April 23rd, 2024

Veltman sentenced to life in prison as London attack deemed terrorism

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

A man who killed four members of a Muslim family in London, Ont., committed an act of terrorism fuelled by white nationalist ideology, an Ontario judge ruled Thursday in sentencing him 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.

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.

He killed 46-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. The couple’s nine-year-old son was seriously hurt but survived.

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 to 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.”

Members of the Afzaal family were seen crying and nodding as Pomerance delivered her decision and some later hugged each other after the judge left the courtroom.

Veltman showed no visible emotion when the terrorism finding was made and was seen asking his lawyer a question after the sentencing concluded.

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 fueled 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.

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

In delivering her sentencing decision, 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.”

Salman’s mother, Tabinda Bukhari, said outside court that while Thursday’s ruling acknowledged the hate that took the lives of their loved ones, 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.”

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, whether at home or abroad,” 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 said Veltman was “a voracious consumer of extremist right wing internet content” who became inspired by other mass killers.

She described 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, and heard he wrote a manifesto where he described himself as a white supremacist in the weeks before the attack.

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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