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Man who pleaded guilty in incel-inspired Toronto murder sentenced to life in prison

A man who pleaded guilty to the incel-inspired murder of a Toronto massage parlour employee sought out the ideology that led him to commit a “horrific crime,” an Ontario judge said Tuesday in sentencing him to life in prison with no chance of parole for 10 years.

Though the man was 17 when he carried out the brutal attack with a sword in February 2020, sentencing him as a youth — which would cap the sentence at 10 years behind bars — would be “insufficient” to hold him accountable, Justice Sukhail Akhtar told the court.

The stabbing that killed 24-year-old Ashley Noelle Arzaga and seriously injured a woman identified only by the initials J.C. was motivated by a violent and misogynistic ideology, the judge said.

The man “committed the crime after extensively researching the incel culture,” Akhar said.

“I do not accept his … attempt at avoiding responsibility by claiming that he was brainwashed by that culture. He sought it out, he accepted it and he acted upon it,” the judge said.

The  killing of Arzaga “reflects the evils of that ideology,” he said. “[The man] did not just murder Ms. Arzaga — he butchered her … with a 17-inch sword even as Ms. Arzaga lay on the floor defenceless and dying.”

The attack on J.C., also with the same weapon, “was accompanied by language denoting hatred for women,” the judge said. “He intended to carve out a niche of infamy with messages designed to make clear that his acts were in the name of incel ideology.”

The man, now 21, has also been sentenced to three years behind bars for the attempted murder of J.C., to be served concurrently.

He pleaded guilty last year to first-degree murder and attempted murder. Akhtar later ruled the attack to be an act of terrorism due to its links to so-called “incel” ideology, which stands for “involuntary celibate,” a subculture dominated by men who blame women for their lack of sexual relations.

Several police officers standing behind yellow tape at a crime scene.
Justice Suhail Akhtar ruled in June that the attack at a Toronto massage parlour amounted to an act of terrorism for its links to so-called ‘incel’ ideology, short for the ‘involuntary celibate’ fringe internet subculture dominated by men who blame women for their lack of sexual relations. (Michael Cole/CBC)

It’s believed to be the first time in Canada that a court has made a finding of incel-motivated terrorist activity, which defence lawyers said could affect how terrorism is treated by the courts and viewed by society.

So far, typical terrorism cases have involved people who are part of an organization such as ISIS, defence lawyer Maurice Mattis said outside the courthouse after the sentencing. This case, however, has no organization but rather participation in an online community that is “sort of co-ordinated by persons who promote hate against women,” he said.

“Beyond Canada, I think it’s a case that the world is going to have an interest in because it’s taken terrorism to chat room participation leading to the commission of a crime. And I think that will have a [resounding] impact all over the world in terms of how youth are going to be treated or influenced this way,” Mattis said.

Prosecutors wanted the man to be sentenced as an adult, noting he was six months shy of turning 18 at the time and meticulously researched, planned and made choices surrounding the attack that reflected adult thoughts and actions.

They also argued he has shown no remorse.

Adults found guilty of first-degree murder face an automatic life sentence with no chance of parole for 25 years, but the parole ineligibility is lower for youth sentenced as adults. In this case, the 10-year parole ineligibility period begins on the day of the man’s arrest, meaning he has roughly six years more to serve before he can apply for parole.

A sculpture of people making up columns under a roof sits outside a courthouse.
It’s believed to be the first time in Canada that a court has made a finding of incel-motivated terrorist activity, which defence lawyers said could affect how terrorism is treated by the courts and viewed by society. (Colin Perkel/Canadian Press)

The defence, meanwhile, sought to have the man sentenced under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, which sets a limit of 10 years.

Defence lawyers had proposed an intense rehabilitation program, which court heard the man rejected out of fear he would be targeted by other inmates if detained in a provincial institution rather than a federal one, where he could have a cell to himself.

The judge said the man’s refusal to engage in this type of program shows he “fails to understand the need for rehabilitation and remains fixated on thinking of himself” rather than thinking of what he needs to do to safely reintegrate into society.

Akhtar did point to some mitigating factors, including the man’s upbringing, his sense of isolation and his mental health challenges, as well as the fact that he pleaded guilty.

Man obtained sword months before attack

At a hearing last month, the man apologized to Arzaga’s family and friends, and to the surviving victim. The man, now 20, also said he has changed and no longer hates women.

“I’ve come to realize that life is so much more than just internet negativity … I wish I could travel back in time and talk some sense into my former self,” he said.

The court heard he planned to seek out women to violently attack with a 17-inch sword after he was radicalized with misogynistic views online.

He obtained the sword months before the attack and had it inscribed with a derogatory word for women and “slayer,” court heard.

On the day of the stabbing, he wore a long, dark coat and hat, and carried a note that said “long live the incel rebellion” inside a zip-close bag, court heard.

Arzaga, who was working at reception, greeted him as a customer, court heard. The man stabbed her in the neck without warning and continued to stab her after she’d fallen to the ground.

J.C. rushed to the reception area after hearing a sound and was also stabbed, court heard. The man told her he was going to kill her and called her derogatory terms, it heard. She eventually managed to take the sword from him and incapacitate him, which court heard brought the attack to an end. She suffered stab wounds, lacerations to both hands and nerve damage as she fought

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