What Alek Minassian told Toronto Police in the hours following his arrest can now be made public before his trial next year, after a judge on Friday lifted the publication ban and a sealing order on evidence filed in his case.
The documents will become publicly available on Sept. 27, after a successful legal application by a coalition of media organizations including The Globe and Mail.
The records will include the police interview Mr. Minassian gave on the night of the April 23, 2018, attack. The 26-year-old is facing 10 counts of first-degree murder and 16 counts of attempted murder after he drove a rental van into pedestrians on a busy street in northern Toronto.
“This was a tragedy with a wide and devastating impact within the Toronto community and beyond. People want to know why it happened," Superior Court Justice Anne Molloy wrote in her 23-page decision.
The main issue to be settled at Mr. Minassian’s coming trial will be his state of mind at the time, she wrote.
Publication bans are imposed in jury trials to protect witness integrity and to ensure that jurors base their decisions on the evidence heard in the courtroom. However, because Mr. Minassian’s trial is now proceeding before a judge alone in February, 2020, Justice Molloy ruled that arguments to ban publication would have to meet necessary legal tests to counteract Canada’s open courts principle.
Boris Bytensky, Mr. Minassian’s lawyer, contended the release of the police interview would jeopardize his client’s right to a fair trial and risks tainting the views of witnesses who will be called by the defence. Justice Molloy said she found no evidence to support his view.
She also did not accept that a witness’s memory of Mr. Minassian would be changed any more by knowing what he said to police than by knowing what crimes he allegedly committed. She also said that Mr. Minassian admitted to police that he was behind the wheel and that his arrest was filmed and broadcast in the immediate aftermath.
Justice Molloy sided with lawyer Brendan Hughes, who represented a handful of media outlets opposing the ban – including the Canadian Press, Toronto Star and Postmedia – that delaying amounts to an infringement on the right to free expression.
“Public respect for the administration of justice in this country cannot be enhanced by secrecy; it can only be damaged by it,” she said.
Still, she ruled to keep the ban in place for the next six weeks to accommodate a 30-day window for an appeal and to allow the defence time to interview witnesses and to go through disclosures.
The materials to be released in late September also include information about another matter playing out in a London, Ont., courthouse. Alex Penkala has been charged with threatening to cause death to unknown persons, in a case that may have been inspired by the Toronto attack, Justice Molloy wrote. His case is under a separate publication ban.
The judge will also release her unredacted decision on a motion for disclosure made by the defence during the pretrial of Mr. Minassian, requesting access to three encrypted electronic devices seized by police. Experts have been unable to crack the encryption, meaning that the Crown has not yet accessed or vetted the material on the devices before handing it over to the defence. The parties signed agreements, called undertakings, before the devices could be passed off.