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Van attack trial may proceed by videoconference due to COVID-19, court hears


TORONTO — The trial of a man accused of deliberately using a van to kill 10 people on a busy Toronto sidewalk may be held by videoconference next month due to recently imposed COVID-19 restrictions, court heard Wednesday.

Alek Minassian, 27, of Richmond Hill, Ont., faces 10 counts of first-degree murder and 16 counts of attempted murder in connection with the April 2018 incident.

His trial is set to begin on Nov. 9 but court heard that the manner in which it will proceed may change due to new restrictions issued Friday by Superior Court Chief Justice Geoffrey B. Morawetz, which include a limit of 10 people in a courtroom. 

Those rules were imposed after Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced stricter public health measures the same day for Toronto, Peel Region and Ottawa to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus. 

The restrictions are set to expire just before Minassian's trial next month, but court is proceeding with the assumption that the measures will be extended, Wednesday's hearing was told.

"We expect to proceed on the 9th as scheduled, but there are additional steps we have to take to make sure that we can run this in a way that is compliant with the chief justice’s order," Crown attorney Joseph Callaghan said by Zoom.

The primary concern, Justice Anne Molloy said, is the 10-person limit in courtrooms, which will be hit easily by court staff, lawyers, prosecution, guards and Minassian. 

Court is now exploring holding a trial by Zoom, Callaghan said. 

"We're also discussing the potential use of a large space for members of the public to watch the Zoom proceeding in a physically distant way, but we still need to follow up with respect to that," he said.

Molloy, who will preside over the case, said "there is some attraction" to holding the trial via Zoom. 

"I think more people can watch it that way," she said.

The trial, scheduled for four to six weeks, was set to begin in Toronto on April 6, but was postponed due to the pandemic.

Minassian told police hours after the 2018 incident that he wanted revenge against society for years of sexual rejection by women, court documents have shown.

The judge has said the case will turn on Minassian's state of state of mind at the time of the attack, not whether he did it.

In early March, Minassian admitted to court to planning and carrying out the attack.

Court is set to reconvene next week to further discuss how the trial will proceed. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 14, 2020.

Liam Casey, The Canadian Press

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