The individual from Canada who murdered four individuals from a Muslim family has been convicted of four counts of first degree murder and one count of attempted murder. This case served as a test for the effectiveness of the nation’s terror laws in prosecuting far-right extremism.
It took the jury approximately six hours to find Nathaniel Veltman guilty. He could potentially receive a life sentence with no possibility of parole for 25 years. Justice Renee Pomerance will decide if Veltman’s actions can be classified as terrorism during the sentencing process.
22-year-old Veltman faced charges for four instances of homicide and one instance of attempted homicide after using his truck to hit five members of the Afzaal family as they were taking a stroll in London, Ontario on the night of June 6, 2021.
Salman Afzaal, aged 46, his spouse Madiha Salman, aged 44, their 15-year-old child Yumna, and Talat Afzaal, the 74-year-old grandmother, were victims of the assault and lost their lives. Their 9-year-old son was also gravely wounded but managed to survive.
After the decision was made public, the National Council of Canadian Muslims shared on social media that “justice had been served” and urged the nation to consider the increase in hate crimes towards Muslims.
At first, Veltman confessed to the police that he was responsible for the deaths of the four Afzaal family members, but he later pleaded not guilty to all accusations.
Over the course of nine weeks, prosecutors stated that Veltman confessed to detectives that he left his house on the day of the assault with the intention of finding and killing Muslims. He claimed that he was motivated by the 2019 Christchurch shootings, where a white supremacist murdered 51 individuals.
He had written his own manifesto called A White Awakening and identified himself as a white nationalist. Police found two versions of a document on his computer when they searched his home.
The defense claimed that Veltman was innocent of first-degree murder and did not commit an act of terrorism. They pointed out that there was no criminal intent to harm the victims and no premeditated plan for the attack. Veltman also stated in court that his mental state at the time prevented him from fully comprehending the impact and repercussions of his actions.
In the final statements presented on Wednesday, the defense called for a new trial, claiming that certain aspects of the prosecution’s closing arguments were “excessively extreme.”
Judge Pomerance deemed a mistrial to be an extreme solution and deemed it unnecessary in this situation. However, the jury was advised to ignore any emotional language and unnecessary statements made by the prosecution.
Pomerance also denied requests for a never-before-seen publication ban on Veltman’s “manifesto”. The prosecution had requested a permanent ban on the document, but the judge sided with the media, stating that journalists have a responsibility to report on the facts of the case.
The assault caused surprise and sorrow throughout Canada – and sparked renewed demands to address Islamophobia.
The Afzaals, who immigrated to the city of London from Pakistan in 2007, were much-loved members of the local community. Salman was a physiotherapist in elder care. Madiha was a writer and civil engineer on the path to finish her PhD.
Yumna, a painter, has left a lasting mark at the London Islamic School with her floor-to-ceiling mural depicting outer space and the phrase “aim for the moon, even if you miss, you’ll still reach the stars”. Talat, an artist and teacher, was considered the backbone of their family and they treasured their daily walks together.
The outcome of the trial could provide clarification on the nation’s anti-terrorism legislation, which was implemented following the events of September 11 in the US. According to the Terrorism Act, the prosecution must demonstrate that Veltman’s actions were driven by political, religious, or ideological motives, and that he intended to instill fear or intimidate the public. Previously, this law has primarily been utilized to prosecute individuals involved in violence related to Islamist extremism. This case marks one of the initial instances where the law has been applied in the trial of an individual suspected of being motivated by far-right ideology.
“As members of society, we all have a duty to actively oppose and address hatred in all its manifestations. This ruling does not release us from that obligation,” stated Josh Morgan, the mayor of London. “Rather, it should serve as a perpetual reminder of the importance of staying dedicated to this cause in order to prevent it from recurring.”
The court will reconvene on December 1st to establish the date of Veltman’s sentencing.