A Toronto man convicted of a killing that a court found was an act of misogynistic terrorism is to learn Tuesday whether being a youth at the time of the crime will lessen his time in prison, or whether he will receive an adult life sentence.
The young man’s conviction in Ontario Superior Court was the first time in Canada that a court had concluded that online communities that advocate for the killing of women meet the legal definition of terrorist groups. The man, now 21, belonged to an online community of so-called incels, or “involuntarily celibate” men, who blame women for their inability to find sexual partners.
Nearly four years ago, on Feb. 24, 2020, the young man – who under the Youth Criminal Justice Act cannot be named because he was 17 when the killing occurred – donned a dark coat that concealed a sword, then entered a North Toronto massage parlour. The court heard that he immediately began slashing at the first woman he saw.
Ashley Noelle Arzaga, a 24-year-old single mother who was working at the reception desk, was stabbed 42 times. She bled to death. A second woman in the building tried to help Ms. Arzaga and was also stabbed. She managed to wrest the weapon from the teenager and incapacitate him. When police and paramedics arrived on the scene, the young man told them that he had attacked the women because he was part of a female-hating online group.
“I wanted to kill everybody in the building and I’m happy I got one,” he said during his arrest. Authorities later found a handwritten note in his front-left coat pocket. It said, “Long Live The Incel Rebellion.”
The man pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and attempted murder during a 2022 hearing. In July, Justice Suhail Akhtar ruled he was guilty of additional Criminal Code offences related to terrorism, because he had admitted he was associated with incels, and because the crime was calculated to spread fear among women.
The killer “was motivated by the incel ideology and wished to send a message to society that incels were prepared to kill and commit violence on the public in furtherance of their ideological beliefs,” Justice Akhtar wrote.
Justice Akhtar is expected to rule on the young man’s sentence on Tuesday. The judge must first determine whether the man will be considered a youth or an adult. If he is considered a youth, he can legally only receive a sentence of up to 10 years. But if he is sentenced as an adult, the minimum is life imprisonment with no possibility of parole for 10 years.
For that stiffer sentence to be imposed, the court would have to conclude that the young man’s moral blameworthiness is not diminished by his young age. This is why the terrorism determination may matter: the court could take it into account when deciding whether he qualifies as an adult.
The Crown attorneys prosecuting the case argued in an October sentencing hearing that the man should be sentenced as an adult. Months of premeditation went into the attack, Crown attorney Chikeziri Igwe said at the time, telling the court that “he did not act on a whim.”
Defence lawyer Monte MacGregor countered in that hearing that his client deserved a youth sentence because he was a “friendless” and “susceptible and weak” teen who fell victim to a virulent ideology circulating online.
Law-enforcement agencies are increasingly concerned about the way violent extremism is spreading online, in some cases leading followers to strike targets at random.
This month, Nathaniel Veltman, a 22-year-old white nationalist, was convicted of multiple counts of murder by a Windsor, Ont., jury.
In that case, the jury found Mr. Veltman had spent weeks planning an attack in which he used a pickup truck to kill several members of a Muslim family. During Mr. Veltman’s coming sentencing hearing, Justice Renee Pomerance is expected to rule on terrorism motivation charges, which are still pending.
Editor’s note: A previous version of this article stated incorrectly that if the accused is considered an adult, the minimum sentence is life imprisonment with no possibility of parole for 25 years. The minimum sentence is life imprisonment with no possibility of parole for 10 years. This version has been updated.