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No remorse or apology, Alek Minassian's father testifies at van attack trial

TORONTO — Alek Minassian has not shown any remorse or apologized for killing 10 people and injuring 16 more in Toronto's van attack, his father testified Monday as he broke down on the stand.

TORONTO — Alek Minassian has not shown any remorse or apologized for killing 10 people and injuring 16 more in Toronto's van attack, his father testified Monday as he broke down on the stand.

Vahe Minassian told court he has visited Alek in jail regularly since his arrest on April 23, 2018, when he drove a rental van down a busy Toronto sidewalk.

Alek Minassian has admitted to planning and carrying out the attack, but he has pleaded not guilty to 10 counts of first-degree murder and 16 counts of attempted murder.

His defence lawyer, Boris Bytensky, has asked the judge to find the 28-year-old from Richmond Hill, Ont., not criminally responsible for his actions on the day of the attack.

"Has he ever appeared remorseful for what he’s done?" Bytensky asked Vahe Minassian on the stand.

"No," the man replied through tears.

"Has he ever apologized?" the lawyer continued.

"No," Vahe Minassian said as he wiped his eyes with a handkerchief.

During a visit in the spring, Alek said he was looking forward to the trial so "everybody will see that I haven’t done anything wrong,” his father said.

"Over time that has led me to believe that he really does not understand what’s happened," Vahe Minassian said.

Autism is the only diagnosis at play in Alek Minassian's defence, his lawyers said Monday.

Minassian's father said his son had no history of violence and had not acted out since when he was a toddler.

He said he has never seen his son cry or show emotion, even when someone he loves, such as his brother, is sick or in pain.

Over and over again since the attack, Vahe Minassian said he has tried to put into perspective the likelihood that his son would commit such an attack.

"The best chance of this happening is being struck by lightning on a sunny day, perhaps twice," he said.

There were no warning signs in the days, weeks and months leading up to the attack, he said. 

"Every day we’ve been asking ourselves the question: what possible signs could there have been that we would have possibly missed?" Vahe Minassian said.

"To this date, we have no answers to that."

The case will turn solely on Minassian's state of mind at the time.

Seeking a not-criminally-responsible finding means the defence must prove beyond a balance of probabilities that it's more likely than not that Minassian had a mental disorder that impacted his actions to the extent that he didn't understand what he was doing was wrong.

"This case is quite unusual your honour," Bytensky said in his opening remarks as he addressed Justice Anne Molloy, who is presiding over the case without a jury.

"The sole relevant diagnosis is autism spectrum disorder, or sometimes referred to as autism."

Autism is not commonly litigated in not-criminally-responsible defences, he said. 

"He is not a psychopath, he's not narcissistic, doesn't suffer from anti-social disorder and I'll expect you to hear he isn't a malingerer — or faking his symptoms," Bytensky said.

Autism is a neurological condition that affects how the brain functions.

People with autism may find it hard to connect with others, sometimes have difficulty communicating, repeat certain patterns of behaviour, and show interest in a limited number of activities, according to Autism Canada.

Numerous autism groups have said those with autism are far more likely to be on the receiving end of bullying and violence than inflicting it.

Hours before Alek Minassian went on a rampage down Yonge Street, Vahe Minassian said he drove his son to a Starbucks where he was meeting with a friend. There was  nothing unusual about Alek that morning, Vahe Minassian testified.

But that was a ruse, court heard last week. After his father dropped him off, Minassian walked four kilometres to a Ryder rental location to pick up a cargo van he had booked several weeks prior.

Later that day, the elder Minassian was pulled over by police and taken to a detachment for questioning. They only told him there had been an accident and several people had been taken to hospital.

After the police interview, Vahe Minassian searched on his phone and came across an article with a video of a man being arrested.

"I read a little and clicked on the link and there was a video," Vahe Minassian said as he cried - his son watching him with no reaction.

"It was a video of my son being arrested by police," he said. 

"I was in a complete state of shock and confusion," Vahe Minassian said. "I could not understand, I kept asking myself, how is this even possible?"

Vahe Minassian said his son was diagnosed with pervasive developmental disorder — now considered under the umbrella of autism spectrum disorder — around the age of five.

He was strong in some subjects like science and math — he could add or subtract three-digit numbers in his head instantly in kindergarten. But he struggled with most other subjects and especially had a hard time socially, Vahe Minassian said.

He said his son was often teased at school, but didn't appear to be affected by it. 

Court heard last week that a psychiatrist hired by the defence found Minassian had an "autistic way of thinking" that was similar to psychosis.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 16, 2020.

The Canadian Press