WINDSOR, Ont. — A man accused of murdering four members of a Muslim family in Ontario was motivated by white nationalist beliefs and told police he meant to kill his victims, federal prosecutors argued Monday as they alleged the attack was an act of terrorism.
The opening statements from the Crown were delivered to jurors as arguments got underway at the trial of Nathaniel Veltman, who is accused of deliberately hitting five members of the Afzaal family with his truck while they were out for a walk in London, Ont.
Veltman has pleaded not guilty to four counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder in the June 6, 2021 attack.
Federal prosecutor Sarah Shaikh alleged Veltman planned his attack for three months before driving his Dodge Ram truck directly at the Muslim family.
She said Veltman drove his truck, which he bought just over two weeks before the attack, "pedal to the metal,” kicking up a cloud of dust as the vehicle surged over the sidewalk's curb, striking his victims.
Veltman later told police after his arrest that he "killed a bunch of people," Shaikh said, recounting parts of his recorded statement.
"I meant to kill them. I don't regret what I did. I admit it was terrorism," she said Veltman told police. "It was politically motivated 100 per cent."
Salman Afzaal, 46, his 44-year-old wife Madiha Salman, their 15-year-old daughter Yumna and her 74-year-old grandmother, Talat Afzaal, were killed in the London attack. The couple's nine-year-old son was also seriously hurt but survived.
Veltman told detectives he left his home on the day of the attack looking for Muslims to kill and that he used a truck to send a message to others that vehicles can be used to attack Muslims, Shaikh told the jury.
He further admitted he was motivated by the 2019 mass shooting in New Zealand, which saw 51 Muslim worshippers slaughtered, Shaikh said, citing Veltman's statements to police.
Shaikh said police found a manifesto called "A White Awakening" in Veltman's London apartment after the attack, in which he identified himself as a white nationalist.
"He writes about creating a new society, a society where all white people have a sense of belonging," she told the jury. "He also writes about Muslims in all capital letters: 'We must make life very uncomfortable for these people until they are driven out of our countries, fast.'"
Veltman, who wore an oversized wrinkled black suit and a white shirt, sat quietly in court as proceedings began but his hand was shaking when he tried to pour water in a paper cup on his desk. One of his lawyers took the jug and filled his cup with some water.
A statement of facts agreed on by the Crown and defence said the Afzaal family was out for a walk when Veltman struck the family with his truck.
"As a result, four members of the family were killed and the youngest seriously injured." the statement read by Shaikh said.
Later Monday, the Crown called Wenxi Chan, who was on the other side of the road when Veltman's truck hit the Afzaals. Chan said he called 911 and waited at the scene for officers to arrive.
"I can recall (seeing) the family members being struck and they landed, some of them, on the road or on the grass," he said.
"I did see a couple of them on the road. And of course, the survived boy who was on the grass.".
Superior Court Justice Renee Pomerance has said the trial is expected to last about eight weeks, not 12, after the Crown and defence agreed on shortening the list of witnesses.
Jury selection for the trial, which is taking place in Windsor, Ont., wrapped last week, with 14 jurors chosen.
Pomerance ruled last year that a change of venue was warranted in the case, moving the trial from London to Windsor. The reasons for that decision, as well as the evidence and arguments presented in court on the matter, cannot be disclosed due to a publication ban.
The attack on the Afzaal family sent waves of shock, grief and fear across Canada and spurred ongoing calls for measures to combat Islamophobia in the country.
Leaders of the National Council of Canadian Muslims and the Muslim community in London said last week that community members are hoping justice will be served in the trial.
After the attack, the National Council of Canadian Muslims released a list of recommendations to fight anti-Muslim hate across Canada, including calling on the federal and provincial governments to commit to anti-Islamophobia strategies in education and provide resources.
The federal government hosted a summit on Islamophobia in July 2021 to hear Muslim Canadians' ideas and insights on how Ottawa could prevent attacks targeting their community. In January, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appointed journalist and human rights advocate Amira Elghawaby as Canada’s first special representative to combat Islamophobia.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 11, 2023.
Maan Alhmidi, The Canadian Press