Accused Toronto van attacker’s state of mind to be key issue at trial, judge says

Exactly what Alek Minassian told detectives in the aftermath of last year’s deadly van attack in Toronto won’t be public until next month, but one thing is clear: he confessed to being behind the wheel of the vehicle.

As a result, the 26-year-old’s judge-only trial will hinge on his state of mind during the attack that left 10 people dead and 16 others injured, wrote Ontario Superior Court Justice Anne Molloy in a decision issued Friday.

CBC News was in court along with several other media outlets Friday with the hope of being able to report more details about Minassian’s statement to police after his arrest on April 23, 2018.

Molloy opted to keep a publication ban on much of the material in place until Sept. 27. She did, however, rule that media can report on elements of the case included in her decision today.

Minassian is charged with 10 counts of first-degree murder and 16 counts of attempted murder for the deadly attack on a busy stretch of Yonge Street. Molloy will oversee his judge-only trial, set to begin on Feb. 10, 2020.

Also reportable is that police seized three encrypted electronic devices, but that neither investigators nor experts were able to access them. The devices include a laptop seized at the Minassian family home in Richmond Hill, Ont., containing two hard drives, along with two cellphones.

In her decision, Molloy also references the arrest of a London, Ont., man 10 days after the van attack. The man was charged by London police with uttering death threats against “unknown persons” in a video posted online. Those charges have not been proven in court.

Concern over witnesses

Minassian’s lawyer had argued for a publication ban on his statement to police and all other pretrial documents until the trial begins next year.

Boris Bytensky said allowing details to be published would taint potential witnesses, a position supported by the Crown, but one that the judge disagreed with.

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

“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 added.

Several media outlets, including CBC News, had fought the defence’s request for the ban.

Ultimately, Molloy delayed lifting the publication ban until next month to give the defence time to launch an appeal, if it chooses.

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