Alek Minassian had already admitted to planning and carrying out the attack but his defense team argued he was not criminally responsible for his actions because of his autism spectrum disorder.
Justice Anne Molloy rejected that argument, and in her decision ruled that the defendant understood the gravity of his murderous rampage.
“He freely chose the option that was morally wrong, knowing what the consequences would be for himself, and for everybody else,” said Molloy as she read out part of her decision via video link.
Molloy said the 28-year-old showed no remorse and did not empathize with his victims although, she ruled, this was not an adequate defense.
Victims and their family members reacted to the verdict with a measure of relief and sadness at a news conference in Toronto.
“It was the best I could hope for, I think it was a fair decision and he can spend the rest of his life in jail because he deserves it,” said Cathy Riddell, critically injured in the attack in April of 2018.
Riddell said while she has no memory of what happened to her on that day, she found the details of the attack quite traumatizing to hear during the trial.
In a statement, the Ontario Autism Coalition said the organization was relieved by the guilty verdict.
“We hope that this decision can now lift the dark cloud that has hung over this trial, with a firm rejection of the use of autism as a defense in this case. Violent traits have no connection to autism; in fact, people on the autism spectrum are far more likely to be victims as opposed to perpetrators of violence,” reads the statement.
Molloy did not refer to the defendant by name as she read parts of her decision and asked, but did not order, media to do the same and deprive the Toronto man of the fame that he so wanted in carrying out the attack.
She referred to him as “John Doe” throughout the verdict and referred to the fact that his desire for notoriety and fame played a crucial role in his determination to commit mass murder.
“I am acutely aware that all of this attention and media coverage is exactly what this man sought from the start,” she said.
Nick D’Amico, whose sister, Anna Maria D’Amico died in the attack said he agreed with Molloy and said he had not used the name of the “perpetrator” since the attack.
“I think she’s setting a precedent for how things should be conducted moving forward and if there’s one thing that we can take away from today, it’s that. We need to protect those who may be victims in the future,” said D’Amico during a news conference in Toronto.
Molloy said that expert testimony from forensic psychiatrists during trial gave her insights into the defendant’s motives and actions before, during and after the attack.
Fame and notoriety seemed to be the overriding motivation for the defendant, she said, noting that before the attack he posted on social media that, “The Incel Rebellion has already begun!”. The “Incel” movement is short for “involuntarily celibate” and is made up almost entirely of men who claim they are unjustly rejected by women.
Some social media posts and discussions by people claiming to adhere to the Incel movement are filled with hate-filled rants against women.
In a statement, Toronto’s mayor echoed the sentiment of many victims and their families that the van attack was a hate crime.
“Make no mistake this was an attack fueled by misogyny and hatred of women and should be treated as such. We must all stand up against this kind of hateful behavior and those who promote it,” said Mayor John Tory.
Molloy said she will hear arguments on sentencing later this month. The Toronto man faces a minimum of 25 years in prison without the possibility of parole.