OTTAWA (Agencies): The Canadian man who killed four members of a Pakistani Muslim family has been found guilty on four charges of first-degree and one count of attempted murder, in a case that tested how the country’s terror laws might prosecute far-right extremism.
The jury took around six hours to convict Nathaniel Veltman, who faces a life imprisonment sentence with no chance of parole for 25 years. Justice Renee Pomerance will determine whether Veltman’s actions meet the threshold for terrorism when she issues her sentencing.
Veltman, 22, was charged with four counts of murder and one count of attempted murder after driving his truck into five members of the Afzaal family while they were out for a walk in London, Ontario, on the evening of 6 June 2021.
Salman Afzaal, 46, his wife Madiha Salman, 44, their 15-year-old daughter Yumna and her 74-year-old grandmother, Talat Afzaal, were all killed in the attack. The couple’s nine-year-old son was also seriously injured, but survived.
Moments after the verdict was announced, the National Council of Canadian Muslims posted on social media that “justice had been served” and called on the country to reflect on the spike in Islamphobic hate crime.
Veltman initially told police that he killed the four members of the Afzaal family, but he pleaded not guilty to all charges.
During the nine-week trial, prosecutors said Veltman told detectives that he left his home on the day of the attack looking for Muslims to kill, saying that he was inspired by the 2019 Christchurch shootings in which a white nationalist killed 51 people.
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 defence argued Veltman was not guilty of first-degree murder and did not commit an act of terrorism. They cited a lack of criminal intent to kill the victims and no deliberate plan for the attack. Veltman also told the court his state of mind at the time prevented him from understanding the effects and consequences of his actions.
The attack prompted shock and grief across Canada – and renewed calls to combat 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 was a painter who already left her legacy at the London Islamic School: a floor-to-ceiling space-themed mural with the words “shoot for the moon, even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars”. Talat was an artist and a schoolteacher, known as the “pillar” of the family who cherished their daily walks together.