Autism Spectrum Disorder Is the Main Defence in the Van Attack Trial (Alex Minassian Trial): Autism Canada Speaks Out

In April 2018, Minassian drove a van into a crowd of people, killing 10 people. His trial is now happening in Ontario by videoconference. The defence is arguing that he is not criminally responsible on account of his autism spectrum disorder. They are arguing that he did not understand what he was doing was wrong. Expert psychiatrists have been retained to provide opinions on both sides.

Each person with Autism spectrum disorder is unique. To learn more about the characteristics, see here.

Autism Canada released a statement denouncing the defence. “There is no psychosis in ASD and no tendency to anti-social behaviour any more than in the general population… These claims are wholly unsubstantiated, merely speculative, and made carelessly without any published evidence proving autism, on its own, is a risk factor for becoming violent against other people.” In fact evidence shows that people with autism spectrum disorder are more likely to be victims of bullying, rather than perpetrators.

It is too early to say how the court will rule. In Canada, the defence of not criminally responsible on the basis of autism spectrum disorder is rare. Under subsection 672.47(1) of the Criminal Code, “Where a verdict of not criminally responsible on account of mental disorder or unfit to stand trial is rendered and the court makes no disposition …. the Review Board shall… hold a hearing and make a disposition.”

I am concerned that the defence will perpetuate stereotypes and encourage further discrimination. People living with autism spectrum disorder already face much higher rates of discrimination.

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