National Newswatch

TORONTO — Grieving relatives of two men gunned down in a daytime shooting at Toronto's Eaton Centre said Tuesday they still struggle to cope with their loss seven years after the attack.

Relatives of Ahmed Hassan, 24, and Nixon Nirmalendran, 22, described the lasting trauma caused by the pair's deaths at a sentencing hearing for Christopher Husbands, who was convicted of manslaughter in the June 2, 2012 mall shooting earlier this year.

"Everyone will say that my son was bad but for me it was not like that," Nirmalendran's mother, Vigneswary Nirmalendran, said in a statement read aloud by prosecutors.

Nixon Nirmalendran was the oldest son, the caregiver in the family, the one who took his ailing father to the doctor and his younger brothers to their graduations, she said.

Friends and relatives blamed her and Nirmalendran's father after his death, and that led to feelings of isolation, particularly after their second son was fatally shot the following year, she said.

"I live only for my youngest son now," she said.

Nirmalendran's fiancee, Donika Morgan, told the court in a written statement that their now six-year-old son "fears for his life," believing he will meet the same fate as his father. The boy, who was born months after Nirmalendran’s death, has also missed out on the chance to know his father, she said.

Hassan's sisters described their sibling as a quiet and caring young man whose death has left a "gaping hole" in their lives. His cousin, Shukri Mohamed, said the family believes Husbands remains a threat to the public.

Husbands was also found guilty of five counts of aggravated assault and one count each of criminal negligence causing bodily harm and reckless discharge of a firearm.

Court heard Hassan died on the floor of the mall's food court and Nirmalendran died in hospital more than a week later.

Six others were hurt, including a 13-year-old boy who was shot in the head and survived, and a pregnant woman who was trampled as the attack set off a stampede.

Some who survived the shooting said they remain fearful to this day, as did their relatives. Family members of Connor Stevenson, who was shot in the head that day, said they no longer feel safe in public places and are gripped with anxiety about his health.

"Connor is never safe and I am always afraid," said his mother, Jo-Anne Finney. "And as I think back even now, fear takes over."

She described seeing her son bleeding on the floor of the food court while she and her teenage daughter "tried to stop him from dying." While Stevenson pulled through, he cannot risk even minor head injuries, she said.

"A hit to his head would likely mean certain death. That is why I am afraid," Finney said.

Stevenson, meanwhile, said Tuesday that he endures crippling headaches every day as a result of his injuries and the six surgeries that followed. He also said he struggles with memory and planning.

"I will never be able to lead a normal life because a selfish man decided that his personal vendetta outweighed the lives of everyone in the mall," he said.

The family said the trial process has undermined their faith in the justice system, a feeling expressed by many of those who gave statements to the court Tuesday.

"I feel that I have been cast to the side and treated as a minor bump in the road by a system that doesn't put enough importance on the victim," Stevenson said.

Husbands admitted at trial that he was the shooter but his lawyers argued he should be found not criminally responsible due to mental illness. The Crown acknowledged Husbands suffered from PTSD due to a stabbing months earlier but said he was carrying out a vendetta against his attackers.

The trial was Husbands' second in connection with the shooting. The first one saw him convicted of second-degree murder after being charged with first-degree.

Ontario's court of appeal overturned that ruling and ordered a new trial after finding the judge had made an error in law regarding jury selection.

Prosecutors are challenging the verdict in the second trial and seeking a third one, alleging the judge in that proceeding made several mistakes related to evidence.

They allege Ontario Superior Court Justice Brian O'Mara erred in requiring them to introduce the evidence of three Crown witnesses through an agreed statement of fact.

They say O'Mara also erred in excluding evidence related to Husbands's criminal record and his being on bail at the time of the shooting, as well as evidence from eyewitnesses "that the accused was engaged in a targeted shooting."

The sentencing hearing is scheduled to continue throughout the week and over several days in September and October.

Paola Loriggio , The Canadian Press

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