as autism spectrum disorder.

Bystensky noted the vast majority of people with autism spectrum disorder are non-violent and are more likely to be victims of violence. He said the incident was completely unexpected to all that knew him and that Minassian had no history of violence.

The judge has said the case will turn on Minassian’s state of mind at the time.

Minassian, who said he never had a girlfriend and was a virgin, admitted to police he used the van as a weapon and said he wanted to inspire more attacks.

Minassian called himself an “incel”, short for “involuntary celibate”, an online subculture which has been linked to other attacks and that often promotes the idea men are entitled to have sex with women.

Like-minded people in internet forums sometimes use “Chad” and “Stacy” as dismissive slang for men and women with more active sex lives.

– AP

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