Toronto van attack trial: Psychiatrist testifies on link between 'extreme form' of autism and culpability
Dec 02, 2020 4 mins, 39 secs
Alexander Westphal said.

“On both ends of this sort of spectrum of how it alters the way in which you see and interact with the world, it’s just as different, it’s just as different, it really is.”.

Court has heard Minassian is not psychotic, and as such, does not suffer from any sort of hallucinations.

More than 90 per cent of people found NCR in Canada experienced psychosis, court has heard, and it would be a legal first if an autism spectrum disorder alone rendered Minassian incapable of knowing his actions were morally wrong.

But, on Tuesday, when asked by the defence if a diagnosis of psychosis is necessary for a ruling of NCR, Westphal said that psychosis is “really defined as a severe mental disorder in which thoughts and emotions are so disrupted that contact is lost with external reality.”

“The point is that (ASD) causes just as much differences as being in the throes of a psychotic or delusional state in an extreme form, for what I think is in this case.”

Westphal said Minassian showed the same “dissociative quality” of someone playing a video game when he “completely dispassionately” talked about carrying out the attack

“It’s as abstract as killing people in a video game, which is a horrific concept… but that is really how I feel he was sort of thinking about this,” Westphal said

He doesn’t experience remorse, he doesn’t experience regret, but he also doesn’t experience sadism, it doesn’t feel to him like he’s great now, it’s just nothing.”

Westphal went on to state that the way Minassian described his actions is “the same way you or I would describe going shopping and the order of things we purchased when we went shopping.”

In the first video clip played in court, Minassian is heard describing the sequence of events during the attack, but the defence pointed out this is not an accurate account

“There were several people standing at the southwest corner waiting to cross the street and then I just immediately hit… right off the sidewalk

Then after that first batch, I was driving for about a second and there was another batch… I hit them all in a line and then after that I thought ‘oh, did I really just do that?’ And then everything else… my worries about whether I was going to do that disappeared because I already hit the first people, I can continue to hit people.”

Minassian then said he kept driving before he spotted more people and “hit them all in a line.” Then, he said, he spotted a man standing by himself on the sidewalk

Minassian said at that point he was about to hit a second cinderblock so he “swerved left and started going southbound in the northbound lanes on Yonge Street.”

“There’s no emotional valiance to it, there’s no empathic valiance to it, it’s just shocking how he doesn’t sort of get that aspect of it.”

The next video viewed in court was of Minassian detailing his arrest following the attack

Westphal said Minassian felt “completely defeated” because part of his mission that day was to die by suicide by cop, adding that “this was not a suicide attempt, he just needed to die because the mission was accomplished.”

Minassian lacks cognitive and emotional empathy, Westphal says

Minassian initially told police it was an act of rebellion for the incel subculture, but court has heard he then changed his story during these psychiatric assessments

“If I was worried about my job then… that would have seemed really random and people would be confused by it but if I copied or if I used some other narrative, such as Elliot Rodgers’ narrative, then everyone already knows about this…then people would get extremely hyped up about it and talk about it for a lot longer,” he said

After going through all of the motivations stated by Minassian at one point, Westphal said, “ultimately at the end of the day the only explanation which makes any sense to me is that he didn’t understand or didn’t have the sort of slightest insight into the horror and devastation that he was inflicting.”

Furthermore, Westphal said he believes Minassian “is stuck at an early developmental stage of the development of moral judgement.”

“There is no question that he has a very highly-developed concept of the rule nature of the wrongfulness, the problem is his comprehension of the real horrific impact that something like this would have on other people, which I really honestly…I don’t think he understands that.”

Following this statement, Justice Anne Molloy, who is overseeing the trial, asked what Westphal specifically believes Minassian does not understand

“He referred to converting the life status to death status, so that’s kind of not how you or I think about death, when we think about death we think of the grief dimension of death, we know the impact that it would have on people who loved the person who has died and that’s about the worst thing we can think of,” Westphal replied

“I do think though that woven into our fabric of how we think about things is that kind of impact on other people dimension of it.”

“We think of death as a final or a transition to a different aspect of life but our time on earth ends with death, but we also have this entire thing surrounding it, this other people aspect of it, which I don’t think you can extricate those two things.”


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