A jury has found Nathaniel Veltman guilty of four counts of first-degree murder for using a pickup truck to kill four members of a Muslim family. But whether the 22-year-old is also to be legally considered a terrorist for his June, 2021, attack in London, Ont., is being left for a sentencing hearing this winter.
Mr. Veltman, who subscribed to white nationalist views, drove into the family deliberately with a Dodge Ram pickup truck. He had spent months plotting the attack in the abstract before he suddenly seized on a Muslim family whom he spotted at random, seeing some of them wearing shalwar kameez clothing at a pedestrian crossing.
Killed during that Sunday evening stroll were husband and wife Salman Afzaal and Madiha Afzaal, two academically accomplished immigrants who had come to Canada in the mid-2000s from Pakistan. Mr. Afzaal’s mother, 74-year-old Talat, was also slain by the truck, as was the couple’s daughter Yumnah Afzaal, an aspiring artist just 15 years old.
Yumnah’s younger brother, then 9, was the lone survivor. He was injured and orphaned in the attack. Mr. Veltman was also convicted Friday of trying to kill that boy.
“We find the defendant guilty,” a jury member said several times over as court officials read out the names of each of the Afzaal family members aloud in connection with the four first-degree murder charges and the one attempted murder charge. Mr. Veltman was impassive hearing all this, as he was through much of his 10-week trial held in Windsor, Ont.
Two prosecutors hugged each other after the verdicts were rendered, having spent more than two years delving into the searing evidence they presented in court.
Mr. Veltman’s case marked the first time in a Canadian prosecution that the Crown has argued that white nationalism is a terrorist ideology. Legal observers have been watching the case closely to see whether it expands the boundaries of terrorism prosecutions.
Mr. Veltman was charged with murder and attempted murder one day after the crimes. But a week later, federal police and prosecutors further alleged that his crimes could also constitute terrorism offences under the Anti-Terrorism Act. This prosecutorial strategy followed past criticisms that the Crown had failed to lay such charges in 2017 when a Quebec City man killed six members of a mosque but faced only murder, and never terrorism, charges.
Under Canadian law, first-degree murder is a charge usually supported by prosecutors presenting evidence revealing that an accused has plotted a premeditated killing. Yet the Crown can also argue first-degree murder follows from a slaying that is a terrorist conspiracy, one intended to spread fear to the wider public.
Prosecutors who had charged Mr. Veltman argued in court that his crimes met both the conventional and the terrorist legal definitions of premeditated murder. While the jury on Friday found Mr. Veltman was guilty of all offences, the court never heard the specific logic jurors relied upon. It will now it will fall to the trial judge, Justice Renee Pomerance, to determine whether Mr. Veltman is a terrorist at a pending sentencing hearing.
“It’s a quirk of the [Criminal] Code that we haven’t seen these cases,” said Michael Nesbitt, a University of Calgary law professor, after the verdict was rendered. “We don’t know the basis upon which the jury decided. Now the judge is going to be asked to say whether this is terrorism or not.”
Like anyone convicted of first-degree murder in Canada, Mr. Veltman will get a life sentence with no possibility of parole for 25 years. Any additional finding that his killings were motivated by terrorism would not change this.
Yet the coming sentencing hearing will still be watched closely, because family members of the victims will give statements about how their lives have been affected by his crimes. A terrorist designation could also affect how correctional officials come up with plans to incarcerate and rehabilitate him. Meantime, any determination that Mr. Veltman is a terrorist would also be seen as a strong denunciation of the spread of violent white nationalism within Canada.
“It matters to people because victims’ groups and others will want to see that first of all that, if this appears to be terrorism, that it is treated as such by the court,” Prof. Nesbitt said.
A scheduling hearing is set for Dec. 1.
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.
The Globe and Mail
Evidence presented in court established Mr. Veltman’s descent into violence by gradients. He had a troubled upbringing. Months before the attacks, he read anti-Muslim conspiracy theories on the dark web. A few weeks before his attacks, he maxed out his credit to buy a used Dodge Ram that he outfitted with tinted windows and a crash bar. During the day of the attack, he donned an army helmet, a bulletproof vest and a T-shirt with a stylized Christian crusader cross.
Video footage presented in court showed that when he spotted the Afzaal family, Mr. Veltman drove past them, made a U-turn and then accelerated as fast as he could.
During interviews after his arrest, Mr. Veltman admitted everything to authorities and often seemed eager to do so. He said he crashed his car into a family because he saw them wearing traditional Pakistani clothing. He admitted his actions were “politically motivated, 100 per cent.” It was only when he was put on trial many months later that he tried to walk back his statements.
But the evidence was persuasive. Jurors were presented with excerpts of manifestos that Mr. Veltman had penned against Muslims and mass immigration.
Prosecutor Fraser Ball told the jury in his closing address this week that Mr. Veltman saw the Afzaal family only as a means to spread fear; and that he attacked them in the hopes that their violent deaths would encourage an exodus of all Muslims from Canada. “The Afzaals in fact were just the medium. The brutal message was intended for a much larger audience. All white nationalists. All Muslims. All the world.”