A couple embrace during a ceremony to mark the end of a makeshift memorial for victims of the Toronto van attack, at Yonge St. and Finch Ave. in Toronto on Sunday, June 3, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Cole Burston

‘I’ve been spared a lot,’ van attack survivor says as she watches trial alone

Court has set up a private room for victims and families of those killed in the Toronto van attack

TORONTO — Every day virtual court sits, Catherine Riddell wakes up, shakes off the aches, grabs her walker and hops in a cab down to the real courthouse where she steels herself for a long day peering into the mind of the man who tried to kill her.

Court has set up a private room for victims and families of those killed in the Toronto van attack to watch the proceedings that are being held by videoconference due to the pandemic.

Most days Riddell is alone.

But not really, the 70-year-old says, when you consider the two victims services employees she’s bonded with, or the helpful court staff. She also feels the love of family, friends and complete strangers — and her 14-year-old cats Kleo and Bootsy.

But she’s still struggling to understand why she didn’t die that day.

“I’m trying very hard to stay positive because, to me, that’s the key to getting back to what you want to be and then really praying that the city will stay positive,” Riddell says.

“I know that it’s been very devastating for a lot of people and I’m hoping that they can find the strength to get by.”

Riddell laughs more now, but her journey has been difficult.

She had just left the bank at Yonge Street and Finch Avenue and was walking toward the library at Mel Lastman Square when a van hopped the curb and drove down the busy sidewalk, striking 26 people, killing 10.

Alek Minassian was the man behind the wheel.

Riddell never saw him coming. She was hit from behind and launched into the air, crashing through a transit shelter, glass shards raining down on her.

The crash fractured her spine and broke her ribs, scapula and pelvis. She had massive bruising, internal injuries and a minor brain injury — she had difficulty reading for months afterward as she struggled to focus.

She spent two years rehabilitating, from physiotherapy to hydrotherapy to massage therapy. She was depressed for a time, but counselling helped.

“There were times when I kind of would say to myself, ‘you know I wish he’d done a better job of it and then just ended it for me,’ and I wouldn’t have had to go through all this and everybody would have done their mourning and been through it and moved on with their life,” she says.

“It didn’t happen that way, which is a good thing because I’m quite grateful.”

It helps that Riddell remembers nothing of the crash and only recalls snippets of the next two weeks while at St. Michael’s hospital.

“At least I don’t have those memories to haunt me at night,” she says.

“In the middle of the night when I’m asleep I don’t wake up with the image of what occurred. So in that way I feel like I’ve been spared a lot.”

Two weeks after the attack, when she first became alert, Riddell apologized to her brother for crossing the street, thinking it was her fault she was hit.

That’s when she found out she was involved in one of the worst attacks in Canadian history.

Minassian, 28, has admitted in court to planning and carrying out the attack. He has pleaded not guilty to 10 counts of first-degree murder, and 16 counts of attempted murder, arguing he is not criminally responsible for his actions due to autism spectrum disorder.

Riddell avoided news coverage of the attack and did not learn where she was actually hit until a stranger came up to her at the first-year anniversary to tell her he was by her side right after.

She thought she was hit about a 10-minute walk north because that’s her last memory.

Two weeks ago came her toughest moment — the first day of trial when the prosecution presented in detail how and where all 26 people were hit.

The prosecution showed a photograph of the shattered bus shelter where Riddell landed.

“It just felt so real that’s actually when I felt it the most,” she says.

“It was hard seeing what happened to everybody. I cried my eyes out all day, all night.”

Riddell has worked hard to get to this point, hoping to face the man in the van in person.

Yet Riddell is gaining strength. She worked hard to get to the point to go down to court to face the man in the van.

The days in court are long. She prefers a regular nap.

Up until now, she says, she has not thought much about the man on trial.

“If you ask me, do I think there’s something wrong with him?” she says. “I absolutely do. Do I think he knew the difference between right and wrong? I absolutely do.”

But she says she’s trying to keep an open mind.

“If he was really incapable then they got to prove it to me,” she says.

