A young Toronto man who murdered one woman and attempted to kill another in an attack that a court found to have been an act of misogynistic terrorism was sentenced to life in prison on Tuesday, with a ruling that denounced the incident as hate-motivated savagery.
Although the now-21-year-old man, Oguzhan Sert, was a youth at the time of the attack, Ontario Superior Court Justice Suhail Akhtar decided to sentence him as an adult. As a result, Mr. Sert was handed a life sentence with a 10-year wait for the possibility of parole. This is the automatic penalty for youth sentenced as adults for first-degree murder, and the stiffest punishment available in this case.
Justice Akhtar said this was the appropriate outcome for Mr. Sert, who was just shy of his 18th birthday when he used a sword to attack the women at a North Toronto massage parlour where they worked.
In his ruling, Justice Akhtar said Mr. Sert was fully to blame for the violence, which he said was “savagery motivated by misogyny.” He cited the young man’s adherence to the beliefs of so-called incels – “involuntarily celibate” men, who blame women for their inability to find sexual partners. They gather online, where they sometimes advocate for spreading their views through fear and mass attacks.
Mr. Sert’s conviction in Ontario Superior Court was the first time in Canada that a court had concluded that online communities that call for the killing of women meet the legal definition of terrorist groups, making the case a closely watched one in legal circles.
On Tuesday, the judge stressed that the court saw the underlying events as a methodically planned terrorist conspiracy intended to inspire widespread fear through the targeting of random women.
The attack took place on Feb. 24, 2020. Mr. Sert concealed a sword underneath a dark coat, then entered the massage parlour. He began slashing at the first woman he saw: Ashley Noelle Arzaga, a 24-year-old single mother who was working at the reception desk
She bled to death from her wounds. The offender “did not just murder Ms. Arzaga; he butchered her,” Justice Akhtar said in his ruling. He described the way Mr. Sert stabbed her 42 times, including when she was on the ground and could no longer defend herself.
Mr. Sert then stabbed a second woman, who wrested the weapon from him and incapacitated him with it.
When police and paramedics arrived on the scene, Mr. Sert told them that he had committed the attack because he was part of a female-hating 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.”
In 2022, Mr. Sert pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and attempted murder. This past July, Justice Akhtar released a precedent-setting written ruling in which he found that the young man was also guilty of Criminal Code terrorism offences, because the crime had been intended to spread fear.
In the past, typical terrorism cases have involved people who belonged to organizations such as the Islamic State, Maurice Mattis, one of Mr. Sert’s defence lawyers, said outside the courthouse after the sentencing. This case, however, dealt with participation in a loose online community.
“Beyond Canada, I think it’s a case that the world is going to have an interest in, because it has taken terrorism to chat-room participation, leading to the commission of a crime,” he said.
Prosecutors had argued for Mr. Sert to be sentenced as an adult, noting he had meticulously researched, planned and made choices about the attack. They said this reflected adult thoughts and actions. They also argued he had shown no remorse.
Mr. Sert’s 10-year wait for parole eligibility is considered to have begun on the day of his arrest, meaning he has roughly six more years to serve before he can apply for release. If the judge had decided to sentence Mr. Sert as a youth, his penalty would have been lighter: a maximum of 10 years.
The automatic adult sentence for first-degree murder is harsher for offenders who were not youths when they committed their crimes: they must wait at least 25 years for parole.
Mr. Sert’s name previously could not be published, because of a prohibition in the Youth Criminal Justice Act on revealing the names of young offenders. His adult sentence removes that protection.
Monte MacGregor, another defence lawyer for Mr. Sert, had argued during an October hearing for his client to be sentenced as a youth. He told Justice Akhtar that Mr. Sert had mental health issues, and that he had been a “susceptible and weak” teenager.
But in his ruling, Justice Akhtar said Mr. Sert had yet to show sufficient remorse.
“Rather than accept responsibility, he blames the incel community and culture,” the judge said.
With a report from The Canadian Press