TORONTO — The man who drove a van down a crowded Toronto sidewalk and killed 10 people said his actions are "99 per cent irredeemable" after turning to the bible in jail, court heard Thursday.
Alek Minassian made the comment on Dec. 12, 2019, to Dr. Alexander Westphal, a psychiatrist retained by the defence.
"I think it would be considered probably extremely irredeemable, like 99 per cent chance irredeemable," Minassian said in his orange jumpsuit while in a Toronto jail.
Crown attorney Joe Callaghan argued the 10-minute video clip should be put into evidence as it shows a different side of Minassian than the one portrayed thus far by psychiatrists who say he lacks empathy, shows no emotion and has no insight into the minds and feelings of others.
Callaghan said the clip shows Minassian engaged in conversation while answering questions at length and shows insight into the thoughts of others.
Minassian has pleaded not guilty to 10 counts of first-degree murder and 16 of attempted murder. He argues he should be found not criminally responsible due to autism spectrum disorder.
After admitting to planning and carrying out the attack, his state of mind at the time is the sole issue at trial.
Justice Anne Molloy, presiding over the case without a jury, allowed the video into evidence.
Molloy said this appears to show a different Minassian, not baffled and unresponsive and stuck in a concrete way of thinking as others have previously testified.
"This is not concrete, this is very esoteric, philosophical almost — not almost, it is," the judge said.
Minassian, an atheist, told Westphal he began reading the bible while under suicide watch at the Toronto South Detention Centre.
He said the bible gives him a "sense of hope."
During breaks at the trial, which is being held by videoconference due to the pandemic, Minassian can be seen flipping through a red bible in the small room at the jail where he watches the proceedings.
He told Westphal he reads it every day.
He said he can see how the bible can be used to help change people's lifestyles as a path to redemption.
"A preacher, let’s say he tells his nephew God is very disappointed about what you're doing and the nephew might realize he's saying, really, your family is disappointed," Minassian said to Westphal.
The Crown said that passage shows Minassian's insight into the perspective of others.
"I don't think him expressing an analogy the man is controlling his nephew by God is saying anything Mr. Minassian's overall understanding of morality," Westphal said.
Minassian's lawyer had said Westphal would be the only expert to say the 28-year-old from Richmond Hill, Ont., should be found not criminally responsible for his actions, but the psychiatrist has stopped short of making that conclusion.
Westphal said Minassian does not truly understand the moral wrongfulness of killing 10 people, but said criminal responsibility is a legal opinion, not a psychiatric one.
Earlier, court heard that Minassian said he had a strong desire to commit the attack.
"I felt a strong desire to want to especially as the time ... approached, but I didn't feel compelled to do it, I didn't really feel I had to do it," Minassian said.
While Minassian said he didn't feel he had to do it, the prosecution said those words seemed at odds with a report by Westphal that said Minassian felt he "had to go through with it" after making the decision to go forward with his plan.
Under questioning from the Crown, Westphal said Minassian was not compelled to commit the attack.
The Crown repeatedly asked why that was not in the report, a question Westphal seemed confused by.
"You only included facts that fit your narrative, you're not interested in an objective view," Callaghan said, his voice raised.
"I think I accurately captured that aspect I don't think he was compelled to do it," Westphal said.
Court has heard that Minassian booked the rental van weeks earlier with the idea to use it as a weapon to strike people.
He told Westphal that he knew it was wrong by "society’s moral standards, the most important one being that it is extremely wrong to kill people."
He has told various people different reasons why he committed the attack including anxiety around a software development job that was to start a week after the attack.
Westphal asked Minassian why he did it.
"An extreme desire to want to do it, the fact I already booked (the van) and was so close to going through with my plan, feeling social isolation and the nervousness about the job, socially and performance-wise," Minassian said.
The Crown also pointed out all of Minassian's successes to the psychiatrist.
He graduated from high school with a 76 per cent average and completed a software engineer degree at Seneca College. In his last year of college, Minassian achieved a 4.0 grade point average, the highest mark possible.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 3, 2020.
Liam Casey, The Canadian Press