“That’s why I have to be at court every day. I have to hear all of the testimony because if the verdict goes that way I have to be able to cope with that.”

Riddell says she often thinks about the other victims who lost their lives in the attack.

“I’m 70 and some of those kids who died are in their twenties,” she says. “So I feel compelled to make the very best opportunity I’ve been given otherwise I should have been one of the ones who passed away.”

Just Posted

Stettler County
County of Stettler approves projects during May 12th council meeting

County council has authorized some funds for projects this summer

Stettler County
County of Stettler holds public hearings for proposed bylaws

A bylaw to amend the Land Use Bylaw for recreational vehicle uses generated many responses from the public

Asymptomatic testing will now be available for "priority groups" who are most likely to spread the COVID-19 virus to vulnerable or at-risk populations. File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS
Alberta adds 1,195 new COVID-19 cases Saturday

Red Deer has dropped to 760 active cases

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw is asking Albertans to do their part by observing gathering limits, staying home if unwell, wearing masks and maintaining physical distance. (Photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Three new Central zone COVID-19 deaths, Alberta adds 1,433 cases

Red Deer down to 802 active cases of COVID-19

Stettler town hall. (Lisa Joy/Stettler Independent)
Stettler’s Main Street project continues to move forward

Phase two will be the replacement of the sidewalks on both sides of the block

Marc Kielburger, screen left, and Craig Kielburger, screen right, appear as witnesses via video conference during a House of Commons finance committee in the Wellington Building in Ottawa on Tuesday, July 28, 2020. The committee is looking into Government Spending, WE Charity and the Canada Student Service Grant. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Trudeau didn’t violate conflict rules over WE Charity, watchdog says

Federal ethics commissioner Mario Dion found that former finance minister Bill Morneau did violate the rules

Welcoming cowboy boots at the historic and colourful Last Chance Saloon in the ghost town of Wayne near Drumheller, Alta., on Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019. The bar and hotel are up for sale. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
‘It was a going concern’: Remaining bar and hotel in Alberta coal ghost town for sale

The historic Last Chance Saloon in the ghost town of Wayne in southern Alberta is up for sale

Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam listens to a question during a news conference, in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Restrictions will lift once 75% of Canadians get 1 shot and 20% are fully immunized, feds say

Federal health officials are laying out their vision of what life could look like after most Canadians are vaccinated against COVID-19

Chris Scott, owner of The Whistle Stop Cafe, was put in handcuffs after an anti-restriction protest Saturday in the parking lot of the business. (Screenshot via The Whistle Stop Facebook page)
Alberta RCMP investigating possible threat to police after Mirror rally

Online images show RCMP members, vehicles in crosshairs of a rifle

An Israeli attack helicopter launches flares as he flies over the Israeli Gaza border, southern Israel, Thursday, May 13, 2021. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
Singh calls for halt on Canadian arms sales to Israel as violence escalates in region

Government data shows Canada sent $13.7 million in military goods and technology to Israel in 2019

New homes are built in a housing construction development in the west-end of Ottawa on Thursday, May 6, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Budget’s foreign-homebuyers tax could bring in $509 million over 4 years, PBO says

Liberals are proposing a one per cent tax on vacant homes owned by foreign non-residents

A Canadian flag patch is shown on a soldier’s shoulder in Trenton, Ont., on Thursday, Oct. 16, 2014. The Canadian Forces says it has charged one of its members in the death of an army reservist from British Columbia during a training exercise at a military base in Alberta last year. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Lars Hagberg
Canadian Forces member charged in death of army reservist during training exercise

Cpl. Lars Callsen has been charged with one count of negligence

A youth plays basketball in an otherwise quiet court in Toronto on Saturday April 17, 2021. The Canadian Civil Liberties Association is urging the federal and provincial governments to fight COVID-19 pandemic by focusing on proven public health policy interventions including paid sick leave, and education rather than punitive enforcement measures. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
Provinces issued more COVID-19 tickets during 2nd wave: CCLA report

‘A pandemic is a public health, not a public order, crisis,’ reads the report

Most Read