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Was the Eaton Centre gunman in a ‘dissociative state’? Nearly seven years and two trials later, a jury is set to decide

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After a second trial almost identical to the first, a jury is once again deliberating whether Christopher Husbands murdered two men and injured several other people when he opened fire in the Eaton Centre food court in 2012, or whether he was in a “dissociative state” while shooting and therefore not criminally responsible for his actions.

Husbands, 29, admitted he was the gunman in the shooting at the landmark downtown Toronto mall at 6:22 p.m on June 2, 2012. Nixon Nirmalendran, 22, and Ahmed Hassan, 24, died from gunshot wounds. Connor Stevenson, 13, who was at the food court with his mother and sister, survived after being shot in the head. The shooting and subsequent chaos, during which a pregnant woman was trampled, was captured on surveillance video from the mall.

Christopher Husbands, seen here in a courtroom sketch from June 4, 2012.
Christopher Husbands, seen here in a courtroom sketch from June 4, 2012.  (Tammy Hoy / THE CANADIAN PRESS)

The jury at Husbands’ second trial was told he had been tried once before. But it did not know he was initially charged with first-degree murder, that he had been convicted on two counts of second-degree murder by the first jury in 2014 nor that he had been sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 30 years. His jury was also never told it was a judge’s mistake that resulted in the Court of Appeal ordering a new trial.

The mistake — which resulted in a number of appeals — occurred while potential jurors were being questioned about bias. Instead of allowing the defence request to use “rotating triers” — where two different people from the jury pool assess each new juror — the trial judge, Superior Court Justice Eugene Ewaschuk, imposed “static triers,” where the same two people assess all twelve jurors.

Since the Crown did not appeal the first jury’s finding of second-degree murder, Husbands could not be charged with first-degree murder at his second trial. As such, he faced the lesser murder charges in addition to charges of aggravated assault.

The defence of not criminally responsible presented by Husbands was the same as in the previous trial, though this time it was supported with more expert witnesses, including Boston-based psychologist and PTSD expert Dr. Mark Miller.

In his closing address, Husbands’ lawyer Dirk Derstine argued his client is not criminally responsible for the shooting because he was in a dissociative state where his body did things his mind could not control.

Husbands, who testified to having been physically and sexually abused as a child growing up in the Regent Park neighbourhood, was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after a violent attack in February 2012. He told the jury he was ambushed at an apartment, tied up with duct tape, beaten, pistol-whipped and stabbed two-dozen times by six men. Husbands testified his attackers that night included Nixon and Nisan Nirmalendran — two men who were in the food court on June 2, 2012.

On the day of the shooting, Husbands claimed he was temporarily “holding” a loaded gun for a person known as “Gaza,” who was concerned about being stopped by police in the Entertainment District.

Husbands and his then-girlfriend went to SportChek to buy rollerblades, and then picked up burgers to take away. It was when his girlfriend went to get sushi that Husbands saw the Nirmalendran brothers and three other men.

Seeing them put Husbands, already fearful and paranoid, into a scenario from his worst nightmare, Derstine said. He argued that if Husbands had been after revenge, he knew where to find the brothers.

The Crown disputes how serious Husbands PTSD was at the time of the attack and maintains Husbands faked his dissociative symptoms which fall at the “extreme end” of the scale and would be extremely rare.

The Crown’s expert witness Dr. Peter Collins testified Husbands did not appear to be acting in the disorganized and robotic manner he would expect in a dissociative state — including when he “executed” Nixon Nirmalendran at point-blank range as he lay on the floor.

Instead, the Crown argues Husbands, who was armed with a loaded gun, intended to kill Nixon and Nisan Nirmalendran as revenge or “street justice” for their attack on him.

“The video tells the story perfectly clearly. It tells a very powerful story of an intentional murder. It was not the result of any fear. It was not the result of a spontaneous act because of a loss of control. It was not because of his PTSD,” Crown John Cisorio said in his closing address to the jury.

Nixon Nirmalendran never said “shoot him” as Husbands claimed he heard, nor did he did see Nisan Nirmalendran appear to reach for a gun, Cisorio said, adding there is no evidence Nisan Nirmalendran had a gun on him.

“This is not a situation where the group approached him and confronted him and he reacted on impulse to a threat,” Cisorio said. “It was Mr. Husbands who was the threat.”

Alyshah Hasham is a Toronto-based reporter covering crime and court. Follow her on Twitter: @alysanmati

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Anglais

‘Business as usual’ for Dorel Industries after terminating go-private deal

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MONTREAL — Dorel Industries Inc. says it will continue to pursue its business strategy going forward after terminating an agreement to go private after discussions with shareholders.

« Moving ahead. Business as usual, » a spokesman for the company said in an email on Monday.

