Alek Minassian not psychotic at time of van attack, psychiatrist testifies

Van attacker not psychotic?

A renowned forensic psychiatrist says Alek Minassian was not psychotic before, during or after he drove a van down a busy Toronto sidewalk killing 10 people and injured 16 others.

Dr. John Bradford is testifying today that the 28-year-old from Richmond Hill, Ont., has never shown any symptoms of psychosis.

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

His lawyers have asked that Minassian be found not criminally responsible for his actions on April 23, 2018 due to autism spectrum disorder.

Bradford has evaluated some of Canada's most notorious killers including Robert Pickton, Paul Bernardo and Russell Williams.

The psychiatrist became involved in the van attack case when court ordered Minassian to undergo a psychiatric assessment in 2018. The defence has called Bradford to testify.

He told court, which is being held by videoconference due to the pandemic, that more than 90 per cent of those found not criminally responsible in Canada have a psychotic condition, such as schizophrenia.

"I did not observe nor was there any history from family or other sources that there were signs of, or symptoms present, before the incident and in my opinion during the incident or after the incident."

Minassian has admitted in court to planning and carrying out the attack, leaving his state of mind at the time of the attack the sole issue at trial.

Court has heard that only one psychiatrist, Dr. Alexander Westphal, is expected to testify that Minassian is not criminally responsible for his actions that day due to autism spectrum disorder.

Bradford said Thursday there is some type of link between autism and mass murder, although it is poorly understood.

He said a small number of people, about a handful of people with autism spectrum disorder have committed mass homicides or serial killings and notes that those with the disorder are far more likely to be victims of violence.

"There seems to be some relationship between autism and mass homicide," said Bradford.

He said he saw Minassian at least 10 times while a team evaluated him at St. Joseph Healthcare Hamilton during the summer of 2018, a few months after the attack.

He said Minassian tried to kill himself in jail by drinking soap just prior to being transferred to the hospital, so they kept him under suicide watch for a period.

However, no suicide note has been found nor was any type of manifesto found, he said.

"We never saw him be depressed, but he was regarded as suicide risk," he said. "It didn’t seem to be coming out of depression. His affect was quite flat."

Bradford also said Minassian is not a psychopath. He said Minassian has lied a few times, but nothing on the scale of someone with psychopathy, which is more appropriately referred to as anti-social disorder.

He said Minassian has no history of violence, no child delinquency or anti-social behaviours.

"He does have problems with empathy, but I believe that comes from the autism spectrum disorder as opposed to anti-social personality disorder or psychopathy," Bradford said.

Dr. Rebecca Chauhan, a forensic psychiatrist who works with Bradford, previously testified that Minassian's autism spectrum disorder left him fixated on mass killings and vulnerable to the ramblings of an American mass murderer.

Both psychiatrists said Minassian has had a long interest in mass murders. Court has heard Minassian fantasized about shooting students at his high school, but never acted on it in part because he did not know how to get a gun.

Minassian has told various doctors his motivation for the attacks ranged from notoriety to revenge against society for years of rejection by women to anxiety over starting a new job.

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