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'Violent traits have no connection to autism': Reaction to Alek Minassian's guilty verdict

Last Updated Mar 3, 2021 at 6:20 pm EDT

A tribute for Betty Forsyth is seen among tributes on a memorial at Yonge St. and Finch Ave. in Toronto on Thursday, April 26, 2018 for the victims of Monday's deadly van attack. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Cole Burston THE CANADIAN PRESS/Cole Burston

Ontario’s Autism Coalition (OAC), surviving victims, and family members of lost loved ones are reacting to the verdict of the man responsible for carrying out the 2018 van attack in Toronto.

Alek Minassian had pleaded not guilty to 10 counts of first-degree murder and 16 of attempted murder but was found guilty of all charges on Wednesday.

He argued he should be found not criminally responsible for his actions on April 23, 2018, due to his autism spectrum disorder.

Justice Anne Molloy said Minassian was fully capable of making a rational choice at the time and deliberately chose to commit mass murder.

Betty Forsyth, Ji Hun Kim, So He Chung, Geraldine Brady, Chul Min Kang, Anne Marie Victoria D’Amico, Munir Najjar, Dorothy Marie Sewell, Andrea Bradden, and Beutis Renuka Amarasingha died in the attack.

Ontario’s Autism Coalition issued a statement immediately following Molloy’s verdict, saying that they are relieved for the families and everyone grieving the heinous act that was deliberately carried out almost three years ago.

“Violent traits have no connection to autism,” the coalition said.

“In fact, people on the autism spectrum are far more likely to be victims as opposed to perpetrators of violence. The court’s decision makes it clear this was never a case of autism causing mass murder, but rather a case where someone who committed mass murder happened to have autism.”

RELATED: Crown says autism did not cause Minassian to kill 10 people in Toronto van attack, verdict coming March 3

But the defence argued that because of autism, Minassian never developed empathy, and that lack of empathy left him incapable of rational choice.

The Crown argued that Minassian is a mass killer who happens to have autism and knew right from wrong.

“An autism diagnosis does not predispose one to commit acts of violence,” the autism coalition continued.

“Individuals with autism are our neighbours, coworkers, and friends. Today’s verdict offers hope that our community can move forward despite the arguments of one defense attorney that autism is a valid defense for one of the most violent, abhorrent, acts carried out against so many people.”

The 28-year-old from Richmond Hil admitted to planning and carrying out the attack, leaving his state of mind the only issue at trial.

We’re also hearing from one of the victims who survived the attack on April 23.

Catherine Riddell says she is satisfied with the verdict.

“It’s a relief off my shoulders that we finally got this trial done,” said Riddell on Wednesday.

“Even in a pandemic justice prevails.”

Robert Forsyth, whose 94-year-old aunt Betty Forsyth died after being hit from behind by Minassian, welcomed Molloy’s decision.

“I’m happy with the decision, although it’s hard to use the word happy when you lose a loved one like this,” he said. “It was clear he knew what he was doing.”

Elwood Delaney, whose grandmother, Dorothy Sewell, died during Minassian’s rampage, was also glad to hear Molloy’s guilty finding.

“I’m relieved that he was found guilty on all charges,” said Delaney, who watched the proceedings from his home in Kamloops, B.C., with his wife and oldest son.

“We now can start to close this awful chapter and try to move on to a new norm.”

Interim Toronto Police chief James Ramer said today’s verdict is a “step forward in what has been a long and painful case that impacted our entire city.”

“The effects of that day three years ago has stayed with the families and friends of those who were murdered or injured, and those who were left behind to mourn. It has stayed with those who witnessed the horrific scene and it continues to stay with every one of the first responders who attended,” said Ramer in a statement.

“I’d like to thank those members of the public who came forward to help the police investigation. We interviewed hundreds of witnesses and reviewed many images and videos sent to us to help this case.”

Angela Brandt, President of the OAC, also commented on the verdict, saying “there is nothing inherently violent about autism.”

“Mentally healthy people, autistic or not, do not commit acts of violence,” said Brandt.

“I hope Alek Minassian gets the help he requires.”

Riddell, who was injured in the attack, says the trial was very difficult and emotionally draining.

“It has been very hard to absorb. It’s like I am going through trauma now that I didn’t before,” said Riddell.

“It’s hard to put into words and that’s why I feel relief and not excited or happy. It’s just the beginning for me. It’s going to be a long journey but I am going to get there.”

With files from The Canadian Press

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