April 25th, 2024

London attack deemed terrorism, Veltman gets life sentence with no parole for 25 yrs

By Maan Alhmidi in London, Ont., and Paola Loriggio in Toronto, The Canadian Press on February 22, 2024.

Nathaniel Veltman is escorted outside Ontario Superior Court in Windsor, Ont., Tuesday, Sept.5, 2023. A man who killed four members of a Muslim family in London, Ont., is set to be sentenced today. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Dax Melmer

The murder of four members of a Muslim family in southwestern Ontario by a self-described white nationalist was an act of terrorism, a judge ruled Thursday as she sentenced the man to life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years.

Nathaniel Veltman was also sentenced to a concurrent life sentence for the attempted murder of a boy who survived the 2021 attack in London, Ont., that sent shockwaves across the country and sparked calls to combat Islamophobia.

Veltman, 23, was found guilty in November of four counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder for hitting the Afzaal family with his truck while they were out for a walk.

Veltman “exemplified the prototypical ‘lone wolf’,” keeping his beliefs ““ and a written manifesto ““ to himself until after he committed his crimes, said Justice Renee Pomerance, who presided over the trial.

But once he carried out his deadly plan, Veltman “made it clear that he wanted the world to know what he had done and why he had done it,” she said in delivering her sentencing decision to a packed London courtroom.

“This was part of a plan. He wanted to intimidate the Muslim community. He wanted to follow in the footsteps of other mass killers, and he wanted to inspire others to commit murderous acts.”

Pomerance, who explicitly chose not to name Veltman in her ruling to deny him the publicity he sought for his beliefs, said “the brutality of the crime, its random character, the hatred that fuelled that and the consequences … calls for the imposition of the strictest penalty known to Canadian law.”

First-degree murder carries an automatic life sentence with no chance of parole for 25 years, but there is discretion in sentencing for attempted murder.

Veltman showed no visible emotion and was seen asking his lawyer a question after the sentencing concluded. Outside court, one of his lawyers said the defence would later be getting instructions on whether or not to appeal.

Forty-six-year-old Salman Afzaal; 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 attack. The couple’s nine-year-old son was seriously hurt but survived.

Members of the Afzaal family were seen crying and nodding during the sentencing and some later hugged each other after the judge left the courtroom.

Outside court, Salman’s mother, Tabinda Bukhari, said the sentencing acknowledged the hate that took the lives of their loved ones, but it cannot bring back what was stolen from them.

“It will not mend the fractured pieces of our lives, our identity, and our security,” she said in reading a statement on the family’s behalf.

“This trial wasn’t just about one act. It was a stark reminder of the fault lines that run deep within our society, the stereotypes that can erupt into violence … We must confront the hate, not just condemn it.”

The case was the first time Canada’s terrorism laws were put before a jury in a first-degree murder trial.

Pomerance ruled it was an “inescapable conclusion” that Veltman committed a terrorist act.

“The offender did not know the victims. He had never met them. He killed them because they were Muslim,” she said. “One might go so far as to characterize this as a textbook example of terrorist motive and intent.”

The terror finding is “a very important one,” Crown prosecutor Sarah Shaikh said outside court.

“It is an acknowledgment that the offender’s attack was not only targeted at the Afzaal family, it was also targeted and directed towards the entire Muslim community,” she said.

“It was also an attack on values that we as Canadians hold very dear ““ inclusiveness, community, decency and multiculturalism.”

Amira Elghawaby, Canada’s Special Representative on Combatting Islamophobia, said the decision will have “profound reverberations across Canada” as it marks the first time a case involving white nationalism has met the threshold for terrorism.

‘We must also clearly see urgent efforts to address the proliferation of online hate which can include dangerous hateful narratives about Islam and Muslims,” Elghawhaby said outside court.

Faisal Bhabha, an associate professor at York University’s Osgoode Hall law school, said the ruling provides Canadian Muslims with “important moral validation of their experiences with hate and discrimination and the consequent fear that is produced.”

It’s obvious from the facts of the case that Veltman was motivated by hate, he said.

“The sad reality, however, is that in Canada the use of the word terrorist is almost exclusively applied to Muslims. This has contributed to a situation in which Canadian Muslims do not feel that their lives are valued equally by their fellow citizens or by their political leaders when Muslims are victims of violence,” Bhabha wrote in an email.

“This is why today is a critical moment for Canadian Muslims to receive validation from the judiciary … that Muslim lives matter too.”

Prosecutors had argued Veltman was a white supremacist with a plan to commit violence, while the defence argued his actions shouldn’t be considered terrorism because he kept his beliefs to himself.

Pomerance rejected that argument, finding that Veltman only kept his beliefs private to avoid detection before he could carry out his plan. He expected his manifesto, in which he described himself as a white nationalist, to be made public after his arrest, she said.

Veltman was “a voracious consumer of extremist right wing internet content” who became inspired by other mass killers, Pomerance said, describing him as believing “in the superiority of the white race, and the related aspiration for an all-white society.”

During the trial, Veltman testified he had been considering using his pickup truck to carry out an attack and felt an “urge” to hit the Afzaal family after seeing them walking on a sidewalk. He said he knew they were Muslims from the clothes they were wearing and he noticed the man in the group had a beard.

The jury also watched video of Veltman telling a detective his attack had been motivated by white nationalist beliefs.

Jurors were told they could convict Veltman of first-degree murder if they unanimously agreed the Crown established he intended to kill the victims, and planned and deliberated his attack. Pomerance said they could also reach that same verdict if they found that the killings were terrorist activity.

The terror component wasn’t a separate charge, and juries don’t explain how they reach their verdict, so it’s unclear what role ““ if any ““ the terror allegations played in their decision.

In making her findings of fact on the issue, Pomerance said it was not possible to separate the two paths to conviction in this case.

“The evidence in this case does not logically permit a binary choice between one basis for liability and the other,” she said.

“To choose one is to choose both. If there was a plan, it was to carry out terrorist activity. If there was terrorist activity, it was planned and deliberate.”

At a sentencing hearing last month, Veltman apologized for the pain he had caused but that apology was promptly rejected by the victims’ family outside of court as “strategic words coming from a killer after he is convicted.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 22, 2024.

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