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Man who set woman ablaze on Toronto bus not criminally responsible, Crown, defence say – Toronto | Globalnews.ca

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WARNING: Story contains graphic details which some readers may find disturbing. Discretion is advised.

Tenzin Norbu, the Toronto man who set a stranger on fire on a TTC bus in June 2022, is not guilty of first-degree murder due to a mental illness that rendered him not criminally responsible, Crown prosecutors and defence lawyers say.

Forensic psychiatrist Dr. Alina Iosif, who assessed Norbu, testified Monday that he was suffering from schizophrenia when he set Nyima Dolma on fire on June 17, 2022. Iosif told Superior Court Justice Maureen Forestell that Norbu was unable to appreciate the moral wrongfulness of his actions.

Based on medical records she reviewed from the Parkdale Health Centre, where Norbu had been treated since 2013, Iosif said the 35-year-old was misdiagnosed as suffering from depression and was given anti-depressants.

Norbu, who was receiving Ontario Disability Support Payments (ODSP), lived mostly with his parents and sister since arriving from Nepal in 2008.

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Iosif testified Norbu was suffering from a psychotic disorder at the time of the index offence, and believes the symptoms may have started at least 10, possibly 20 years prior.


Click to play video: 'Woman lit on fire in apparent random attack, Toronto police provide timeline'


Woman lit on fire in apparent random attack, Toronto police provide timeline


In October 2018, Norbu told his counsellor at the Parkdale Health Centre that he was receiving threats from Tibetan people. The following month, he met with his counsellor and revealed that people in the Tibetan community knew about his trauma and felt their judgement. Iosif said a theme emerged about feeling judged by the Tibetan community.

Court heard that Norbu was preoccupied with Tibetan politics, sexuality and fire. He was also obsessed with the death of his brother who self-mutilated.

“I see these themes as almost obsessional. Themes that turn over in his mind and he speaks about to the point these almost become confounding to an interviewer. The cornerstone of these themes in anchored in psychosis,” Iosif told the court.

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In July and September 2020, Norbu also reported having suicidal thoughts and considered dousing himself with gasoline. In November 2021, he met with a counsellor at the Parkdale Health Centre and indicated a Tibetan doctor told him to kill a high-profile tech executive.


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Iosif said Norbu’s symptoms of hearing voices, paranoia and disassociation became more pronounced in the months leading up to the incident on the bus.

According to an agreed statement of facts read out in court, Dolma died on July 5, 2022, from injuries caused by the fire set on her. The two were strangers to one another. Dolma, who was on her way to work, had exited the westbound subway train at Kipling station and had entered the Route 112 bus 8062 just prior to 12:20 pm.

Dolma was sitting on the upper right window seat at the rear of the bus when Norbu entered 20 seconds behind her and was standing close to where she was sitting. Approximately 10 seconds later, the facts state Norbu engaged in a verbal interaction with Dolma, but not in English. Norbu then began to rummage through the backpack he was carrying and about one minute later, Norbu approached Dolma.

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“He poured a mason jar filled with lighter fluid onto the front of her shirt. After two attempts with a lighter, it ignited seeing Ms. Dolma ablaze in a flame of fire. Almost immediately, Mr. Norbu removed his shirt to become topless. Ms. Dolma, still aflame, ran from the bus. Mr. Norbu casually followed the other panicked passengers off the bus,” crown prosecutor Shane Hobson told the court.

While more than 50 people were present on the platform when Dolma exited the bus pleading for help, only a few came to her rescue, TTC Supervisors Cameron Jackson and Renee Joseph and two bystanders.


Nyima Dolma, 28, died in hospital on July 5, 2022.


Toronto police photo

According to the facts, Dolma told bystanders that she did not know the man later identified as Norbu. Dolma said that Norbu has asked her if she was Tibetan and said, “Yes.”

While others comforted Dolma, Norbu momentarily returned to the door of bus 8062 and began to yell in Tibetan “Free Tibet.” He then fled the station along the exterior subway tracks and was arrested a short distance away.

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Norbu had a lighter, pepper spray and a driver’s licence on him. The mason jar and lid were retrieved and later tested at the Centre for Forensic Sciences, which confirmed that Norbu was carrying a jar of lighter fluid in his backpack.

Surveillance cameras onboard the bus captured the entire event, but the judge decided against making them exhibits.

Another passenger, Angela Campbell, reported she recalled seeing Norbu at Kipling Station in the days leading up to June 17 and told police she thought Norbu was acting “crazy” by pacing up and down the platform in an unusual way.

Iosif told court, “Even to lay people he came across as somebody who was crazy, to put it bluntly. He was pacing. He looked off. He was doing weird things. He took off his T-shirt. He appeared to be laughing when police arrived. He hid in the subway tracks. … A direct reflection of someone suffering a psychotic disorder.”

Iosif testified that Norbu’s psychosis caused him to become angry and he wanted to revenge himself on a victim who did nothing. Iosif said his anger was not reality based.

Dolma’s sister gave a victim impact statement and said her sister had a dream of making a difference in the world and helping others. Dolma’s sister said she was working as a caregiver and was about to take her licensing exam to become a registered nurse.

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Jackson, who tried to help Dolma on the Kipling platform the day of the attack, said the incident stands as a stark reminder of the fragility of life. His voice breaking, Jackson told the court he has been suffering from depression and anxiety since that day.

Crown attorney Brady Donahue called Dolma’s death horrific, and told Justice Forestell she should find Dolma not criminally responsible for what happened that day.

“He was delusional, psychotic and could not understand the moral wrongfulness of his actions. He had a perception Tibetans knew things about him and were familiar with intimate details of his life and were judging him for it,” Donahue said.

The judge will deliver her verdict Tuesday.

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