A group led by Cerberus Capital Management had previously agreed to buy outstanding shares of Dorel for $16 apiece, except for shares owned by the family that controls the company’s multiple-voting shares.

But Dorel chief executive Martin Schwartz said the Montreal-based maker of car seats, strollers, bicycles and home furniture pulled the plug on a deal on the eve of Tuesday’s special meeting after reviewing votes from shareholders.

“Independent shareholders have clearly expressed their confidence in Dorel’s future and the greater potential for Dorel as a public entity, » he said in a news release.

Dorel’s board of directors, with Martin Schwartz, Alan Schwartz, Jeffrey Schwartz and Jeff Segel recused, unanimously approved the deal’s termination upon the recommendation of a special committee.

The transaction required approval by two-thirds of the votes cast, and more than 50 per cent of the votes cast by non-family shareholders.

Schwartz said enhancing shareholder value remains a top priority while it stays focused on growing its brands, which include Schwinn and Mongoose bikes, Safety 1st-brand car seats and DHP Furniture.

Dorel said the move to end the go-private deal was mutual, despite the funds’ increased purchase price offer earlier this year.

It said there is no break fee applicable in this case.

Montreal-based investment firm Letko, Brosseau & Associates Inc. and San Diego’s Brandes Investment Partners LP, which together control more than 19 per cent of Dorel’s outstanding class B subordinate shares voiced their opposition to the amended offer, which was increased from the initial Nov. 2 offer of $14.50 per share.

« We believe that several minority shareholders shared our opinion, » said Letko vice-president Stephane Lebrun, during a phone interview.

« We are confident of the long-term potential of the company and we have confidence in the managers in place.”

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Anglais

Pandemic funds helping Montreal businesses build for a better tomorrow

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Many entrepreneurs have had to tap into government loans during the pandemic, at first just to survive, but now some are using the money to better prepare their businesses for the post-COVID future.

One of those businesses is Del Friscos, a popular family restaurant in Dollard-des-Ormeaux that, like many Montreal-area restaurants, has had to adapt from a sit-down establishment to one that takes orders online for takeout or delivery.

“It was hard going from totally in-house seating,” said Del Friscos co-owner Terry Konstas. “We didn’t have an in-house delivery system, which we quickly added. There were so many of our employees that were laid off that wanted to work so we adapted to a delivery system and added platforms like Uber and DoorDash.”

Helping them through the transition were emergency grants and low-interest loans from the federal and provincial governments, some of which are directly administered by PME MTL, a non-profit business-development organization established to assist the island’s small and medium-sized businesses.

Konstas said he had never even heard of PME MTL until a customer told him about them and when he got in touch, he discovered there were many government programs available to help his business get through the downturn and build for the future. “They’ve been very helpful right from day one,” said Konstas.

“We used some of the funds to catch up on our suppliers and our rents, the part that wasn’t covered from the federal side, and we used some of it for our new virtual concepts,” he said, referring to a virtual kitchen model which the restaurant has since adopted.

The virtual kitchen lets them create completely different menu items from the casual American Italian dishes that Del Friscos is known for and market them under different restaurant brand names. Under the Prasinó Soup & Salad banner, they sell healthy Greek options and their Stallone’s Sub Shop brand offers hearty sandwiches, yet the food from both is created in the same Del Friscos kitchen.

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Anglais

Downtown Montreal office, retail vacancies continue to rise

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Some of downtown Montreal’s key economic indicators are heading in the wrong direction.

Office and retail vacancies in the city’s central core continued to climb in the fourth quarter of 2020, according to a quarterly report released Thursday by the Urban Development Institute of Quebec and the Montréal Centre-Ville merchants association. The report, whose first edition was published in October, aims to paint a socio-economic picture of the downtown area.

The survey also found office space available for sublet had increased during the fourth quarter, which may foreshadow even more vacancies when leases expire. On the residential front, condo sales fell as new listings soared — a sign that the downtown area may be losing some of its appeal to homeowners.

“It’s impossible not to be preoccupied by the rapid increase in office vacancies,” Jean-Marc Fournier, the former Quebec politician who now heads the UDI, said Thursday in an interview.

Still, with COVID-19 vaccinations set to accelerate in the coming months, “the economic picture is bound to improve,” he said. “People will start returning downtown. It’s much too early to say the office market is going to disappear.”

Public health measures implemented since the start of the pandemic almost a year ago — such as caps on office capacity — have deprived downtown Montreal of more than 500,000 workers and students. A mere 4,163 university and CEGEP students attended in-person classes in the second quarter, the most recent period for which figures are available. Border closures and travel restrictions have also brought tourism to a standstill, hurting hotels and thousands of local businesses.

Seventy per cent of downtown workers carried out their professional activities at home more than three days a week during the fourth quarter, the report said, citing an online survey of 1,000 Montreal-area residents conducted last month.

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