Warning: This story contains distressing details.
After several days of legal arguments without the jury present, forensic psychiatrist Dr. Julian Gojer returned to the witness box in the trial of a man accused of killing a Muslim family two years ago in London, Ont.
Nathaniel Veltman, 22, has admitted he drove his pickup truck into the Afzaal family in northwest London, Ont., on June 6, 2021. He has pleaded not guilty to four counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder, as well as associated terrorism charges that were laid because prosecutors say he was motivated by far-right ideology.
"If we accept what he is saying as the truth, then he is describing an experience where he's in a severe state of anxiety, his judgment is impaired, and he's not rationally evaluating the situation and what is going to happen next, but instead he's focusing on his obsession," Gojer told the jury Thursday about the accused's testimony earlier in the weeks-long trial.
Four members of the family were killed after being struck by the accused's pickup: high school student Yumnah Afzaal, 15, her parents, Madiha Salman, 44, an engineer, and Salman Afzaal, 46, a physiotherapist, along with family matriarch Talat Afzaal, 74, a teacher and artist. A nine-year-old boy was seriously injured but survived.
Thursday was the first time the jury has attended to court since Monday afternoon as Justice Renee Pomerance and the lawyers were discussing legal matters that cannot be reported by media.
During his time testifying, Gojer continued to talk about the state of mind of the accused,
In the hours following his arrest, Veltman confessed to police, telling a detective he planned the attack because he had gone down a "rabbit hole" of far-right content online. He wore a Crusader T-shirt he made during the attack, as well as a military helmet and bullet-proof vest. In his apartment, police found notes about the speeds at which being struck by a vehicle was most likely to kill a pedestrian, as well as a document entitled "A White Awakening," called a manifesto by prosecutors.
Testifying in his own defence, the accused told the jury earlier that he didn't plan the attack and he made up the story while waiting in his jail cell as a way to justify his attack to himself and to the detective. He said he was in a "dream-like state" and couldn't resist the urge to drive at the family, who he knew were Muslim because of the way they were dressed.
Christian beliefs were 'psychological brakes'
"He talks about the urge to press on the gas to get rid of his urges. There's a certain degree of awareness of the consequences of his actions," Gojer testified. "His Christian beliefs were acting as psychological brakes and he had an understanding that there could be more serious consequences, but he's telling himself, 'I can give up my Christian beliefs, I can take off the brakes.'"
The accused is either "taking off the moral brakes" to complete his "heinous act" or to "get rid of his obsessions," the psychiatrist said.
The accused has testified he took magic mushrooms about 40 hours before his vehicle hit the family.
Gojer has testified it's possible the drugs leaving his system could have prevented him from being able to resist his urge to drive at the family.
"You have to look at the language. The urge is to drive at them, to drive into them. He doesn't talk about the urge to kill," Gojer said. "This is not a normal person driving into people. This is someone with multiple disorders who is thinking in an irrational manner."
In this court sketch, Veltman listens to testimony at his murder-terror trial on Sept. 28. (Pam Davies/CBC)
Gojer has diagnosed the accused with obsessive compulsive disorder, autism spectrum disorder, depression, anxiety and a personality disorder. He took the mushrooms because his great-grandmother, a mother figure to him, had just died.
Gojer's testimony is expected to continue on Friday.