Psychiatrist rejects autism as factor in van attack
Minassian’s need to be remembered drove his actions, Woodside said
Alek Minassian would be better described as a mass killer who happens to have autism spectrum disorder rather than someone whose autism spectrum disorder made him commit mass murder, the Crown’s forensic psychiatrist testified Thursday.
Dr. Scott Woodside testified that Minassian told him he “wanted to want to do” the van attack and that he used negative thoughts including from the incel ideology to “rev” himself up before running down pedestrians on Yonge Street on April 23, 2018.
“He was trying to push out all thoughts of trying to talk himself out of it,” Woodside said, adding this was nothing to do with Minassian’s autism, but to a common human ability to compartmentalize or rationalize actions in order to do what they want to do and ignore the harm they might inflict on other people in the process.
Minassian had been fantasizing about a school shooting since high school as a way to take revenge on his bullies, Woodside said, and expressed that he would kill indiscriminately and want a “high body count” that would be celebrated in online rankings.
“I don’t think there is anything particular about mass murder somehow being more appealing to individuals with autism spectrum disorder than to any other person,” Woodside said.
“I don’t think we really understand what drives people to develop that interest … why people would be attracted to
Minassian is seeking to be found not criminally responsible for 10 counts of first-degree murder and 16 counts of attempted murder, which would mean he would be sent to a hospital indefinitely rather than to prison.
In a legal first in Canada, Minassian is arguing that his autism spectrum disorder rendered him unable to know what he was doing was morally wrong. His defence lawyer, Boris Bytensky, has said he will argue Minassian was unable to make rational decisions.
The Crown has said they will not be arguing that autism spectrum disorder in general does not qualify as a mental disorder for the purposes of the not criminally responsible legal test — Superior Court Justice Anne Molloy said Thursday she believes it does. But the Crown will be arguing whether Minassian’s form of autism spectrum disorder, which they say is less severe than the defence experts claim, qualifies.
Woodside, a well-known forensic psychiatrist based the
Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, said Minassian told him he didn’t think he was mentally ill at the time of the attack, but said if he was, he might not have noticed.
Minassian specifically cited the misogynistic incel movement in a Facebook post sent during the attack, and later told police that was his motivation. Later, however, he told multiple assessors that was a ruse done to boost the profile of the attack.
He told Woodside he’d asked out three women in his college years and been rejected, but attributed his lack of success to being shy and having trouble starting conversations. Around that time, he started going onto websites, like the incel Reddit forum r/ForeverAlone, where there was what he described as “hate-filled and mean” commentary about women.
“He read that and used that to make himself feel better,” Woodside said. “He knew that was not the whole story … but he said it helped him forget that it took, as he put, effort on his part to be in a relationship.”
He denied feeling rage or hatred towards women, and hadn’t thought about whether he’d be considered a misogynist. He described feeling “annoyed” towards women and that he didn’t have a relationship.
Woodside asked Minassian if he would have postponed the attack if a woman had shown interest in him. “He told me he might have postponed it for a while … if he’d been in a relationship and it was going well he might not have wanted to complete his attack,” Woodside said. “At the same time, he said if it was not going well, he lost his job or just felt things in general weren’t going well he still most likely would have gone forward with his attack.”
Woodside said in the months and weeks preceding the attack, Minassian said he was reading the manifesto of mass killer Elliot Rodger and reading incel forums, though how often is unclear. He was also about to start new job at which he was terrified of failing, Woodside said. He’d been fired from his last job after repeatedly playing video games at work after he quickly finished his tasks for the day and didn’t want to spend two weeks feeling like he’d disappointed his parents again, he said.
He believed this new job was his last chance at work and that if he screwed up, he’d be unemployable, Woodside said. Before he could fail, he wanted to do something that would make sure “his name lived on.” Woodside said Minassian didn’t really seem to care who was talking about him, as long as they remembered his name. “This trial is a good example of that, if he had contemplated living this is the type of publicity he might have thought about,” Woodside said.