An “incel” teenager who murdered a woman in a Toronto massage parlour has received a life sentence after a judge ruled the gender-based attack to be terrorism in a landmark case.
The machete-wielding assailant killed 24-year-old Ashley Arzaga and seriously wounded another woman, identified only by the initials JC, in the 2020 attack.
The attacker, who cannot be named because he was 17 at the time, had a sexist epithet engraved on his 17-inch machete and carried a note promoting violence against women.
Judge Suhail Akhtar sentenced the attacker to life in prison on Tuesday, with no chance of parole for at least 10 years.
The judge had ruled that the attack on the massage parlour, Crown Spa, amounted to an act of terrorism due to its links to “incel” ideology, which stands for “involuntary celibate”.
It is promoted through a fringe online subculture dominated by men who blame women for denying them their perceived right to sex.
It is believed to be the first time a Canadian court has ruled gender-based violence to be an act of terrorism, which the defendant’s lawyer argued could affect how terrorism is treated by courts in future.
Meticulously researched and planned
After the sentencing, defence lawyer Maurice Mattis 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.”
Mr Mattis added it would have an impact “all over the world in terms of how youth are going to be treated or influenced this way”.
The incel movement was also linked to a 2018 rampage in Toronto in which a man used a van to kill 10 people, as well as attacks in California and Florida.
But authorities have hitherto been wary of deploying terrorism-related charges in similar cases, such as the 2018 attack.
The teenage attacker in this case pleaded guilty last year to murdering Arzaga and the attempted murder of the other woman.
Prosecutors wanted him to be sentenced as an adult because he was six months shy of turning 18 at the time of the attack.
They noted he had meticulously researched, planned and made choices surrounding the attack that reflected adult thoughts and actions. They also argued he has shown no remorse.
Following his guilty plea, they also asked for the attack to be designated as terrorism to increase his potential jail time. He would otherwise have faced a maximum of 10 years in prison.
Adults found guilty of first-degree murder face an automatic life sentence with no chance of parole for 25 years.
The defence had sought to have that threshold limited to 10 years because of his age.
On Tuesday, Judge Akhtar said the defendant, now 21, had displayed a maturity beyond his years and said sentencing him as a youth would be “insufficient”.
He also noted the defendant had “committed the crime after extensively researching the incel culture”.
Judge Akhtar rejected the defence’s claims the defendant had been “brainwashed” by it, saying:
“He sought it out, he accepted it and he acted upon it”.
He added that the defendant “did not just murder Ms Arzaga, he butchered her”.