Accused in the April 2018 Toronto van attack Alek Minsassian, clockwise from top left, Justice Anne Molloy, psychologist Dr. John Bradford and defence lawyer Boris Bytensky are shown during a murder trial conducted via Zoom videoconference, in this courtroom sketch, Thursday, Nov. 26, 2020. A psychiatrist hired by the defence is set to continue his testimony today at the trial for the man who killed 10 people in Toronto’s van attack. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Alexandra Newbould

Accused in the April 2018 Toronto van attack Alek Minsassian, clockwise from top left, Justice Anne Molloy, psychologist Dr. John Bradford and defence lawyer Boris Bytensky are shown during a murder trial conducted via Zoom videoconference, in this courtroom sketch, Thursday, Nov. 26, 2020. A psychiatrist hired by the defence is set to continue his testimony today at the trial for the man who killed 10 people in Toronto’s van attack. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Alexandra Newbould

‘As abstract as killing people in a video game,’ doctor says of Alek Minassian’s mind

TORONTO — A psychiatrist says the man who killed 10 people in Toronto’s van attack two years ago feels no emotion over what he did.

Dr. Alexander Westphal is telling a court that Alek Minassian describes the attack in a way similar to someone talking about killing characters in a video game.

He says the concept of death is abstract to Minassian and says the 28-year-old talked about the lives lost as “converting life status to death status.”

Westphal is testifying on behalf of the defence and is expected to say Minassian is not criminally responsible for his actions on April 23, 2018 due to autism spectrum disorder.

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

He has admitted to planning and carrying out the attack, and his state of mind is the sole issue at the judge-alone trial.

Westphal has said Minassian lacks empathy due to his autism spectrum disorder.

The psychiatrist said Minassian doesn’t appear to feel emotion when discussing the deaths that occurred.

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

“He still doesn’t have any emotional connection with what he did.”

Westphal said Minassian does not feel remorse or regret, but is also not experiencing sadism.

“When he describes this stuff, he’s describing it completely flat in the same way you or I would describe going shopping and the order of things we purchased when we went shopping,” he said.

“It’s completely devoid any emotional context whatsoever and any sense of the impact this had on other lives.”

Court has heard that upwards of 90 per cent of people found not criminally responsible in Canada experienced psychosis.

“Overall, it was our impression that despite the fact he was not psychotic, his autistic way of thinking was severely distorted in a way similar to psychosis,” Westphal wrote.

“There is support in the literature that autistic ways of thinking may distort reality as substantially as psychotic ways of thinking.”

Westphal also said Minassian’s lack of empathy is not due to psychopathy, but rather due to his autism spectrum disorder.

Last week, Westphal refused to testify if court didn’t give in to his demands to seal his videotaped interviews with Minassian and play the clips to court in secret.

The judge begrudgingly gave in to sealing the videos after the psychiatrist warned they could incite more violence, but will allow journalists to watch and report on them.

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