‘People want to know why it happened’; Judge orders release of interview by alleged Toronto van attack driver

The fact that Minassian, 26, was the man behind the wheel of the rental truck on April 23, 2018, is not in dispute

A man writes a message on a sign during a vigil April 24, 2018 in Toronto, Canada, near the site of the previous day's deadly street van attack. A van driver who ran over 10 people when he plowed onto a busy Toronto sidewalk was charged with murder Tuesday, as Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau urged a rattled nation not to live in fear after the "senseless attack." GEOFF ROBINS/AFP/Getty Images

Share Adjust Comment Print

A lengthy statement Alek Minassian gave to police hours after he was charged with killing 10 people by purposely crashing a van into them on a Toronto sidewalk last year will be made public next month — despite objections by his lawyers.

Minassian’s lawyers had argued that witnesses who are expected to testify at his trial next year “would be so affected” by what Minassian told police on the night of his arrest it could taint or influence the evidence they are willing to give.

However, Ontario Superior Court Justice Anne Molloy rejected the argument and ordered pretrial materials to become public documents five months before the scheduled start of his trial.

The fact that Minassian, 26, was the man behind the wheel of the rental truck on April 23, 2018, is not in dispute.

“Mr. Minassian did confess to being the driver of the van,” Molloy said. “This will not be a controversial issue at trial.

“It is hard to imagine a witness being called who will not already know that Mr. Minassian drove a van down a Toronto sidewalk killing and injuring many people,” she said in her ruling released Friday.

Witnesses will also likely already know “his apparent motivation,” namely involvement with the incel (short for “involuntary celibate”) movement, she said. (Incel ideology was formed by an online community of men who feel dangerously aggrieved by their inability to attract sexual interest from women.)

It would be surprising, then, she said, for someone who knew Minassian well enough to be called as a witness about his life to have their perception of him unchanged by knowing what he did, but then notably tainted by what he said.

Instead, much of the evidence at his upcoming trial is expected to dwell on his state of mind or level of intent.

Alek Minassian is shown in a photo from his LinkedIn page. Minassian was a month away from completing his degree at Toronto’s Seneca College when he reached out to an information technology recruitment firm in search of employment. The Canadian Press

“The Crown will need to prove that Mr. Minassian had the requisite state of mind for murder and attempted murder. His demeanour and words at the time of, and not long after, his arrest will be relevant evidence on those issues,” Molloy said.

Normally, media would not be allowed to reveal the content of such an interview until it was entered as a formal exhibit at trial. However, Postmedia and other news organizations asked the trial judge to allow publication now because Minassian’s guilt or innocence will be decided by a judge without a jury and because of the compelling public importance of the material.

At Friday’s court hearing, Minassian sat impassively in the prisoner’s box after being led in wearing shackles. Pale, and with his hair shaved to a close crop, he sat with his head bowed. During breaks, he read intently from a small book with dense text.

Molloy accepted the media’s arguments and rejected the request by Minassain’s lawyer, Boris Bytensky, to keep the police interview, as well as other material, from publication until the end of the trial or at least until its start.

Molloy called that an unacceptable infringement on the principle of open courts, particularly for an incident of such public importance.

“The Toronto van attack is an incident in Toronto’s history that has had a deep impact on many of its residents. It is expected that media coverage of, and public interest in, the trial will be intense. The people of Toronto are entitled to know what evidence is being presented at trial,” she said.

“This was a tragedy with a wide and devastating impact within the Toronto community and beyond. People want to know why it happened.”

Bytensky said in court materials he expects to call several witnesses who have personally known Minassian at various points in his life, including at least one family member.

Among the other material ordered to be released next month are details of three encrypted electronic devices that police were not able to access.

Also included in the material is information about a man now facing charges in London, Ont., of threatening to cause death to unknown persons that was “possibly inspired by the Toronto van attack,” said Molloy.

In that case, Alex Penkala was charged in London and has yet to have his case resolved by the court.

Minassian’s police interview and other material is scheduled to become public on Sept. 27. The delay is to allow lawyers to consider an appeal and for witnesses to be interviewed before Minassian’s statement to police is released to allay any concern about its tainting impact.

Highlighting the need for caution over issuing publication bans, Molloy wrote: “Public respect for the administration of justice in this country cannot be enhanced by secrecy; it can only be damaged by it.”

Minassian is charged with 10 counts of murder and 16 counts of attempted murder.

• Email: ahumphreys@nationalpost.com | Twitter:

Comments