A man accused of being a violent white nationalist wanted to spread fear to all Muslims in Canada when he killed four members of an immigrant family by running them down with a pickup truck, a Crown lawyer told a jury Tuesday.
“Nathaniel Veltman had a message for Muslims. That message was strong, that message was brutal, and that message was terrifying: ‘Leave this country or you and your loved ones could be next,” prosecutor Fraser Ball said while wrapping up a landmark terrorism prosecution.
Mr. Veltman, now 22, stands accused of terrorism and four counts of first-degree murder for the fatal collision in London, Ont., on June 6, 2021. While driving the pickup truck, which he acquired weeks before, he did a U-turn, sped up and struck five members of a family, standing in traditional Pakistani clothing at a pedestrian crossing.
Four of them died that day; the accused is also charged with attempted murder for hitting a boy who was 9 at the time and survived.
Earlier on Tuesday, a defence lawyer told the jury that Mr. Veltman should be convicted of a lesser charge because his mental illness and impairment on mushrooms should reduce his culpability.
The Crown’s closing arguments marked the end of a 10-week trial that could set a legal precedent by establishing that violence perpetrated in the cause of white nationalism is an offence under Canada’s anti-terrorism law.
Parliament passed that law in 2001, writing offences into the Criminal Code in the aftermath of al-Qaeda’s strikes against the United States. Since then, prosecutors have pursued dozens of cases against al-Qaeda-inspired suspects in Canada.
But more recently, Crown lawyers have signalled they will use the anti-terrorism laws to target suspects embracing other violent ideologies spreading in Canadian communities – including white nationalism.
If he is convicted of first-degree murder and terrorism, Mr. Veltman will receive the Canadian maximum penalty of a life sentence with no chance of parole for 25 years.
During the trial, the jury saw evidence that included the accused’s own manifestos for white nationalism and against immigration. Other evidence included Mr. Veltman’s videotaped admissions to police that he used the pickup truck as a battering ram against an immigrant family targeted at random.
“You have it all – everything you could possibly need to convict in this case,” Mr. Ball said. He reminded the jury that Mr. Veltman was arrested while wearing an army helmet, a bulletproof vest and T-shirt featuring a crusader cross after the Muslim family was killed.
Mr. Veltman admitted to the court that he was driving the Dodge Ram during the collision. But his lawyers argue that he cannot be held culpable for planning anyone’s death, because he has an array of mental-health issues and because his judgment was impaired by magic mushrooms he had taken the weekend of the attacks.
“He would be guilty of manslaughter,” defence lawyer Christopher Hicks said Tuesday.
He also told the jury that anti-Muslim manifestos written by Mr. Veltman should not be considered evidence of terrorism, because these document were never circulated to anyone. “He never hit the send icon on his computer,” Mr. Hicks said.
The Crown told the jury that evidence of Mr. Veltman’s mental disorders is lacking and that “speculative unscientific theories about magic mushrooms” should not be considered.
Prosecutors said they have proven that Mr. Veltman spent months planning the collision. They say the accused sought notoriety through violence and saw himself as a successor to mass shooters with similar mindsets who had massacred dozens in attacks in Norway and New Zealand.
The Crown’s close portrayed how Mr. Veltman “hammered the gas” on his truck in June, 2021, and made no attempt to stop before he sent human bodies flying into the air. “His mind made up, his heart hard, Mr. Veltman made the fatal U-turn – no takebacks,” Mr. Ball said.
The prosecutor painted an evocative picture of how the accused was arrested minutes later while exiting a Dodge Ram with the fabric of shalwar kameez clothing stuck to its grill. “Mr. Veltman was planning to kill Muslims because Mr. Veltman hates Muslims,” Mr. Ball said.
The jury trial is being held in Windsor, a two-hour drive southwest of the scene of the crime where members of the Afzaal family died: grandmother Talat, 74; parents Salman and Madiha, in their 40s; and their daughter Yumnah, 15.
The Crown’s closing arguments will continue on Wednesday.