TORONTO - A man who pleaded guilty to the incel-inspired murder of a Toronto massage parlour employee apologized for the terrorist attack Thursday, saying he has changed in the three years since the killing and no longer hates women.

The man apologized in court to the family and friends of 24-year-old Ashley Noelle Arzaga, who was killed in the February 2020 stabbing at a spa in north Toronto, as well as to a woman who was seriously injured.

“I never met Ashley before, I don't know what kind of person she was like, but what I do know is that she was a totally innocent person. She was just a fellow human being with the ability to think and feel just like me,” he said slowly and robotically, not looking up from a crumpled piece of paper as the victims' relatives watched hard-faced.

He further apologized to a woman injured in the attack who was in court, as well as Arzaga's daughter for “effectively destroying the rest of your childhood,” causing one woman to let out a soft cry.

“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 man, who cannot be identified under the Youth Criminal Justice Act because he was 17 at the time of the attack, pleaded guilty last year to charges of murder and attempted murder.

Justice Sukhail Akhtar ruled in June that the attack 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.

It's believed to be the first time in Canada that a court has made a finding of incel-motivated terrorist activity, a designation legal experts have said could force a reckoning of the courts' definition of terrorism.

The court heard Thursday the man planned to seek out women to violently attack with a 17-inch sword after he was radicalized with misogynistic views online. He repeatedly stabbed the victims and uttered phrases like “die, die, stupid wh*re, die,” said Crown attorney Chikeziri Igwe.

Igwe said the surviving victim, identified only by the initials J.C., managed to take the sword from the man, incapacitate him and leave him on the ground in the spa's parking lot. The man later told paramedics he came to kill everyone, but was happy he got one, Igwe said.

“The only reason the attack came to an end that day is because of the strength and heroism of Ms. J.C.,” Igwe said. The woman suffered stab wounds, lacerations to both hands and nerve damage in the attack.

J.C. read a victim impact statement to the court through tears, reading out a bible verse. “That 24th of February I was and always will be reminded vividly of the pure evil that lies in the shadows,” she said.

Crown lawyers also read victim impact statements from Arzaga's siblings, who said her killing has destroyed their family, and asked Akhtar to consider the safety of their family's surviving members and the safety of other women in his sentencing decision.

Lawyer Monte MacGregor called the case “one of the worst, most horrific” he's defended in his career. “(The Crown) will say this is a complex, well thought-out plan that he undertook, but as you dig deeper into who he is, it's sad and pathetic,” he said of his client.

MacGregor described him as living alone in the basement of his father's house at the time of the attack, after his parents' divorce at a young age scarred him. He said his client had no friends and his parents offered virtually no support or love, noting they were not present in court Thursday.

He further described his client telling his parents in Grade 9 that he didn't want to attend school to which they obliged. MacGregor said he was viciously bullied, spending time online and playing video games.

“That's who he is. Not loved enough, friendless, bullied, uneducated, ignorant to the world and choosing to lash out for no reason but because other introverts hidden in the dark share their conspiracy theories about why they are mistreated,” said MacGregor, noting his client's autism spectrum disorder and numerous mental illnesses.

The defence is seeking sentencing under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, which has a limit of 10 years, which in this case would be in addition to the three years served since the attack.

The Crown asked Akhtar to sentence the man as an adult due to his lack of remorse, that he was six months shy of turning 18 at the time of the attack and meticulously researched, planned and had made choices surrounding the attack that reflected adult thoughts and actions. If sentenced as an adult, the man will receive life in prison with eligibility to apply for parole after 10 years served.

A sentencing decision is expected on Nov. 28.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 12, 2023