He is the trim, neatly dressed defendant in the dock, charged with two counts of second-degree murder, five counts of aggravated assault, criminal negligence and reckless discharge of a firearm.
Husbands was indisputably — admits this — the shooter who opened fire in the Eaton Centre food court six years ago, sending innocent bystanders scrambling for cover and stampeding out of the downtown mall. It was an attack that shocked even a jaded city.
But on Monday morning, the now 29-year-old pleaded not guilty to all the charges, despite videos which the jury will see of Husbands reaching into his satchel bag for the gun and spraying that food court with bullets until the weapon was empty.
The defence, as made clear in their opening statement, will seek a finding of not criminally responsible.
The argument is that Husbands was in a dissociative mental state, suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder arising from a vicious attack against him by half a dozen males some four months earlier. On his way to visit a female friend, he’d been jumped, dragged into an empty apartment, tormented by a group of men — some of whom removed their masks — and, as a bathtub was filled with water, totally believing he was about to be killed. Instead, they released Husbands before lamming it. He staggered outside, bleeding, and collapsed in the middle of Gerrard St.
On June 2, 2012, while at the Eaton Centre with his girlfriend, Husbands saw five men walking by. He thought he recognized two of them as his assailants. He thought that one of them, Nixon Nirmalendran, directed his younger brother, Nisan, to shoot him. He allegedly saw Nisan move his hand towards his pocket, as if reaching for a firearm.
Nixon Nirmalendran would be critically wounded. Ahmed Hassan was killed.
They had all known each other, growing up in Regent Park, Husbands moving to Toronto to live with his dad, leaving behind a crack-addicted HIV-positive mother. Husbands and siblings had been removed from their inattentive mother’s home by their grandmother.
Regent Park, defence lawyer Stephanie DiGiuseppe told the jury, was a culture shock for the boy. “Mr. Husbands was exposed to racism — often directed at him — poverty, crime, drug dealing and significant violence from a young age. When he was just 13 years old, he was playing with a friend outside his apartment complex and he saw a man die from a gunshot to the head.”
He grew up into a street criminal himself, drug-dealing.
But it was the horrific assault — he never revealed the assailants’ names to police — that turned him into a twitchy, paranoid, hypervigilant, deeply traumatized individual plagued by flashbacks, said DiGiuseppe, convinced that the attackers would eventually come back and finish off the job. That leeriness, said DiGiuseppe, is why he carried a gun whenever he left his home. A gun which has never been found.
“Certainly during the time following the stabbing, Christopher Husbands was very, very afraid,” said DiGiuseppe. “He will testify that he feared for his life. He experienced intense stress and intense fear every day.
“I expect he will tell you he was very confused. He did not understand why he had been the target of such a vicious attack.”
Crown Attorney Mary Humphrey laid the groundwork for the prosecution with a radically different outline of the case, although the details — the scene, the shooting, the killing, the chaos, the wounded bystanders, including a 13-year-old boy shot in the head — don’t change.
It was, Humphrey told the jury, “street justice,” inflicted by Husbands for the stabbing four months previous.
Husbands, she said, wanted retribution, saw his assailants, and seized it. He’d merely been waiting for the opportunity and that’s why he always went about armed.
“It is the Crown theory that he had a simple plan to shoot them when he saw them. It is the Crown theory that he wanted to execute his own street justice.”
Humphrey knows this case inside-out. She was the Crown who prosecuted Husbands in 2015. Justice Brian O’Marra told the jury before opening addresses that there had been “a prior trial in this matter” but did not explain why a second trial is now being held.
“Do not speculate about what happened at the end of that trial. Or why we are here again.”
In her narrative, which isn’t evidence, Humphrey drew the tableau. “It was a busy night, family and friends gathered to eat dinner. At approximately 6:22 that evening, the busy food court turned to chaos. Christopher Husbands opened fire and killed two men and injured six others.”
While his girlfriend was ordering food at Sushi Q, Husbands stood in a corner, black satchel draped across his body, looking out into the food court.
The five men came down the escalator and walked past him.
“No argument was heard by anybody in the food court.”
Witnesses will testify, said Humphrey, they heard Husbands yelling “What?” One is expected to testify he heard someone yelling “What’s up?” in a rude manner.
As the men kept moving forward, Husbands took aim, emptying 14 rounds.
Nixon Nirmalendran was 22 years old. Ahmed Hassan was 24.
“These two young men were not the only casualties from the gunfire,” Humphrey continued. “Innocent bystanders were also harmed from the fired bullets that may have traveled through several different bodies or ricocheted off floors, walls or pillars.”
Connor Stevenson, the boy shot in the head. He’d come downtown with his mother and children to see a play at the Mirvish Theatre, then to the Eaton Centre for a bite.
Tasnuva Mahmood, in the company of a friend from Boston, shot in the leg, just above the knee.
Nicholas Kalakonis, window-shopping at the mall, shot in the upper thigh.
Qin Chen, grazed by a bullet across her abdomen.
Hanna Finger, struck in the finger.
Kessia Frederick, seven months pregnant at the time, trampled by the panicked crowd, injuring wrist, shoulder and leg muscles, and going into premature contractions.
Husbands fled the scene amidst the havoc. He turned himself into police two days later.
The trial is expected to last two months.
Rosie DiManno is a columnist based in Toronto covering sports and current affairs. Follow her on Twitter: @rdimanno