Toronto police car
Toronto police car. Photo for illustrative purposes Image Credit: Social media

Toronto: A man who allegedly used a van to kill 10 pedestrians in Toronto pleaded not guilty guilty on Tuesday and his lawyer said he will argue he is not criminally responsible because of his state of mind at the time.

Alek Minassian faces 10 counts of first-degree murder and 16 counts of attempted murder in connection with the April 23, 2018, attack that drew attention to an online world of sexual loneliness, rage and misogyny.

Minassian told police he belonged to an online community of sexually frustrated men, some of whom have plotted attacks against people who have sex.

Minassian, 28, is accused of driving a rental van into crowds of pedestrians in a busy north Toronto neighborhood. Eight women and two men ranging in age from 22 to 94 died.

"I am entering a plea of not criminally responsible for all of the counts,'' Minassian said via a Zoom call while sitting on a chair in a small holding room, wearing a dark blazer and collared shirt. The court opted for a trial on Zoom videoconference because of the pandemic.

His lawyer, Boris Bytensky, said he will argue his client was not criminally responsible due to a mental disorder.

The judge has said the case will turn on Minassian's state of mind at the time.

"On a warm spring afternoon on April 23, 2018, numerous pedestrians were out along Yonge enjoying the sunshine when their worlds were shattered by the actions of Mr. Minassian," Prosecution lawyer Joe Callaghan said.

Reading a statement of facts that both sides agreed on, Callaghan said Minassian drove "straight at people."

"The only issue at this trial is the criminal responsibility,'' Callaghan said.

The prosecution showed family photographs of each of the victims faces as Callaghan detailed how they were struck. One those killed was dragged for over 150 meters. Many were struck from behind.

The court heard of many serious injuries, including brain damage and amputated legs.

Minassian booked the rental van on April 4, weeks before the attack. "Minassian began planning the murders in advance,'' Callaghan said.

A publication ban on his interrogation by police was lifted last year. In it Minassian acknowledged what he did.

"I feel like I accomplished my mission,'' Minassian said when asked by the detective how he felt about the death of 10 people.

Minassian, who said he never had a girlfriend and was a virgin, admitted he used the van as a weapon and said he wanted to inspire more attacks.

Minassian called himself an "incel,'' short for "involuntary celibates,'' an online subculture that has been linked to other attacks and which often promotes the idea that men are entitled to have sex with women.

Minassian said he had been in contact with Elliot Rodger, a community college student who killed six people and wounded 13 in shooting and stabbing attacks in 2014 near the University of California, Santa Barbara, before apparently shooting himself to death.

"The Incel Rebellion has already begun! We will overthrow all the Chads and Stacys! All hail the Supreme Gentleman Eilliot Rodger!," Minassian posted on Facebook that day.