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Defence wants recordings of Minassian's interviews with American psychiatrist sealed

Last Updated Nov 20, 2020 at 1:25 pm MST

Alek Minassian appears in court to face 10 charges of first-degree murder and 13 charges of attempted murder, April 24, 2018. CITYNEWS/Marianne Boucher

TORONTO — A lawyer for the man behind Toronto’s van attack has asked court to seal recordings of his client’s interviews with an American  psychiatrist, arguing that releasing them publicly may incite violence.

If the request is not granted by the judge, forensic psychiatrist Dr. Alexander Westphal has said he will refuse to testify.

The request is part of an application brought forward today by Alek Minassian’s lawyers to permanently seal audio and video of the interviews and to play them in secret at court.

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

The defence argues Minassian should be found not criminally responsible for his actions on April 23, 2018 due to autism spectrum disorder.

A group of media organizations including The Canadian Press are fighting the application, arguing courts are inherently open and proceedings should not be held in secret.

Minassian’s lawyer Boris Bytensky says his client was inspired by Elliot Rodger, an American who went on a rampage in Isla Vista, Calif., in May 2014, killing six people and injuring 14 others before killing himself.

Rodger’s “manifesto” and his video before the murders focused on his hatred towards women and has found an audience in the bowels of the internet where he is treated as the forefather of so-called “incels,” men who are involuntarily celibate.

Bytensky said Westphal is a crucial witness for the defence and will be the only expert who will testify that Minassian is not criminally responsible for his actions that day.

Minassian has the right to a fair trial, Bytensky said, and those rights are in danger should Westphal not testify.

“Mr. Minassian, without Dr. Westphal, will be asked to fight with both hands tied behind his back,” Bytensky said.

Bytensky wants to play the videos for the judge only out of concern they might inspire others to carry on attacks much like Minassian was inspired by  Rodger’s videos.

The lawyer also said every single expert will testify at trial that Minassian was inspired to kill people, in part, for notoriety.

Allowing the videos to be played in court would give Minassian exactly what he wants, argued Bytensky.

Justice Anne Molloy, who is presiding over the case without a jury, said she is looking for a compromise between media and the defence in order to allow Westphal to testify.

Molloy has no way to compel the American psychiatrist to testify. The federal government could intervene but Molloy said a cross-border process could take years.

“If he was here, there would be no problem. I would not for a moment tolerate it,” the judge said. “That doctor would be under arrest before he could blink.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 20, 2020.

The Canadian Press