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Toronto van attack trial adjourned until Monday when U.S. autism expert will testify

Last Updated Nov 27, 2020 at 11:02 am EST

Dr. John Bradford, a forensic psychiatrist, is shown in this sketch testifying at the Alek Minassian trial on Nov 26, 2020. (Sketch by Pam Davies)

Defence argues the 28-year-old should be found not criminally responsible (NCR) due to autism spectrum disorder

Dr. John Bradford says Minassian doesn't show signs of being psychotic and does not meet the "traditional" test for NCR

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

The Toronto van attack trial has been adjourned until Monday when a U.S. autism expert will take the stand.

Yale professor of psychiatry, Dr. Alexander Westphal, is expected to explain why in his opinion, Alek Minassian shouldn’t be held criminally responsible for driving a van down a busy street, killing 10 people and injuring 16 others.

He’s expected to testify for several days.

Minassian has pleaded not guilty to 10 counts of first-degree murder and 16 counts of attempted murder.

The defence argues the 28-year-old from Richmond Hill should be found not criminally responsible (NCR) for his actions on April 23, 2018 due to autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

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


Dr. John Bradford said Thursday that Minassian doesn’t show signs of being psychotic and does not meet the “traditional” test to be found not criminally responsible (NCR) for his actions.

However, he said Minassian’s ASD likely led to ritualistic and obsessive behaviour and contributed to his problems with feeling empathy.

“The traditional condition that leads to an NCR finding on the basis of a mental disorder is some psychotic condition, most usually schizophrenia,” he said.

When asked why someone with high-functioning ASD would be considered for a not criminally responsible defence, Dr. Bradford gave two main potential reasons.

Firstly, he cited something called the theory of mind deficit, which affects a person’s ability to perceive the emotional states of others, and their own emotional states. This can lead to a lack of empathy and defects in moral reasoning, he testified.

Secondly, he added, people with ASD can become hyper-focused, exhibiting abnormally narrow interests, becoming fixated on certain issues that can affect their behaviour.

Dr. Bradford admitted he wasn’t an autism expert, but earlier told the court that through his research he’s learned that people living with ASD are rarely violent, saying they are “more likely to be victims than perpetrators (of violence).”