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Minassian had an initial target of 100 people and knew his attack was morally wrong, says psychiatrist.

The scene at the end of the van attack in Toronto on April 23, 2018 [The Canadian Press/Aaron Vincent Elkaim]
Minassian told the Crown’s psychiatrist that he was very happy and excited that people were watching the news and talking about what he had done

December 13, 2020

By Talha Hashmani

By the end of the third week of trial, the Crown’s second expert witness took to the stand, testifying that Alek Minassian understood the moral implications of his actions during the 2018 van attack that led to the murder of 10 people and injuring 16 others.

Following the end of Dr. Alexander Westphal’s testimony on Monday, the Crown’s first expert witness, Dr. Percy Wright, began his examination in chief. Wright, a forensic psychologist who works at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), stated that Minassian was able to acknowledge other people’s perspectives and had a high degree of the theory of mind. This theory has been a reoccurring topic of interest in court. According to Wright, the theory of mind is the understanding that everyone has a different mindset which consists of a variety of different forms of emotions and ways of thinking.

In an article for Very Well Mind, Kendra Cherry writes that the theory of mind (ToM) is an “important social-cognitive skill that involves the ability to think about mental states, both your own and those of others.”. It is a skill, as Cherry writes, that “allows people to infer the intentions of others” and understand others’ “emotions, desires, beliefs, and knowledge.”.

In his testimony last week, Westphal brought up the theory of mind to show that Minassian could not understand the impact his attack had on his victims. Westphal stated that Minassian knew that murder was wrong, but could not appreciate the effect it would have on people. To that end, Dr. Wright testified that Minassian did in fact recognize the moral implications of his actions.

When asked by the defence counsel about the discrepancies in each of the psychologists’ reports, Wright said that two different experts may come to conclusions that are different from one another.

In an interview with Wright, Minassian said that the van attack was something that he wanted to successfully accomplish and receive a great deal of recognition online.

The Crown’s other expert witness, Dr. Scott Woodside, testified following Wright’s examination and spoke in detail regarding his assessment of Minassian. Woodside is a consultant psychiatrist at CAMH and a lecturer of psychiatry at UofT.

Minassian told Woodside in various interviews that he did not have any strong feelings against women, but mentioned that he was annoyed at the rejection he faced from them. Minassian also said that he went on websites like Forever Alone and accessed various forums on Reddit to read negative comments about women which made him feel better about himself.

In his report, Woodside noted that Minassian thought of the Incel ideology as a way to “rev” himself up and force himself into the mindset of carrying out the attack. Woodside testified that Minassian told him that he was happy with the attention he received after the attack, saying that he did not want to be just an “average mass killer” and used the Incel movement as a means to increase the notoriety of his actions.

The following is an excerpt from Woodside’s report:

“Mr. Minassain stated with the police, he was thinking beforehand about how to prepare himself. He was thinking about the Incel ideology as a way of ‘forcing myself into the mindset… so that I don’t chicken out at the last minute’. ‘I was thinking negatively on purpose….’. He agreed he was using [the ideology] to ‘rev’ himself up….’”.

Woodside noted in his report that there was no significant evidence of a major mental disorder in Minassian. As to whether Minassian’s ASD diagnosis hindered his ability to understand the implications, Woodside said that there was nothing that indicated Minassian could not understand the severity and impact of his attack on his victims.

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