Court hears from families of victims and survivors of Toronto van attack as sentencing begins
Family members of victims and civilian first responders to the deadly Toronto van attack began reading heartbreaking victim statements in court today as a sentencing hearing for the business was beginning.
Eight women and two men died on April 23, 2018 when an infamous 25-year-old man, angered by women who wouldn’t sleep with him and radicalized into the bowels of the internet, deliberately drove a rental van on a busy sidewalk.
Another woman died more than three years later from injuries sustained that day.
Alek Minassian’s sentencing hearing could last several days as he will hear from dozens of people affected by the attack.
Several civilians who performed CPR at the scene spoke during the morning court session and tearfully recounted how they still see the consequences of what happened when they close their eyes. A woman said she dreamed of victims asking for help or of her being chased by a white van similar to the one used by the killer.
Prior to the attack, the area was considered a safe place, according to a victim impact statement read from the file by members of the Willowdale community.
« This sense of security and togetherness was seriously disrupted by the attack, » the statement said.
The killer was convicted last year of 10 counts of first-degree murder and 16 counts of attempted murder.
First degree murder automatically carries a life sentence with no possibility of applying for parole for 25 years.
At the trial, held in 2020, the Crown indicated that it would seek consecutive life sentences. However, last May the Supreme Court of Canada declared unconstitutional a 2011 Criminal Code provision that allowed judges to impose 25-year parole ineligibility periods to be served consecutively for each murder, rather than simultaneously. .
Many victims and families say they are preparing for an emotional few days in court, but they feel strong.
It will be their first opportunity to confront the killer in person after the trial and verdict in front of judge alone via videoconference during the pandemic.
Betty Forsyth, Ji Hun Kim, So He Chung, Geraldine Brady, Chul Min Kang, Anne Marie D’Amico, Munir Najjar, Dorothy Sewell, Andrea Bradden, Beutis Renuka Amarasingha and Amaresh Tesfamariam have died following a stroke.
‘We will fight like she did,’ victim’s family says
Tesfamariam’s family said they will be leaning on their fighting spirit this week to find the strength to speak about their life in front of the man who caused her death.
« We will fight like she did, » Tesfamariam’s niece, Luwam Ogbaselassie, told The Canadian Press.
Tesfamariam, 65, suffered catastrophic injuries after being knocked down during the attack. She was paralyzed from the neck down, needed a ventilator to breathe, and her heart stopped several times.
But she fought to live for another three years, although she never left the hospital after the rampage. She died last October.
Writing his victim impact statement forced Ogbaselassie to think back to his aunt’s horrific pain and suffering.
But in this reflection, she also found strength.
« The fact that she fought for as long as she did, she inspired so many of us that I think her memory will live on in all of us forever, » Ogbaselassie said.
The sentencing hearing will allow the family to share the story of Tesfamariam’s life, rather than just his death, she said.
But the story was still difficult to write.
« It’s easier to shut up and not linger and think about everything, » Ogbaselassie said. « She lived in such pain and misery, but stayed strong throughout – that’s what we’ll hold on to. »