In a groundbreaking decision marking a first in Canada’s legal history, Nathaniel Veltman has been found guilty of first-degree murder and attempted murder. The verdict, delivered by a jury in Windsor, Ontario, concludes a harrowing chapter following the tragic 2021 attack on a Muslim family in London, Ontario.
After deliberating for less than six hours, the 12-member jury determined that Veltman, 22, was guilty on all counts. This verdict arrives at the end of an emotionally charged and complex trial lasting over ten weeks. Veltman faced charges for the murder of Salman Afzaal, 46; Madiha Salman, 44; their daughter Yumna Afzaal, 15; and Talat Afzaal, 74. The attack also gravely injured the couple’s nine-year-old son, who survived.
Justice Renee Pomerance, presiding over the trial, acknowledged the emotional gravity of the case. She appealed for calm in the courtroom but could not contain the audible reactions of shock and relief as the verdict was announced.
The prosecution described the attack as a terrorist act, defined under the Criminal Code as an intentional killing motivated by political, ideological, or religious purposes. The Crown asserted that Veltman, motivated by anti-Muslim sentiments, intended to intimidate the public, particularly the Muslim community.
Throughout the trial, the defence and prosecution agreed on Veltman’s action of driving his truck into the Afzaal family. However, the defence contested the intent and premeditation of the act, arguing that Veltman’s mental health issues and recent ingestion of psilocybin impaired his judgment. They argued against the classification of the attack as a terrorist act, contending a lack of criminal intent.
In her instructions to the jury, Justice Pomerance clarified the legal pathways for the first-degree murder charges, emphasizing the need for the prosecution to prove motive in the case of terrorist activity. The jury’s decision, while unanimous in its verdict, does not disclose the rationale behind the conviction, whether it was viewed as a planned and deliberate act or as an act of terrorism.
The case is notable as the first instance where Canada’s terrorism laws were tested in a jury trial for first-degree murder. This verdict sets a precedent in the application of the country’s terrorism laws and underscores the seriousness with which Canada addresses hate crimes and acts of terrorism.
Sentencing for Veltman will be determined at a later date, leaving a nation to grapple with the ramifications of this landmark trial and its implications for the future of justice and tolerance in Canada.