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In June, 2021, four members of the Afzaal family were killed by a driver, Nathaniel Veltman, who is now on trial in Windsor, Ont., for four counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder

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People pray at a vigil outside the London Muslim Mosque for the victims of the deadly vehicle attack on a family of five, four of whom were killed.Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press

On June 6, 2021, four members of a Muslim family – spanning three generations – died together in a vehicle attack in London, Ont., that raised urgent questions about how communities and the legal system should deal with racist violence.

More than two years later, those questions are top of mind again in a Windsor courtroom, where the Crown will argue that suspect Nathaniel Veltman was motivated by white-nationalist beliefs and should be convicted of first-degree murder. Mr. Veltman has pleaded not guilty.

Here’s a primer on the facts of the case so far.

What happened on June 6, 2021

How the truck attack in London, Ont., unfolded

Five family members were out for a walk on Hyde Park Road in the northwest end of London, Ont., on June 6, 2021. They were waiting to cross an intersection at South Carriage Road at 8:40 p.m. when a black pickup truck heading south drove onto the curb and hit them, London police said in a statement. “We believe that this was an intentional act and that the victims of this horrific incident were targeted because of their Islamic faith,” then-police chief Steve Williams told a news conference the next day.

Minutes after hitting the family, the driver stopped in a mall parking lot about seven kilometres southeast. He got out, confronted a taxi driver on a smoke break and “yelled at [him] to call police because he had killed somebody,” said Hasan Savehilaghi, president of Yellow London Taxi. The cab driver called 911, then sprinted after a police car going by and told her what the truck driver had said; more officers came and arrested the man.

Police, the cab driver and other bystanders have said the truck driver was wearing an armoured vest and helmet. One witness said the truck had a push bar, a protective device on the front bumper that police vehicles sometimes use to ram other cars or fences.

The London family: Who was killed, who survived
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From right to left: Salman Afzaal, his mother, his wife Madiha Salman and his daughter Yumnah.Courtesy of the Afzaal family

Relatives identified the dead as three generations of a single Pakistani-Canadian family:

  • Husband and wife Salman Afzaal, 46, and Madiha Salman, 44
  • Their daughter Yumnah, 15
  • Mr. Afzaal’s mother, 74

The sole survivor was the couple’s nine-year-old son. His uncle and other extended family from across Ontario came to care for him.

The suspect and the trial

Nathaniel Veltman, 22, is charged with four counts of first-degree murder and one of attempted murder.

The Crown contends each of these alleged crimes was motivated by terrorist ideology. It’s the first time prosecutors in Canada have argued such a crime ranks as a terrorist attack.

In her opening instructions, Superior Court Judge Renee Pomerance told the jury that they would hear allegations that Mr. Veltman subscribed to white supremacist views.

She reiterated that the accused is considered innocent of the allegations unless prosecutors prove otherwise during the trial, which is anticipated to last two months.

Racist attacks in Canada: A recent history

The London attack was not the first time Muslim Canadians were targeted in recent years. In 2017, six Quebeckers were massacred in a mosque by a Quebec City man, who is now serving a life sentence in prison without possibility of parole for 25 years. In September of 2020, Toronto police charged a man with first-degree murder after the fatal stabbing of a volunteer caretaker at an Etobicoke mosque.

The pandemic only worsened “xenophobic and anti-authority narratives” in Canada, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service warned in a 2020 report, citing the rise in online misinformation and conspiracy theories fuelled by organized hate groups. In 2020, police-reported hate crimes in Toronto were up 51 per cent compared with the year before; in Vancouver, it was 97 per cent, with anti-Asian attacks increasing sevenfold.

In 2021, police-reported hate crimes were up 27 per cent across the country, with a 67-per-cent increase in incidents linked to a person’s religion. Unlike other crimes, a large proportion of violent hate attacks were committed by strangers.

Opinion and analysis

Sheema Khan: The London attack reaffirms why Muslims often feel unsafe in their own country

Leenat Jilani: The attack in London did not occur in a vacuum. It is a reflection of my city – and of Canada

Omer Aziz: Islamophobia begins with ideas. It always ends in violence

Jessica Davis: More transparency is needed on decisions about terrorism charges

Robyn Urback: Trudeau will fight discrimination against Muslims – so long as they don’t live in Quebec

In the spring and summer of 2020, Yumnah Afzaal dedicated many hours to creating a mural at her elementary school, a place her friend says she loved. Police say Yumnah, along with her parents and grandmother were intentionally killed by a driver in a pickup truck in June of this year, targeted because of their Islamic faith.

The Globe and Mail

Compiled by Globe staff

With reports from Colin Freeze and The Canadian Press

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