Family members of victims and civilian first responders from Toronto’s deadly van attack began reading harrowing victim impact statements in court today as a sentencing hearing for the case began.
Eight women and two men died on April 23, 2018 when a 25-year-old man bent on infamy, angered by women who wouldn’t sleep with him and radicalized in the bowels of the internet deliberately drove a rented van down a busy sidewalk .
Another woman died more than three years later from injuries suffered that day.
The sentencing hearing for Alek Minassian could last multiple days as it will hear from several dozen people affected by the attack.
Multiple civilians who provided CPR at the scene spoke during court’s morning session, and tearfully relayed how they still see the aftermath of what happened when they close their eyes. One woman said she dreams about the victims asking for help, or of being chased down by a white van similar to the one the killer used.
Prior to attack, the area was seen as a safe place, according to a victim impact statement read into the record from Willowdale Community Members.
“This feeling of safety and friendliness was seriously ruptured by the attack,” the statement read.
The killer was found guilty last year of 10 counts of first-degree murder and 16 counts of attempted murder.
First-degree murder carries an automatic life sentence without the ability to apply for parole for 25 years.
During the trial, held in 2020, the Crown indicated it was going to be seeking consecutive life sentences. However, back in May, the Supreme Court of Canada declared unconstitutional a 2011 Criminal Code provision that allowed judges to impose parole ineligibility periods of 25 years to be served consecutively for each murder, rather than concurrently.
Several victims and families say they are preparing for an emotional few days in court but are going in feeling strong.
It will be their first opportunity to face the killer in person after the judge-alone trial and verdict occurred over 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 died as a result of the attack.
‘We will fight just like she did,’ victim’s family says
Tesfamariam’s family said they will draw on her fighting spirit this week as they summon the strength to speak about her life in front of the man who caused her death.
“We will fight just like she did,” Tesfamariam’s niece, Luwam Ogbaselassie, told The Canadian Press.
Tesfamariam, 65, suffered catastrophic injuries after being run down in 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 three more years, although she never left hospital after the rampage. She died last October.
Writing her victim impact statement forced Ogbaselassie to think once again about her aunt’s horrific pain and suffering.
But in that 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 the memory of her 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 her death, she said.
But the story was still difficult to write.
“It’s easier to shut off and not dwell and think about everything,” Ogbaselassie said. “She lived in such pain and misery, but she kept strong throughout — that’s what we’ll hold on to.”