Psychiatrist at van trial says Minassian had fascination with mass shootings

By News Staff, The Canadian Press

Warning: Details of the trial are graphic in nature, discretion is advised

A psychiatrist who assessed Alek Minassian for several days following the deadly Toronto van attack continued to testify at the virtual trial on Thursday, recalling how her attempts to get him to open up about his experiences with bullying and loneliness were sidetracked when he instead began fixating on his long-held fantasies of mass shootings.

Dr. Rebecca Chauhan assessed Minassian over three days in September 2018. She testified on Wednesday that his autism spectrum disorder left him struggling to understand emotions and vulnerable to the online writings of mass killer Elliot Rodger, who killed six people in a 2014 attack near the campus of the University of California.

She testified Thursday that Minassian told her he read Rodger’s manifesto almost daily between January and April, 2018.

After assessing him, she wrote in her report that Minassian started reading about mass murders and became interested in the subject in high school. “He would fanaticize about shooting people every three to four months,” she wrote.

Dr. Chauhan was brought on by Dr. John Bradford, the defence’s main forensic psychiatrist, because he wanted a second opinion on Minassian’s autism diagnosis.

The court also saw notes from Dr. Bradford’s assessments, where Minassian admitted that large parts of his initial police confession were fabricated, including his connection to the Incel (Involuntary Celibate) movement that inspired Rodgers’ killing spree. Bradford’s notes say that Minassian “denies being radicalized by the (Incel) movement.”

Minassian also denied to Bradford every being in contact with Rodgers — despite telling police that they had online contact leading up to Rodgers’ mass murder spree.

Dr. Bradford’s notes say the Minassian blamed the van attack on extreme anxiety — especially about starting a new job as a computer programmer.

“He maintains his motivation for his behaviour was worry about the future and not being able to hold down a job,” Bradford wrote. “Specifically failing because of the social situation and expectation at work.”

When asked what Minassian’s demeanour was during her assessemnt, Dr. Chauhan noted that “his voice was monotone” and said “there was no emotion.”

For the most part he avoided eye contact, she said, but other times he made “intense eye contact that was very unnerving.”

On Thursday the Crown questioned Dr. Chauhan, noting that her assessment of Minassian differed from that of another doctor, most notably in a section on empathy.

Dr. Chauhan gave Minassian a score of 3 when assessing his emphatic or emotional gestures, meaning “no or very limited,” while another doctor found he had “some” but they were exaggerated or limited in frequency, appropriateness or style.

Whether or not Minassian can feel empathy and understand whether his actions were right or wrong lays at the foundation of his team’s not criminally responsible defence.

The defence case rests on the argument that his autism spectrum disorder meant he couldn’t fully understand the consequences of his actions during the attack, which killed 10 and injured 16 others.

CityNews reporter Adrian Ghobrial is covering the trial, follow his tweets below:


Minassian has admitted in court to planning and carrying out the attack. The only issue to be decided at trial is his state of mind at the time of the attack.

Dr. Chauhan further testified Wednesday that in her conversations with Minassian, he admitted that he intended to kill every single person he struck with a rental van in April of 2018, especially young, attractive women.

In her assessment of Minassian’s autism, she concluded he suffers from a certain level of “mind blindness,” meaning he seems to “struggle with grasping the internal world of others and why they’d be so distressed.”

The doctor also made it clear to the court that she’s “not suggesting people with autism spectrum disorder are immoral. They learn from people around them the difference between right and wrong. They’re still able to make moral decisions but with less sophistication.” She added that when a situation is more complex, it can overwhelm a person with autism.

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