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Judge rules convicted killer of London, Ont., Muslim family committed terrorism

Warning: This story contains distressing details.

Superior Court Justice Renee Pomerance refused to say Nathaniel Veltman’s name, but said his actions on June 6, 2021, when he deliberately drove his truck into the Afzaal family in London, Ont., were terrorism as defined under Canadian law. 

“I have chosen not to name the offender nor share the hateful things he shared with police or in his manifesto. This is because his actions constitute terrorist activity,” Pomerance said. 

“There is no place in Canadian society for the hatred and racism that spawned the offender’s actions. Because they have no place in Canadian society, they will not be given a place in my reasons.” 

Veltman, now 23, was found guilty in November 2023 on four counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder by a Windsor, Ont., jury. 

The first-degree murder conviction carries an automatic sentence of life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years, but it was up to Pomerance to determine what facts presented at trial the jury used to arrive at their verdict, and whether his actions constituted terrorism. 

Pomerance rejected the man’s attempt to “distance himself” from his white supremacist motivations at trial.” 

“On June 6, 2021, five members of the Afzaal family went for a walk on a warm summer evening. Neither they nor anyone else could have anticipated the terrible fate that awaited them,” she said.

“He stopped to put on combat gear, a military helmet and a bulletproof vest. He drove until he spied the Afzaal family. He believed them to be Muslim based on the clothing they wore. He drove by the family of five, stopped and then turned around, drove towards them, drove into the victims at full speed without touching the brakes.

“This event sent ripples of fear and devastation throughout the London community and beyond. He killed them because they were Muslim.”

The Crown’s case was overwhelming, Pomerance said.

More to come. Previous story below.

The judge overseeing the case of a man convicted of killing a London, Ont., family in 2021 because of their Muslim faith will rule today whether his actions amounted to terrorism in handing down Nathaniel Veltman’s final sentence.

In November, a jury found Veltman, 23, guilty of four counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder after a 10-week trial in Windsor. He attacked the Afzaal family with his pickup truck on June 6, 2021, while they were out for a walk in London, and later told police he wanted to send a message to Muslims. 

Yumnah Afzaal, 15, her parents — Madiha Salman, 44, an engineer, and Salman Afzaal, 46, a physiotherapist — were killed, as was family matriarch Talat Afzaal, 74, a teacher and artist. The boy who survived was among dozens of people who gave victim impact statements in January during the first part of the sentencing.

The jury’s reasoning for the verdict wasn’t released. However, they reached the decision based on two premises: They were convinced his actions were planned and deliberate, or — in a Canadian first — they amounted to terrorism, which is defined as an attempt to intimidate the public or a segment of the population based on political, ideological or religious grounds. 

Superior Court Justice Renee Pomerance must consider all the facts and evidence presented during the trial and the dozens of victim impact statements in ruling on the terrorism possibility. 

For many Muslim Canadians, the facts of the case clearly point to terrorism, said Amira Elghawaby, Canada’s Special Representative on Combatting Islamophobia. 

“There is no doubt that the Afzaal family were killed in a deliberate act of anti-Muslim hate, and it’s clear from having listened to the testimony and from seeing and understanding the evidence — this was an act that terrorized London and communities across the country,” Elghawaby said.  

WATCH | Cousin reads victim impact statement of boy orphaned after Muslim family attack:

Boy whose family was killed in Islamophobic attack speaks for 1st time

2 months ago

Duration 2:51

A boy left orphaned by an Islamophobic attack on his family in London, Ont., says he wishes he could still have his sister to fight with, his mom’s cooking and the house he grew up in. His words were read aloud at the sentencing hearing of his family’s convicted murderer, Nathaniel Veltman.

The Crown has argued it would be hard to imagine a stronger case for terrorism than this one — the convicted killer wrote a white supremacist manifesto, deliberately drove his pickup truck into the family because of the traditional Pakistani clothing they were wearing, and confessed to wanting to send a violent message to other Muslims and inspire other angry white men.

“The offender wanted to make Muslims fearful of being in Canada, fearful of going to the park, the mosque, and living their lives. He wanted to drive this fear in Muslims and instil so much fear that Muslims would leave the country,” Crown prosecutor Sarah Shaikh told Pomerance at the January hearing.

Ruling must reflect reality, advocacy group member says

Minority communities in Canada want the judge’s ruling to reflect the reality that they can be terrorized and the justice system will hold perpetrators accountable, said London lawyer Nawaz Tahir, who sits on the board of Hikma, a public advocacy group that speaks on behalf of Muslims. 

“It’s important legally but it’s also important from a belonging perspective,” Tahir said. “Our justice system has an obligation to ensure that people of all faiths and backgrounds feel like they belong, and that includes holding people accountable when they engage in acts of terrorism against racialized minorities.” 

Defence lawyers argued their client was not motivated by a particular ideology. 

“He did hold extreme right-wing beliefs,” Christopher Hicks argued. “These were evident when considering his testimony. But the question is whether he adhered to an ideology and if he committed the crime to intimidate a segment of the population. We say that the Crown did not prove that he did.” 

His client’s beliefs, however abhorrent, don’t form an ideology, Hicks said.

Adding the terrorism designation wouldn’t add to the length of Veltman’s life sentence, but could be a factor in his future parole board applications.

It would also be the first time in Canadian history that someone who holds white supremacist views would meet the threshold for terrorism, Elghawaby said.

“Concerns of far-right extremism have been significant and the hope is that the decision will reflect the worries that communities have had that these kinds of deliberate acts are being fully addressed within the Canadian justice system.” 

The Crown has also asked Pomerance to sentence the 23-year-old to a concurrent life in prison sentence for the attempted murder of the little boy, who was nine years old at the time of the attack. The defence has asked for 10 years. 

London Morning5:43Was the Afzaal family murder an act of terrorism?

CBC reporter Kate Dubinski has been following the murder trial of Nathaniel Veltman. Kate joined London Morning with an update on the sentencing hearing where the judge will decide if the mass murder was an act of terrorism.

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