Financing the Toronto Massage Parlour Attack
Earlier this September, the man who brutally killed a 24-year old woman and stabbed two other individuals at a Toronto massage parlour in 2020, pleaded guilty to charges of murder and attempted murder. As the accused was 17 years old at the time of the killing, he cannot be named under the Youth Criminal Justice Act and thus details related to the attack are limited. However, court details outline that the man cited Alek Minassian’s 2018 Toronto van rampage as ‘inspiration’ for the attack.
The perpetrator’s connections to the incel ideology led to the RCMP also pursuing terrorism charges against the man. Although the legislation has been in place for decades, terrorism is a crime rarely prosecuted in Canada. For the most part, only individuals tied to religiously motivated violent extremism have been charged with terrorism. This case thus marks the first-time terrorism charges have been laid in connection to an act of misogynistic violence.
Although there is limited information due to the publication bans associated with this case, in the following article we’ll outline the facts of the attack as well as highlight the financial elements.
In February 2020, a 17-year old man in a long, dark trench coat and sword attached to his belt walked approximately 2 kilometers from his home to Crown Spa in Toronto’s North York neighbourhood. Upon entering the spa, the man immediately began stabbing the Spa’s receptionist, 24-year old Ashley Noell Arzag. The nearly half-metre-long sword used in the attack was inscribed with the words “thot slayer” - “thot” being a derogatory term used against women, implying sexual promiscuity.
After hearing screaming, the spa’s owner came to investigate and was stabbed by the perpetrator. The owner managed to disarm the man after significant struggle and eventually stabbed him in the back, ending the rampage. The woman then managed to call the police from a neighboring business. The perpetrator was arrested with a note in his pocket reading “Long live the rebellion of the incels”. When asked why he carried the note, he told police "I wanted everyone to find it. I wanted the world to know that people like us exist and it's not really fair." The perpetrator’s clear connections to an ideological motive is what caused the RCMP to tie the murder and attempted murder charges to terrorism.
The Cost of the Attack
As is frequently the case with other incel-inspired attacks, such as the Toronto Van Attack we covered last week, the cost of such terrorism is relatively low. With the massage parlour attack, the only real expense was the procurement and inscription of the weapon. Swords can range from $100 to upwards of $3000, based on online sales in the region. As the perpetrator was a teenager and unlikely spent significant sums of money on the sword, we estimate that the weapon cost between $100 to $300. There is no evidence to suggest that he got the sword professionally inscribed, although doing so would likely increased the cost. Some reports describe the weapon to be a machete instead of a sword, which has the potential to cost a bit less, anywhere from $50 to a few hundred.
Unlike Alek Minassian, the perpetrator did not have any vehicle costs as he walked to the attack site. The attacker also wore plain clothes, not armored gear, or any other special attire. At this time, we cannot assess whether there were any additional equipment or operational security costs. If the man is sentenced as an adult instead of a youth, the publication ban will be lifted, and further details of the attack will be released. For now, we can approximate the cost to be simply the price of the sword.
In the following weeks, the murderer will undergo a psychiatric evaluation and a pre-sentencing report will be complete. Sentencing will be set in 2023. The outcome of the terrorism charges as well as the sentencing verdict will create an important precedent for the prosecution of future ideologically motivated acts of violence.
As we have known for some time, incel-motivated terrorism is cheap to conduct, and often has little to no financial transactions associated with it, which makes it challenging to detect and disrupt. However, the low cost of this attack is quite unusual — even other simple, lone actor attacks tend to have higher costs. This might be the rare example of “no cost” terrorism (or such low cost as to be meaningless).
Traditional counter-terrorist financing approaches used for terrorist groups, such as sanctions, designations, and financial exclusion, are difficult to implement and have limited utility against this type of terrorism. Nonetheless, continuing to examine, analyze, and assess these attacks helps demonstrate the scope of financial activities associated with terrorist financing. As demonstrated by the Indicators of Mobilization to Violence Project, bystander education and intervention, including about potential financial indicators, will also be important in detecting and disrupting incel-motivated terrorism.