TORONTO – A Toronto man charged with terror offences after being accused of attacking soldiers at a military recruitment centre two years ago should be found not criminally responsible for his actions due to serious mental health issues, a forensic psychiatrist testified Thursday.
Ayanle Hassan Ali likely understood when he entered the recruitment centre that slashing at military personnel with a kitchen knife could cause physical harm, Dr. Philip Klassen, a Crown witness, said at the man’s trial. But as a result of delusions and paranoia brought on by schizophrenia, Ali likely did not realize that harming soldiers in that situation was morally wrong, he said.
“I would say he was significantly compromised in terms of rational perception and rational choice,” Klassen said. “I also think he was personally suffering and wanted martyrdom, and some of that suffering was engendered by his illness,” he added.
Ali has pleaded not guilty to three counts of attempted murder, three counts of assault with a weapon, two counts of assault causing bodily harm and one count of carrying a weapon for the purpose of committing an offence, all “at the direction of or in association with a terrorist group.”
His lawyers are asking the judge hearing the case to acquit Ali of the terror-related charges and find him not criminally responsible for the lesser included charges of attempted murder, assault and weapons offences.
The Crown, however, wants the 30-year-old to be found not criminally responsible for the terror offences, the defence has said in written arguments filed in court earlier this week. Ali’s lawyers argue he is not a terrorist but simply a man who needs treatment for mental illness.
Finding someone not criminally responsible acknowledges that they committed the crime they are accused of but, as a result of a mental disorder, they were incapable at the time of appreciating that their actions could cause harm, or are unacceptable by societal standards, Ali’s lawyers have explained in written arguments.
Ali entered a Canadian Forces recruitment office on March 14, 2016, and repeatedly punched and slashed at one soldier, leaving the man with a three-inch gash on his arm, according to an agreed statement of facts presented by the Crown and defence at trial.
Ali tried to stab or slash three other military personnel before being subdued, the statement said.
Klassen, who interviewed Ali twice last fall, spoke to his family and reviewed thousands of pages of hospital observation notes about him, told the court that Ali began to show signs of schizophrenia and develop “extremist” thoughts around the same time, and that the two were likely interrelated.
“It seems very unlikely that someone would suffer something as devastating as schizophrenia and become radicalized as two separate processes,” he testified.
Ali is still “somewhat ambivalent” about the fact he failed to kill a soldier in the attack, Klassen said. But that could be a sign that Ali is still grappling with the effects of schizophrenia, he added.
Klassen said Ali also told him, during interviews last year, that his mental illness was caused by Jinns – spirits from Muslim mythology – that were inside him, and by a stroke he claims to have had, which Klassen and another doctor have both called a delusion.
“I would say the medication has been helpful, but there is some residual delusional thinking,” Klassen said.
Klassen was the second psychiatrist to testify in favour of Ali being found not criminally responsible for his actions.
On Monday, defence witness Dr. Gary Chaimowitz, who has supervised Ali’s treatment as an in-patient at a forensic psychiatry hospital unit for most of the past two years, testified that Ali has shown signs of schizophrenia, including delusions and paranoia, since about 2010.
Chaimowitz and Klassen were the only two witnesses called during the evidence portion of the trial.
Ali is scheduled to return to court April 20, when defence lawyers are expected to make further legal arguments about his criminal responsibility.